Last week, on May 5th, 2020, we held an online retrospectives meetup. Effectively we took our Retrospectives Retreat and transformed it to an online format.

Following the meetup we wish to share tips for online retrospectives, including specific learning points from this meetup.

Preparation

If there is one important thing to share, this would be it. Of course we had our share of technical and facilitation glitches, of course there were things that didn’t go as expected, and yet, preparation was the one superpower that helped us successfully holding the meetup to the end and keeping participants engaged.

So here are a few tips for preparing for your next online retrospective: 

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The DoD (Definition of Done) is a critical element in aligning an organization to be able to continuously deliver valuable products to the customers.
The importance of the DoD and a deeper analysis is described here
How do you properly create a DoD that reflects the current skills of the teams and at the same time provides guidance for learning and improvement? This blog post will describe how I often facilitate such a workshop.

If you don't have a proper DoD, I would recommend that you get one ASAP. and even if you already have a DoD, it is definitely a good idea to revisit it from time to time to check whether it requires modification. 


When I talk with people about DoD, it is surprising how something that looks trivial to most is us is actually something we need to align and agree on. Since we all have different assumptions.
The way I like to approach it is by conducting a short and effective workshop by gathering all the relevant people in one space to discuss and align.   

I would like to share with you a workshop that was done with a customer using zoom (COVID…) but this can be similarly done in a “real-life” session.

The workshop requires about 2 hours, and in order to make it effective and have a good DoD it is also highly important to have representatives of each and every phase in the development process attend.

Workshop structure

  • I start the workshop with an energizer, a short activity to break the ice and get the people in the right mood. 

  • The first real step of the workshop is to create a collection of activities that composes the value delivery flow.

  • Once we have a comprehensive list of activities, we can then move on to reach an agreement regarding which of the items can be a part of the DoD, taking into account the business needs and the skills that the teams currently have. 

  • We then continue to add more details and clarify what each activity means for us.

  • At this point in the workshop we should already have a first version of the DoD.

  • Depending on the time left and the atmosphere, you could also potentially add a bonus step to look into the future and agree on how to expand the DoD.

  • And just before we finish i use any kind of “checkout” activity to close the workshop.

 

The following table will describe in detail a specific instance of the workshop facilitation flow which was done remotely using zoom.

 

Goal

Timebox
(min)

How

Preparation 

Check-in

15 

Each participant chose an animated gif image and sent it to me privately using zoom chat

I quickly put all the GIFs in a document that I shared with the participants.

I asked the participants to try and guess which GIF belongs to which person.

Decide how you want to share the GIF with the room. I used a shared google doc, but any other method will do.

Collecting activities - Part I

10

Divided to groups of ~5 people (using zoom breakout rooms),  the participants were requested to add as many items as they can to that column, each item representing one activity that needs to be done in order to deliver value to the customer.

* Open a Trello board (or similar) with one column titled  “Delivery activities

Collecting activities - Part II

10

Divided into groups of ~5 people, the participants were requested to extend the level of details so that the items will be clearly understood. for example, The item titled as testing is way too vague for me, and I asked to split it into the different categories of testing that this group needs to perform in order to deliver.

 

Finalizing activity list

10

Having everyone in the main room - everyone has a chance to ask questions or clarifications regarding the items on the list and make the necessary adjustments 

 

Categorizing activities 

2 x 10

Divided to groups of ~5 people, the participants were requested to start moving the activities from the “Delivery activities” column to the right column by discussing when is that activity taking place, I also requested that they remove duplicates and clarify meaning when needed.
This is done twice, with different group compositions.

Add 3 more columns to the Trello board you created: “Before the sprint”, “During the sprint”, “After the sprint”.

Finalizing Categorization 

10

Having everyone in the main room - everyone has a chance to ask questions or clarifications regarding the items on the list and make the necessary adjustments 

 

Add more information

2 x 10

Divided into groups of ~5 people, the participants were requested to add the following information to each activity:
- Who has the knowledge and skill to perform this activity,
- What resources are required
- How will we know that it was performed
- What are the impediments that will make it difficult to perform.
This is done twice, with different group compositions.
Additionally, this is another opportunity to clarify items, change their column and remove duplicates.

 

Finalizing the DoD

10

Yay! First DoD!
Having everyone in the main room - We review the items that are in the “During the sprint” and declare that as our  DoD.
This is also another opportunity to ask if there is anything that doesn't make sense or is thought of as not doable and modify the DoD accordingly.

Prepare an empty document  titled “Our DoD” and copy/paste the items from the “During the sprint” column

Expanding DoD - bonus step.

 

Collectively decide which item we would like to add to the DoD and what steps we need to take in order to succeed with that.
I will leave out the details of how to facilitate that to leave some room for your imagination and creativity.

 

Closing

10

I asked each participant to “sign” at the bottom of the DoD document by typing in their name and one sentence describing how they personally are committed to making sure the DoD is respected.

 


I’m done (I think…)
Anything to ask or add? Use the comments :)

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Of all the principles of the agile manifesto, this is the most outdated one.

Back in 2001 the authors of the manifesto defined “frequently” as two months to two weeks, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

And Working Software means just that - a product increment that is deployed in whatever production environment it is intended to work on.

A truly agile organization is capable of a software delivery frequency of minutes, hours or - at most - just a few days.

This, BTW, has nothing to do with iteration length. A team can work in a 2 week iteration and still release software dozens of times per day.

If you’re already practicing continuous delivery and are able to deploy new features to production multiple times a day, read no further.

If, however, you wish to increase the number of deployments per day or even per month, this post is definitely for you.

This post is the 4th in a series on Agile Manifesto tl;dr. Click here to go to the first post including an index to the others posts.

Why shorter releases?

Many organizations that operate on long releases (say 3 months or more) find themselves struggling to enjoy the benefits of their agile journey:

They want to have shorter releases to reduce the TTM - Time To Market. 

By shortening the release cadence they often find that they deliver less content while keeping a large overhead each release.

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We try to do it all.

Sometimes it feels like everything is important and urgent.

 

Observing the past few weeks, social-distancing brought us all to re-examine how we deal with our pre-definition of urgent and important.

Priorities have shifted, the work-home boundaries and the physical working environment have changed.

What I see and hear from people is that on one hand they have less time (working from home with kids around), and on the other hand their online meetings take more time.

I hear that people with young children are struggling to find time to complete their tasks, while many singles and people with older kids are finding themselves working from morning till night.

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