Retrospectives are one of our favorite Agile practices. We find incredible value in the act of coming together to reflect on work we delivered after each sprint, share feedback to “determine what succeeded and what could be improved,” and agree on what high-priority action items to tackle next.
What is an Agile retrospective?
In Agile, a retrospective (or 'retro') is an efficient meeting that project teams hold after completing a crucial stage of a project. Retrospectives allow Agile teams to move quickly without losing the feedback loop and honest reflection that are needed to continue iterating at a rapid pace.
What Agile teams often get wrong with the retrospective
Retrospectives, like team meetings in general, come with problems—and that’s also very true when you are part of a remote company like ours. As distributed teams, we need to work hard for retros to stay an efficient and valuable use of our time; we also need to make sure that everybody gets the chance to participate and share in the learning experience.
Within Hotjar, different departments use different retro templates and methods depending on team size, project scope, and tool of choice. One of our best templates for a no-frills, effective, and fast retro isthe 3-column Trello board that our Customer Success Managers (CSMs) use, so we’re sharing their template and explaining how it works.
How to create and implement the 3-column retrospective template
The 3-column template requires all retro participants to list and share their ideas on what went well and what did not go well during the previous work iteration(for example the previous week), discuss and share feedback, and agree on what actions need to be taken moving forward.
This method works well when you and your team need to:
Have a structured and efficient way to reflect on past activities
Make sure nothing that worked, or didn’t, goes unnoticed
Create a list of action points and fixes to tackle week after week, so you can continuously improve
⬆ Click on the image to get yourself a copy of this in Trello!
1. Start the retrospective by gathering data (5-10 minutes)
When it’s retro time, all participants join the call (we tend to use Google Hangouts or Zoom) and individually open the 3-column Trello board.
After greeting each other, the team members put themselves on mute (while still on the video call) for 5-10 minutes and start adding cards to the ‘what went well’ and ‘what didn’t go well’ columns in Trello.
Our CSM team demonstrating how to start a retrospective in Hangouts
The ideas on each card can range from very personal to business-specific; as an example, here are a few from recent CSM retros:
I didn't stumble over demos/I was able to answer questions well!
I ran out of time and haven’t built out the Zendesk dashboard I said I would do
My afternoons tend to get lost and isolated because the EU team is gone
The team is on a very good track, we got a lot done this week and collaboration was much better than in the previous week
The best BBQ of my life (because sometimes that’s just what you need for a productive week!)
By the end of these 5-10 minutes, each person should have successfully summarized a week’s/iteration’s worth of success or lack thereof and should be ready to discuss each idea or issue with the rest of the team.
🏆Pro tip: instead of wasting time scrambling to remember what happened and is worth mentioning, spend the first 1-2 minutes refreshing your memory by looking into your calendar at meetings you had, emails you exchanged, actions you listed in the project management tool you use, etc.
Bonus point for taking notes throughout the week, so all you need is a copy-paste job on retro day.
2. Organize and vote on the ideas (5 minutes)
When all ideas are written, one of the team members shares their screen so everybody can see and be on the (literal) same page, and the reviewing session can begin.
Which column do you start from? It depends on your team’s preference. Some teams prefer to begin their retro by celebrating the positives first; our CSMs often start from the ‘things that went wrong’ column, since that’s where they find the most valuable/useful talking points.
Which card(s) do you start from? The approach depends on team size and number of cards:
Tackle the cards in order, one by one, if you are a small team or have fewer than 20-30 cards
Use voting in Trello if you are a larger team or have over 30 cards; this can easily happen if your retro comes at the end of a particularly large or complex project, or you are reviewing 2-3 weeks’ worth of material. Give each participant a specific number of votes (e.g. 3, 5, etc.) they can use to pick their favorite topic(s) to discuss; when everybody’s done, sort by most to least voted and start from the most popular card.
A card that uses the 'vote' feature
3. Discuss and assign follow-up actions (30 mins)
Whenevera card is pulled up, its author givesa brief backstory of what happened. If required, they then open up the discussion to the rest of the team, who might offer a solution or complementary point of view: it’s not uncommon for more than one person to bring up the same topic(s) during a retrospective, so this is a good opportunity to exchange feedback and look at a topic from different angles.
Occasionally, people interact in writing by adding comments directly onto a card. This option becomes particularly valuable in the long-term if you ever want to revisit any of the cards in a few weeks or months.
A card that uses the 'comment' feature
Not all cards will have an action associated with them: in the example above, sometimes it’s enough that a topic gets acknowledged by the rest of the team. In other cases, follow-up actions get assigned to a person who then becomes responsible for their delivery.
🏆Pro tip: for a time-efficient retro, have a member of the team volunteer as a facilitator, keeping track of time, and making sure the conversation stays on topic.
Final thoughts & your copy of the template
There are many ways to run a retrospective, from the very basic to the really jazzed up—and that’s before you even look at the Lego retrospective, where you build a Lego animal to represents your feelings about work in 8 bricks or less (!).
The 3-column template we shared is one we recommend for teams who need a fast and efficient method to bring to light issues and opportunities + get actionable points and fixes to work on. So we made a template for you to check out, copy, and try. Enjoy!
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