Distributed Retrospective

Posted by Doc
Jun 07 2009

A couple of days ago, I facilitated my first-ever distributed retrospective.  I was pretty anxious about it, since much of the value I’ve experienced in retrospectives comes from the interactions between people.  Here’s how it went:

I was facilitating from my home in Austin. My colleague was in Chicago. The project manager/scrum master was at work, but off site. Several of the team were in the client’s offices, but not necessarily together. And several were in Bangalore, India.

From my perspective, this created a wonderful variety of challenges.

We used a sharing application that allowed participants to sign in as “guest #”, for those times when we wanted anonymity, and also used a WebEx. The PM shared the anonymous app via WebEx, so we could all see what was being entered.

We began with a Safety Exercise, which was supported by the sharing app which was revealed in the WebEx window. It worked quite well, and I was delighted to see all fives and one four (meaning that everyone felt quite safe).

We followed this with a Mad/Glad/Sad, still using the anonymous window. This was interesting, in that we were using virtual stickies, and had to do reading/clustering verbally. It’s clear that there’s an opportunity for a sharing app that actually presents something like stickies, and can be manipulated in real-time (something like cardmeeting.com, but more oriented toward this purpose).

I thought about using Mingle. Here’s how I think it might work (and I might try this next week):

  • Create a card type of “sticky”
  • Create a card attribute of “feeling” and give it a list of values: mad, glad, sad (or whatever is appropriate)
  • Create a card type of “cluster”, with the intent of connecting Stickies to it in a tree or hierarchy, as with epics, features, stories, and tasks

I’m experimenting with this now, and will share results as I get them, and what I learn in the process. While nothing that’s done electronically will replace face-to-face retrospectives, I’m hopeful that this will reduce the pain.

7 Responses

  1. Brooke Denny says:


    Have you facilitated any more distributed retrospectives since this one? Did you find any other tools to help you? I’d be interested in hearing any ideas for reducing the pain of trying to run retrospectives over video conference.


  2. Brooke Denny says:

    Great, thanks. I’m already in touch with Patrick Kua, but if you know of anyone else who’s doing this, that’d be great.

  3. Have you seen these whiteboard apps? Require no login. On the other hand, not entirely without flaws. Both allow multiple users to manipulate in real time. I suggest you should test them with multiple users before using for a real event, and have a backup available in case they crap out.

    Text in “stickies” or text boxes on white background

    Text in “stickies” on corkboard background

    I am still figuring out what works and what doesn’t, too. 🙂

  4. Oh, and I just spotted this one: graphics, has free and paid versions.


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