The Key to Successful Remote Retrospectives

In the last year, innumerable blogs have been written about how to do everything remotely.  On those days when our glass is half-full and COVID fatigue is low, we can appreciate that we live in a time with advanced remote working capabilities.  Despite our preference for colocation and face-to-face communication, Scrum teams are beneficiaries of online tools that are pretty good at approximating people actually being together.


Since the beginning of the COVID shutdown, I’ve conducted dozens of remote retrospectives.  Most went well, some not so well and one completely flopped, but all of them resulted in opportunities for improvement.  I’ve used four different online tools and utilized 8-10 different retrospective formats.  Through it all I’ve seen one ingredient for success that transcends all others: giving participants time for reflection and unbiased idea generation.


Regardless of the retrospective format (4Ls, Drop-Add-Keep-Improve, Sailboat, etc), I start with the same pattern:

  1. Remind the team of the ground rules
  2. Teach/remind the team of how this type of retrospective works
  3. Give team members 5 minutes write down ideas
  4. Have the team anonymously submit ideas
  5. Group common ideas together (Affinity Grouping)
  6. Have the team anonymously vote on each idea or group (Dot Voting)


After that lead-in we discuss the ideas with the most votes, select action items and participants will volunteer to own the action items, all the usual retrospective activities.  Those 6 introductory steps usually take about 20 minutes to complete and can take even longer with a new team.  I typically have an hour for these retrospectives, so it leaves 30 minutes for discussion and 10 to confirm action items and owners.  This 6-step introduction takes about 1/3 of the meeting, and it’s well worth it.


Step #3 is the key: Give team members 5 minutes to write down ideas.  Online meetings are a place where it is easy to hide, even when everyone has their cameras turned on (and they should have those cameras on for Retrospectives!)  It can also be hard for some people to interject and contribute when the conversation is lively.  Giving people quiet, focused time to log their ideas results in more and better ideas than open conversation.  It’s also a time for Scrum Masters to relax and prepare for the expert facilitation required for remote Retrospectives to be successful.


If you’ve been struggling with remote retrospectives, give this approach a try.  Let me know how it goes!  Drop me a note: