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Appologies for the long delay… a lot has been going on recently… but time to continue with our journey through the way we do agile in our distributed team.

The previous posts in this series can be found here: 1, 2 and 3.

Sprint end

That’s the time for the team to celebrate their successes during the sprint (or to excuse the failures, which also happens). While virtual parties tend to be less happy then real ones, we try to still keep a happy atmosphere and not let the meetings get too boring.

During the meeting we go over all the tickets that were part of the sprint, whether completed or not. Whenever possible we insist on having a live demo, on our QA system, and also allow time for the Product owner and other team members to ask questions. The Demos and participation of all the team keep things more lively. To avoid the meeting being all virtual, we try to have team members who are collocated joining the meeting from a meeting room, though this doesn’t always work well for us.

In order not to lose team member’s attention, I try to keep the discussions focused. I also do not allow too much time to discuss a particular ticket, since we only dedicate 2 hours for a 2 week sprint.

Having team members also using webcams or cameras in the meeting rooms helps a lot in improving the team spirit and familiarity, and also helps significantly not having team members slowly shifting attention from the meeting. That’s really individual, not everybody likes the concept of showing themselves in video and I respect that. Luckily in our team, people are really cool and happy about it.

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Retrospective, or letting all the dirty juice out

Separated from the sprint Review meeting, and only a few days after the sprint has ended, I conduct a retrospective meeting for the team. That’s a chance for team members to raise and talk about what bothers them, what can and should be improved in the way we work, technologies we use, our tools, our products and so on.

But retrospectives are definitely not only about negative things, constructive as this might be. It’s also a great chance to talk about good things and see if they could even improve more, or just to praise a colleague or thank for support or advice you got.

To support the meeting conduct and since we are not all sitting together against a board, I use a great free tool called Trello, which allows dynamic virtual boards.

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Per sprint, I open a board which is open for all team members throughout the entire sprint. In this board, they can enter their feedback, thoughts and ideas, divided to five columns:

Start Doing Keep Doing More of Less of Stop doing
New ideas, new concepts to cosnider things we do great and want to continue things we do well and want to intensify negative things we need to minimize, but could also be some practices we simply do inefficiently Mostly bad habits that needs to be kicked

I also add a 6th column, titled Shortlist. Since we only dedicate 45 minutes per sprint for a retrospective, and sometimes there are many cards added, we use the voting option in Trello to shortlist the topics we would discuss.

During the meeting I share my screen, and we start discussing the cards added. Whomever raised the topic introduces it shortly and then we open up for discussion. As a Scrum Master I try to keep my opinion for last, in order not to influence others and not making it seem like there is a right or wrong answer. Some people are less talkative by nature, but in many cases it’s these people who have the most brilliant insights or ideas, and I try to make sure everybody is involved in the discussion. Another important thing is to try and keep the discussion constructive and action-items oriented. In some cases we take decisions, in others we agree about experiments or try-outs we are going to conduct for a limited time.

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I track all the decisions and action items in a wiki page, where I detail out what was agreed and who is in charge. I normally take the first few minutes of each retrospective to follow up on action items from previous meetings, update the status and also remind of things that got forgotten or neglected.

One of the most important principles of a good retrospective is to keep an open and respectful environment that encourages people to freely say what’s on their mind. I am never sure if we being distributed over different locations helps that or not. Sometimes it’s easier to say things over the phone rather when you are in person with someone else. In any case, it is currently my feeling that we have good meetings and that it works pretty well for us, at least for now.  

Another one is coming

By that, we pretty much completed our Agile cycle. In my next and probably last blog post in this series, I will talk more generally about ways to improve the atmosphere and team spirit for a distributed agile team. Looking forward for any questions or comments you might have.

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3 Comments

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  1. Caroleigh Deneen

    Nice to see a picture of the virtual team! Thanks for sharing your experiences working agile towards the new community. Glad to hear about the focus on continued improvement in the retrospectives. A project of this size and complexity requires plenty of that along the way.

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  2. Oleg Loewen

    Hi,

    Is there no in house solution of a digital retrospective board? Our scrum team members don’t want to write critical and internal topic items on a foreign cloud service.

    Kind regards,
    Oleg

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    1. Yaniv Bar Post author

      hi Oleg,

      there is at least nothing I am aware of so we picked up Trello. In case you use an internal installation of slack, maybe you can consider something like https://remysharp.com/2016/08/22/remote-retrospectives-with-retrobot, we might give it a try soon, but haven’t done so yet.

      BR,

      Yaniv

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