Set the stage: Retrospectives for Distributed Agile teams

Retrospectives have demonstrated to be one of the most important of Agile ceremonies. In the agile culture, continuous improvement is essential, which could be easily achieved with Agile retrospectives. These practices don't need to be exclusive for co-located teams, Retrospectives are for Distributed teams too.

One of the most common difficulties that could arise when you are trying to bring Agile retrospectives to your distributed team is setting the stage for the session. This is one of the steps claimed in "Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great". The main importance of Setting the Stage is up to create a feedback environment for the team that can make retrospectives more insightful. Perception and credibility can be totally immersed in the way you are setting the environment for retrospectives.

remote retrospective

Set the stage for Distributed Retrospectives

  • Find the right time
  • Find the right way to express it
  • Don't promote teammates competition
  • Focus the feedback

The right time for retrospectives

As we know, agile teams tend to use sprints to develop their work. Usually, these sprints make shorter work loops and all of them are followed by a retrospective. When the team has gathered the necessary information to exchange feedback is when you know it's time for a Retrospective Session.

Once that your team has finished their current sprint is the perfect time to assess their performance. It is important to find a way that all members are available for these meetings. Talking about distributed teams, the right time for retrospectives is the time where all members can participate, even if it's not synchronously. We have the perfect tool if you're working in Atlassian Agile Retrospectives for Distributed teams, perfect for asynchronous interaction.

Using a retrospective tool can save you a lot of time by maintaining the entire team engaged.

Find the right way to express feedback.

There are two types of feedback: Hard and Soft feedback. Hard Feedback is related to important data such as accounts and production figures. This data must be provided properly. Meanwhile, Soft Feedback is expressed in terms of statistics, norms, and trends. It is obtained from individuals and relates to ideas, opinions, or perceptions, and therefore requires them to make a choice as to whether or not to give it. (source)

It is easily related to positive and negative feedback, but what we should really focus on is constructive feedback. The main problem that this ceremony can trigger in your team is when members don't want to express their opinion because they're afraid of other members' reactions. This is why it's important to know how to express it.

For example, there is a member with a lot of unfinished tasks, a common way to express this concern could be: "This person is no cooperating with the activities" but retrospectives are far from being a pointing ceremony. The best way to express our opinions is to be objective and base them on results.

To better assess the concern, you can say: "The story points achieved this sprint were 30% lower than the past sprint" or "We are decreasing in our deliveries, is somebody having any trouble?". Hard and soft feedback are used without the need to blame one person for generating this problem. This could be the case, but the main point is to understand why this person is delaying, not to single out team members.

For Agile Retrospectives in Distributed teams expressing our opinion can be more challenging and uncomfortable. We are all dispersed and we don't have face-to-face communication. Continuously practicing this ceremony and defining the right criteria can help your team improve the way they communicate their problems. With our tool, you can always have all the information saved and available.

Don't promote teammates competition in your Retrospectives session

As we mentioned above, this is not a finger-pointing or comparison session. All members are valuable and have the right to express their opinion. But the facilitator may identify issues between members that don't want to express them. In these cases, we should start with the right vocabulary in addition to not including personal opinions(referring to blaming and complaint). When you have a clear idea about the problems you are going to approach in the session you can start asking about those particular issues so the team could start discussing it. Always having in mind that this ceremony is to improve, not to prove some teammates weren't at the top pf their game. Allowing these blaming commentaries can generate problems in the way the team interacts. This takes us to the next point.

Focus your retrospective Session

Remote work can cause a lot of problems when we talk about communication. This problem can be present itself when the team wastes a lot of time and lacks engagement during the retrospectives sessions. There are different ways to avoid this problem, but the main one is focusing on your retrospective session.

  • Schedule a meeting: This will ensure that the entire team is available. In case you are using Agile Retrospectives for Jira or Confluence, ensure that all members know that the session can be filled asynchronously.
  • Make a Retrospectives Agenda: understand what the goal and focus of the meeting are to make sure you have a productive and efficient meeting.
  • Define a Prime Directive: to assure that the session has the right purpose and culture in order to keep the focus result-oriented and for it to be a positive experience for everyone involved
  • Choose the retrospective technique: the one that works better for your team.
  • Vote for the main problem: Ensure members vote for the main problem they're want to tackle. Retrospectives can be useless if you try to solve everything.

Retrospectives are fun and very beneficial for your Distributed team. Check out all the tools that we have for Agile Distributed teams!