The only reminder for an online retrospective is whatever technical reminders are set up in the calendar. In a real-life meeting, you might be prompted by seeing your colleagues get up and go to the meeting room. In consequence, people come at the very last minute to the online meeting or, too often, a few minutes late.
As a result, the facilitator starts with 5 minutes less than planned in a retrospective that perhaps was originally just scheduled for 60 minutes with up to 10 people. And still, the facilitator is expected to Set the Stage, Gather Data, Generate Insights, Decide What to Do, and Close the Retrospective in the time remaining. Without preparation, it might look like this: “Okay, welcome to the retrospective. Who has something they want to share?” Someone starts talking about a subject close to his or her heart. If the facilitator does not stop this person in a reasonable amount of time to hear what others want to share, the retrospective could just revolve around the subject that the first person brings up.
In a real-life retrospective, the facilitator would more easily be able to detect that others are waiting to share and make sure people are aligned in their discussion, because it is easier to read people in a face-to-face meeting and to change the activities accordingly. Of course, these retrospectives also need preparation, but the facilitator’s job is simplified when he or she can observe the dynamics taking place in the room and find activities that fit the situation.
If a retrospective becomes focused early around one particular subject, this may be a very important subject that someone genuinely needs to discuss, but no one else is heard, and there is no consensus that this is the most relevant topic for them to discuss.
If the retrospective is not wrapped up on time, it can nevertheless come to an abrupt end as people suddenly log off and go to other meetings, since it is much easier, socially, to leave an online meeting than to leave a physical room. In the worst-case scenario, these online retrospectives consist of either speeches from the Loudmouth (Chapter 18) who likes to talk the most or a discussion between a few team members with no full agreement on experiments. They become status meetings, the soul-destroying evil twin of the retrospective.