Multi-Site and Distributed Retrospectives

This is a chapter from my mini-book "Agile Retrospective Kickstarter".

All of the exercises I collected in the Retrospective Cheat Sheet work nicely when your team is colocated, namely is in the same physical room.


That’s the sweet spot. Not only for the retrospectives, but in general for teamwork and all-the-agile, as we value rich face-to-face collaboration.


But what if your team is dispersed and the team members are permanently work from different locations? Are you doomed? Or what if the team is colocated in an offshore location with its Product Owner who works from the head office? How can retrospectives for such a setup can be run?

Indeed there are tricks, here are the key ones on running distributed multi-site retrospectives:

 1. Pick a tool that allows simultaneous writing, Google Docs or something similar. Create a single document and share its link across all the locations. After the meeting the same document can be referred from the retrospective summary. So it also allows easier documenting. But don’t use any tool if you’re colocated!

Please note that the commonly used wiki-like collaboration tools usually don’t allow for simultaneous editing. Moreover they usually are not showing the immediate progress someone else  typing on the other side of the wire. So pick the right tool. And prefer free ones - you can easily change them.

2. At any costs avoid long monologues over a wire, that’s the worst engagement killer.


To achieve this, we need to decide how to adapt the exercises for the distributed scenario. Here are three main categories:

A: exercises that don’t require a lot of talking and can be easily done sequentially in a round robin fashion across multiple locations;

B: the ones that can be done simultaneously in the tool by typing in from multiple locations at the same time, and otherwise will just waste time and ruin engagement;

C: and the other exercises that require more talking; these ones need to be run simultaneously in small colocated groups and at all locations at the same time.


Here is the classification of applicable activities from the Retrospective Cheat Sheet by categories:

A: Short exchanges

Run sequentially with everyone involved

B: Long talking

Run as break-out activities in groups

C: Requires writing, drawing, post-its

Run simultaneously in groups using the tool


#2: "CHECK-IN: MAD, SAD, ..."






#13: "BREAK OUT"










#16: “FUN VS. USE”

As you can see most of the activities are suitable for a distributed multi-site retrospective, exception for probably the #3: CONSTELLATIONS.


Some activities can be done the either way, for instance the #6: PROUD - THANKFUL - LEARNED can be done in the overall group after a short silent writing activity or within break-out groups. I’d choose the second option and whenever there is a possibility to do at least a part of an activity in smaller colocated groups - that’ll be my choice. Why? Because it is where the magical power of self-organization emerges. It is really hard to expect the same effect when working with a large dispersed group of people talking over a mic. Such meetings would require more coordination, more steering, more management. That’s wasteful. 

3. When you’re running an A-type exercise, make sure you balance involvement between all the sites, one good way to achieve that is to ask a currently speaking person to call a random name of a remote person to be the next speaker. This also adds a little bit of fun and jelling between the sites. You want more of this.


The B-type activities that require long talking can also be done in smaller groups connected by a video/phone line. For instance, there is an engineering topic that several developers from each location would like to contribute to. During the break-out time-box they can initiate a another video/phone conference among themselves. Once done, they’ll report their converged thinking to the overall group.

4. To be able to choose from these variety of  options your folks need to be aware of them. So make sure you spend some time teaching these collaboration ideas to the team. The  “Set the Stage” phase seems to be the best appropriate for this.

So, these four tricks, 1000 hours of practice - and you’re there. In fact, just any partial application of these ideas will make your remote meetings significantly more productive than the status-quo teleconferences.


How to create retrospective agendas that drive change? How to add more fun and engagement without losing the focus? How to raise the team's willingness to take actions? 


Download my mini-book Agile Retrospective Kickstarter.


The book explains in greater details all the 16 exercises of the cheat sheet.

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