Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Facilitating Retrospectives with Remote Attendees using Google Drawing in 5 Easy Steps

When you talk about retrospectives, most people probably imagine a group of people in a room together using stickies to identify what is "working well" and "opportunities to improve."  If you have participated in a retrospective when everyone else is co-located, you may have found that experience sub-optimal.  Consider the alternative of running a retro with no one co-located, where all members participate remotely.

The following are 5 easy steps to facilitate a retrospective using a 4 square format with Google Drawing.  The example I draw from was run with fourteen remote participants--most of whom never used Google Drawing and some who never had been to a retrospective.   In general, I am tool agnostic, but I have found that Google Drawing is intuitive, provides some of the "tactical-like" feel that you get with using stickies, and it is not difficult to set up. 

Step 1: Set Up - Est. 10 Min
Create virtual retro board and pre-create blank stickies and voting chips for each participant in advance of meeting.  Alternatively, you can open the Remote Retrospective Template* in Google (you'll need to 'Make a Copy' to be able to edit it).  Note: Please abide by the Creative Commons license referenced at end of this post.

I suggest grouping of "stickies" and "voting chips" to a named individual so there is no confusion on where people should start.  










You'll need to give participants edit rights to the document.   

First time doing this I add people in advance of meeting without email notification.  This enables me to explain how to use the board to everyone at once.    Everyone can benefit from questions raised.


Step 2: Explain How to Use The Board Est. 5 Min
If this is the first time your participants are using Google Drawing, take a few minutes to show them the basics.  Although the tool is very intuitive, you will lower anxiety by showing how easy it is to: drag a shape >  double-click to edit > enter text.  I also showed various ways to create additional stickies. 

In my example, many participants were not familiar with retrospectives, so I explained the values behind why we do retrospectives and the guidelines I wanted people to follow prior to showing how to use the Google Drawing..  

Step 3: Create and Add Stickies Est. 10 Min
I time-box this part of the retrospective to 10 minutes.  Each person adds their thoughts (1 per stickie) to the corresponding quadrant: (Working Well, Opportunity to Improve, Questions, Suggestions)

Here's a 10 second time elapsed view of 14 people simultaneously adding items over the time box.

Step 4: Group like items and use voting chips to prioritize items for discussion Est. 10 Min
Once everyone has independently added their items to the 4 different areas, group similar stickies together.  I like to employ silent grouping to items.  I have found this minimizes the amount of time spent discussing what the team agrees to. 

Ask for volunteers to read the groupings.  Anyone participating can ask for clarification to what is meant by a stickie, but no one should make challenge or comment on the validity of what someone else shared at this point of the meeting.

After all items have been read, each person can assign 3 "voting chips" to the groupings that they think are more important.  A person can choose to allocate their chips to separate items or put more then one on a specific item.  Voting chips can be applied to a grouping in any of the 4 quadrants.  This voting can be done silently and independently.  In a matter of minutes, you will have identified themes and prioritized them as a group.

Step 5: Identify Action Items Est. 10 Min - 30 Min
As a group, discuss the groupings of items starting with the items that received the most votes. Suggest which activities the team wants to continue and what the team wants to do differently.  Identify a few action items that the team can commit to in the upcoming iteration. 

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Additional Tips and Tricks
  • Suggest participants use Chrome when opening your Google Drawing virtual board
  • The first time you try this you might miss the ability to read visual queues from other people participating in the retro.  Encourage folks to speak up about how their feeling.  
  • Enable video when discussing the items as a group.  Google Hangout is great, but there are a bunch of other tools that work well too.
  •  I like to differentiate the color of the action items that the team comes up with collectively, from the items that are suggested independently.
  • There are many excellent ways to facilitate a retrospective, depending on maturity, team dynamics, organizational context and a set of other factors, so I encourage you to experiment with that will work best with your team(s).
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* Note: Use of Remote Retrospective template is under:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.