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Preparing for an Online Retrospective

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"Disregard for Preparation" is an often recurring antipattern for distributed retrospectives and has huge consequences. Walk through how a facilitator initially misjudges how much preparation an online retrospective requires and later learns how to prepare for it wisely.

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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

. . . in which the facilitator initially misjudges how much preparation an online retrospective requires and later learns how to prepare for it wisely


A specialist who happens to be living on the other side of the world joins the team, and now Sarah has to facilitate distributed retrospectives with a new team member. After years of facilitating retrospectives for the team, she knows the team members, what activities are efficient for them, and what they believe works for them. It is difficult for her to see how these activities will work in an online retrospective, but she is too busy to spend time learning how distributed retrospectives are different. She sets up a distributed online retrospective by sharing an empty document and inviting the team with a video conferencing tool.

When the retrospective is about to start, Sarah logs in to the video connection and the document she asked them to use. Unfortunately, only the new specialist and two other team members are online when the retrospective is supposed to start. The other team members arrive during the next 6 minutes, but the round of questions she had decided to start the retrospective with has to be repeated twice because more people keep joining the meeting after she thought that everyone who was able to be there had joined.

When everybody finally is present in the video conference, she can only see five people in the document, and when she asks them about it, she can hear the rest desperately trying to enter the shared document. Some have misplaced the link, some have forgotten their password, and another 5 minutes are lost in this process. Having lost 11 out of 60 minutes, Sarah is a bit frustrated but tries not to let the team notice. For the Gather Data phase, she wanted everybody to add three lines about what they like, what they don’t like, and what questions they have. When the third item is added to the document, the new specialist starts a long description of the issue, and Rene adds to it.

Rene and the specialist start their own little discussion, and Sarah is unable to stop it because she cannot use her body language in this online venue to direct the team’s attention and indicate that they need to move on. She finds it difficult to change the setting online, since all she has is a document, which leaves her unable to throw in a new activity to make people talk in smaller groups or write more issues as she would have done in a real-life setting.

The retrospective ends when the time is up with the team having discussed only one subject. In fact, most of the people in attendance had already started looking at their email before the retrospective ended, and there was no real wrap-up with action points, experiments, or lessons learned. The momentum of the retrospective, if there ever was one, was lost.

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