Responsive Retromat

Big news: As of March 2021, Retromat.org is responsive and adapts to all screen sizes. We’re a teeny tiny little bit late to the party, but better than never 🥳 🥳 🥳

This is the biggest change since Timon Fiddike rewrote the backend in 2016. It’s been on my ToDo-list for forever. At least 5 years. I mean, mobile devices are not exactly new 😉

Now, I finally, finally get to close this tab in my head and Retromat is much more accessible! In the end, the rewrite was both easier and harder than expected: It was easier because Past-Corinna was pretty smart about decoupling the Java Script logic from the layout. Plus, Flexbox is cool and my SO helped me with grid (CSS). It was also harder because there were many small things I hadn’t thought of. And one big one: Thank you Timon, for setting up a test server!

The Retro Mates’ support gave me the energy to finally tackle this. Shout out to them! And may we all bask in the glorious feeling of finishing something big-ish 🙂

PS: If you want to help make Retromat more awesome, why not become a Retro Mate?

Improve your retrospectives with this 1 weird trick: Liftoffs

When health is concerned, preventing issues altogether is often easier than treating them once they manifest. The same can be said for retrospectives:

“In retrospectives we often make up for the fact that we didn’t have a liftoff”

Either Deborah Hartmann Preuss or Steve Holyer said that in a conversation and it rings true. Very few teams get a proper liftoff and they lose weeks and months of productivity to initial friction. In contrast, a proper liftoff sets up a team for success by laying a solid foundation of agreements and shared understandings. Then the team doesn’t have to spend their retrospectives patching up problems that could have been avoided.

What are liftoffs exactly?

You might know them as kickoffs, jump starts, launches or project starts – a meeting at the beginning of a team coming together and / or starting to work on something. I’m going with the name “liftoff” because of the book by the same name written by Diana Larsen and Ainsley Nies.

A huge chunk of “Liftoff” describes Agile Chartering as a way to clarify purpose, alignment and context of the team and work. Srinath Ramakrishnan summarises it like this:

“Agile chartering is a lightweight minimum documentation approach to creating initial understandings, agreements and alignment about the work and how it will be accomplished.”

A liftoff is a longer event, lasting from a day up to a week. All the necessary people take part, i.e. the team, the project sponsor and whoever else is needed to provide context and insights. Many liftoffs are also off-site which improves focus.

If you forgo a liftoff you often spend a lot of retrospectives on clarifying things that should have been clear from the get go. Of course, there are retro activities that can help, such as:

But you try to compensate for a lack of alignment in short stretches of time and typically with crucial people & their knowledge missing. You really wanna do liftoffs, trust me. Your retros will go a lot smoother.

So, what if you missed the start? The project is already underway and you find yourself with a team patching up cracks in the foundation instead of “clicking”? Well, it’s never too late to reboot with a mid-project liftoff to (re)gain footing.

Check out “Liftoff” for details on how to run one 🙂

PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook Bundle? Ready-made retrospective plans for beginners and all activities from Retromat for experienced facilitators. Check out the Retromat books

Print Retromats are back!

Exciting news: Print Retromats are back and you can get yours here. After my “Help to make Retromat sustainable” post in October 2019, German consultancy it-agile reached out to me and offered me a great partnership.

They take over production and distribution of the Print Edition, i.e. all the time-consuming bits and I can focus on content. I’m super grateful to it-agile (and especially Wolf-Gideon Bleek) that after more than two years without Print Retromats, they’ll be available again.

You don’t know what Print Retromats are? Check them out!

I’m so glad that all the many people who asked for Print Retromats can finally get one. Enjoy!

Help to make Retromat sustainable

Hi, my name is Corinna Baldauf. In 2012, I had a month of free time between quitting my old job and starting at a new company. During that time I created Retromat. Before Retromat, it took me at least an hour to plan a retrospective, looking through various blogs for inspiration. I was sure that there must be a faster way to find a wide variety of ideas. AFAIK there wasn’t one at the time, so I built it. Retromat launched with 16 activities.

Afterwards I spend large chunks of my free time adding activities to Retromat, blogging and creating 1-page summaries. For a while all was well and I was a happy creator.

2014 came along and 2 things happened: 

  • I became a mom. From then on, my free time belonged to my daughter. 
  • Retromat became popular. With it came “community work”. People suggesting activities, asking questions, sending photos etc.

Invisible work

As someone interested in Open Source, I eventually recognized that I had landed myself in the Catch-22 that successful OS projects suffer from: You have a successful project. Yay, that’s awesome! People are using your brainchild. But it means community work (bug reports, pull requests, questions, contributors that need onboarding – if you’re lucky). Community work is not why you started the project. It’s mostly invisible work and takes away time to improve the original project.

In my case, community work soon became 95% of what I did. After a job and family I just didn’t have much energy left. What little energy I had went into answering emails – and feeling guilty about the ones I hadn’t answered yet… It took me months to answer emails.

I might sound ungrateful. I’m not! It’s still remarkable to me that so many people use their time to translate Retromat into 6 languages, suggest activities and so on. Still, in 2015 I realized that the current situation was not sustainable. (And we’re big fans of a sustainable pace over here in the agile camp, aren’t we ;))

Goal: Work part-time

You probably know the phrase “Time is Money”. The opposite is also true: “Money is Time” as in, “money can buy you time”. Money that the projects earn is money I don’t have to earn in my day job. If I want to have time and energy for my original projects (i.e. new activities and features for Retromat, new summaries, new blog posts), I have to find some way for the projects to support themselves.

Retromat is the only project with an audience big enough that it might pay for itself. So I started looking into possibilities to “monetize” with the goal of me going part-time at my regular job. Below I’ve listed the things I’ve tried or consciously decided not to try.

tl;dr: In a cruel twist of fate every monetization attempt paid about for as much time as it took me to implement it. But not for more. If I had taken the “monetization time” to create new content I’d probably have been happier. Creating is what makes me happy. Selling… not so much. Well, no use crying over spilt milk. Maybe someone can learn from my fails. If you’re not interested in the details, scroll past the boxes.

How have I tried to monetize? Let me count the ways:

PRINT RETROMAT

Actually this one doesn’t really count: I’ve created the print edition before Retromat became popular. I wasn’t even sure I’d break even. I did. The Print Retromats are the only thing on this list that made serious money.
Upside: That pays for a nice holiday.
Downside: After a round of selling I really need that holiday! It’s largely manual labor. Each and every Print Retromat is hand-cut. 

But Corinna, can’t you produce them pre-cut? Yes, but that completely changes the game for me. Right now I fall under a very nice VAT tax exemption for small businesses. For pre-cut Print Retromats I need to order much larger numbers and pay VAT, making them more expensive. Also lots more bureaucracy for me. And the risk of not knowing how big the market actually is. Could I sell 5000 Print Retromats without being able to give huge discounts to bulk orders? It’s complicated.

DONATIONS

This one was the least effort to implement but also the lowest return. Donations were typically 5-10 dollars. A one-time-donation of 10 bucks every 2 weeks is not sustainable. Still, thank you donors! Especially to Steve who donated 50 bucks 🙂

To be fair, I never really pushed donations. AFAIR I’ve never even mentioned them on my newsletter. I was too ashamed. Donations feel like begging, not like being compensated for valuable work.

SPONSORING

Next I thought I’d go big: Instead of asking lots of people for donations I’d ask a few companies for bigger amounts. Companies usually have more money than individuals. And on Retromat the audience is a very desirable niche. I know how much it costs to find a new employee via a head hunter -> a sponsorship on Retromat to find a new Scrum Master is a great bargain.

Sponsoring would be close to viable if we had a sponsor every month. Alas, we’ve had 1 per year. At least they’re both cool, worthy organizations! Thank you Emendare & Teammood.

EBOOK

This one is still around and does earn money. Unfortunately, I started selling the eBook around the time I exposed the newsletter more and subscribers skyrocketed. In most months the eBook pays for the Mailchimp account. So no extra time to work on projects either…

That’s all the monetization efforts I’ve tried so far. For completeness sake I’ll also list the options I rejected:

Considered and rejected

ADS 

I don’t like ads. I use ad blockers. I’d prefer not to put them on one of my sites. And AFAIK the earning potential is very limited so not a big loss either.

PATREON

Lots of people suggested Patreon. I perceive Patreon as a platform for individuals to support content creators. In contrast, I view Retromat as something that companies should pay for, since we use Retromat for our work. 

Plus, Patreon is based on extra content for Patrons. I’m trying to carve out some time to create at all. When would I create that extra content?

A NATIVE APP

Lots of extra work and risk for very little expected pay-off: App prices are low and the potential audience is not big enough to off-set that. Plus, I don’t really know what an app could offer that the website couldn’t.

GOING FREELANCE

Many of the people who put out valuable content are freelance consultants. Sometimes I get the impression that this is the only viable way: Freelancers (in IT) usually get paid very good day rates. The difficult bit is getting hired. That’s why it makes perfect business / marketing sense to put content out there, have a newsletter, etc. 

For me, as a full-time employee, it would be the other way around. I would go freelance to subsidize the time to create content under the risky assumption that it would be relatively easy for me to get jobs. 

I’ve actually tried that route. I never advertised workshops or facilitation but when someone asked for one, I’d usually say yes. I like preparing for the engagement and the actual job. Judging from repeat bookings by customers, I’m good at it. But consulting is a very different lifestyle, including traveling, etc.

It doesn’t seem like a good trade-off to completely change my life just to make my side projects viable and “sensible marketing”. And most importantly I really, really like my job. It’s where most of my content ideas come from – grounded in long-term experience at the same (awesome!) place. This long-term perspective seems valuable to me. I like what I’m doing. I love my colleagues. I don’t want to stop working there. I’d just like to work fewer hours.

What now?

I always tried to monetize something “extra” although I think the most valuable thing Retromat has to offer is … Retromat itself! Think about it: What would you do without Retromat? How much time does it save you? How much better are your retros because you can find activities that fit to your team’s situation?

I’ve narrowly avoided burn-out earlier this year. Without my doctor I’d be burned-out right now. Something has to change. Either I stop having projects or I find a way for them to be sustainable, i.e. earn enough money. I’ll give it one last shot:

Does Retromat create enough value for you to support it on a regular basis? Take the poll:

[Update: As of October 2020 you can become a Retro Mate \o/]

If enough people pledge their support, I will implement payment and billing. There are lots of providers in the US, not so many in Germany. I’ll have to look around. The bill will look like a regular bill for a SaaS.

If it doesn’t work out, don’t worry, Retromat will stay free and online. My projects will freeze in the state they are right now. The amazing agile coach Timon Fiddike will continue to take care of the Retromat backend. Retromat translators can still work and we would add new translators, but that’s about it. Requests regarding new activities, photos, features, questions etc. get a polite “This project is not maintained anymore”-email. I just don’t have it in me anymore after a day’s work and family time with 2 children.

How can we help?

A number of people have offered their time to help. Thank you, I appreciate it! Unfortunately I can’t think of anything that I could easily hand over to someone else. And if I could, the handing over, keeping track of it, reminding people, … Managing other contributors is work, too and not the fun kind. So right now it’s down to money. If that ever changes, I’ll publish it here.

Money will help me tackle my huge backlogs: At least 30 activities for Retromat; features  for Retromat (comments, anyone?); 50 ideas for Wall-Skills summaries; 40 topics for blog posts; 2 3 book outlines; projects like Lift-off-O-Mat, Planning-O-Mat; physical products like the Scrum Master Emergency Kit; …

My ideas are endless. Obviously I won’t be able to realize all of them. But looking at my track record, a lot of my ideas turn into realities given some time and space to breathe.

Thank you for reading and considering to support Retromat

How much money has been pledged?

Update: As of October 2020 you can become a Retro Mate \o/

Update: As of Feb 5th, 2020, 40 people have pledged about 500 Euros. After deducting income tax and a realistic no-show-rate, this is not enough to take significant time off. At least, on its own.

But maybe the “time-off”-money doesn’t have to come from a single source: I’ve partnered with German consultancy it-agile for distributing Print Retromats. So part of the “time-off”-money will come from this source \o/

And I’m working on setting up a subscription / member system. Thank you and stay tuned.

The Missing Manual – 5 tricks to get the most out of Retromat

Retromat has a couple of neat features that are not exactly hidden, but not super obvious either. I’d like to share them with you, just in case there’s one you didn’t know.

0. Step through all activities in a phase with the arrows

For completeness sake, let’s start with the most obvious one. I won’t even count this as a trick – the arrows:

The arrows let you step through all activities in a given phase, because in the initial random plan the activtities will not all work together. Look for activities that fit with each other with the arrow. If you’re a beginner, try this plan.

1. Click on a phase’s name to see all its activities

The arrows are too slow? You want to quickly scan all activities in a phase? Just click the phase’s name.

2. Check out a single activity by clicking on its ID

Let’s say you want to share a single activity with a colleague: Click on its ID and voila 🙂

3. Click those buttons!

Noticed the row of buttons?

This one generates a new random plan:

It’s supposed to be a wheel of fortune, in case you were wondering.

And then there’s the search button:

It lets you search for a keyword or ID in titles, summaries and descriptions. If you enter more than one word any one of them is enough for a match. It’s an “or” search, not an “and” search.

As soon as you enter a number as part of your search term, you’ll get the activity of the same ID among the search results.

4. Change the ID to get the activities into a custom order

From the moment I first conceived Retromat I wanted plans to be easily shareable. That’s why each plan has an ID. And you can change the order of activities by changing the ID around. You can change the ID either in the browser’s URL field or by clicking into the Plan ID:


This comes in really handy, when you want to break out of the 5 phases. You see, Retromat is somewhat limited in that each activity can only belong to one phase, although many of them arguably fit into several. If you want to repurpose an activity for a different phase than the one I sorted it in, go ahead, change the IDs around and press enter!

5. Something completely different – An Easter Egg

There’s another way to forgo phases: Did you know that Retromat has a secret phase called “Something completely different”? You’ve got a 1 in 25 chance of getting a plan with just 1 single activity from this extra phase.

Wanna take a peak at these unconventional activities? Here’s a list of all activities in “Something completely different”. You’re welcome 😉

Were any of these new for you? Did I not mention something you would have liked to see? Tell me in the comments!

PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook Bundle? Ready-made retrospective plans for beginners and all activities from Retromat for experienced facilitators. Check out the Retromat books