The purpose of agile retrospectives is pretty straightforward. It’s to ensure that your team is getting better after every sprint and project.
Easier said, than done, right? And if we’re talking about online retrospectives for remote teams, that’s a whole new level of complexity.
After all, there is not a single right way to run online retrospectives for every remote team out there. Luckily, we have a wide range of online retrospective tools that teams can use to conduct effective sprints and scrums.
In this article we’ll talk how to choose agile retrospective tools that fit the unique needs of your team, which are the free retrospective tools and paid ones, and how to get the most out of every online retrospective tool.
But first, let’s briefly talk about how to conduct an online retrospective.
How to Conduct Retrospectives Online
Every retrospective session, online or not, is built around three main themes:
- What worked well for us during this Sprint?
- What could be improved?
- What will we commit to improving in the next Spring?
The rest goes for how managers or scrum masters organize retrospective sessions to ensure they cover all three of those.
The way these sessions are organized may be different for every team depending on the team culture, their level of experience, and tools they use, but typically it includes these steps:
- Step 1. Facilitate an environment where everyone can openly share their ideas
- Step 2. Gather in one place everyone’s ideas on what worked and what didn’t during the last sprint
- Step 3. Organize similar ideas in groups
- Step 4. Let people vote on what ideas are the most important to address right now
- Step 5. Create action list with improvements that your team is going to apply in the next sprint
When done right, retrospectives allow teams to constantly improve their productivity, efficiency of their work, and their general level of satisfaction.
When done wrong, teams find retrospectives to be a purposeless waste of their time. Although it often comes down to the right management, the way you use your retrospective online tools plays a huge role in whether your retrospective is a win or a loss.
Here’s how to get the most out of your retrospective online tools.
Getting the Most Out of Online Retrospective Tools
Rarely agile teams use just one tool to conduct their retrospectives online. It’s usually a combination of different services. A typical example would include a video conferencing app (e.g. Zoom) a messenger (e.g. Slack), a retrospective sprint online tool to organize feedback, and in some cases, a whiteboard.
No matter what tools you use, here are some common attributes that you need to ensure those tools provide:
Good Retrospective Tools Facilitate Equal Feedback
Some voices in your team will be louder than others. Unfortunately, those loud voices tend to offset other team members’ opinions. Often this leads to an unbalanced view on the current problems.
A good online retrospective tool facilitates equal feedback from every team member. For example, when there’s a question “Why is our database access so slow?” pops up during the retrospective, the tool ensures that every participant provides their answers to this question by either collecting written feedback or controlling the time every team member gets to voice their opinion.
Example: Geekbot asks every team member the same question with Slack direct messages, so that even shy colleagues could easily provide their ideas in a written form rather than struggling to voice them in front of a group of people.
Useful Retrospective Online Tools Prevent Chaos
When your team members are active, many ideas will be put on the table, which is good. What’s not good is when you can’t organize these ideas and are left with a dozen solutions that don’t go well with each other.
Great retrospective tools make sure that the feedback from your team members can be easily organized. An example would be the ability to put ideas into related columns or tag ideas so that you could instantly see emerging themes rather than a bunch of disparate concepts.
Example: Trello allows you to easily create several columns and effortlessly drag items between these columns. The process is so simple it lets your team to group your ideas as fast as they are coming in.
Great Retrospective Tools Eliminate Groupthink
Another common issue with retrospectives is when team members see other ideas and stop thinking on their own. This is usually the case when someone else has voiced a strong opinion before.
In order to prevent that, a good retrospective tool ensures the feedback is gathered independently, asynchronously, or even anonymously, if the problem is persistent.
Example: Geekbot allows every team member to answer retrospective questions privately using Slack bot. After that all the answers from different team members are merged into a separate Slack channel.
5 Online Retrospective Tools To Continuously Elevate Your Team Performance
Below are some online retrospective tools to help you run effective online retrospectives.
With Geekbot you can send a set of retrospective questions to your team members directly in Slack. After they have answered them, the bot then sends all the responses into a designed Slack channel so that the team could later analyze feedback from everyone and come up with action plans to improve the current state of things.
- Full customization: customize retrospective questions to your particular needs: change questions, add icebreakers, configure the time
- NLP-analysis: Geekbot can provide NLP-analysis to team responses if you need additional info on team morale
- Asynchronous, equal feedback: team members share feedback equally and at the most convenient time for them, allowing remote teams to effectively run retrospectives even with employees distributed over different time zones.
- Works only with Slack
Whiteboards are often used in office retrospective sessions, but they require an experienced scrum master or team lead to quickly put feedback from team members on the boards.
Online whiteboards have a critical advantage over office boards: they are more flexible. Once you put ideas on the digital whiteboard you can easily edit and rearrange them during your discussions.
If your team likes to use whiteboards during retrospectives, here are some services you might find useful:
- Limnu: realistic collaborative whiteboard experience
- AWW: rich functionality with ability to embed whiteboards onto webpages
- Stormboard: a combination of a whiteboard and a sticky-note organizer
- Whiteboards are great for teams and scrum master who are used to running retrospectives using them
- A wide range of whiteboard services for different teams
- Needs smart management to prevent chaos and board cluttering
- Additional effort to export visual ideas and messages into action lists
Online Sprint Retrospectives Tools
There are several online services developed specifically for running online retrospectives. Usually, they utilize a predefined workflow that gets teams through every step of the retrospective process, from gathering ideas to later prioritizing them and converting into action lists.
Although services like these simplify running retrospectives, they too require an experienced Scrum Master or a manager to make the most out of them.
Here are some of the online retrospective services you can try:
- An organized process for conducting online retrospectives
- Some services are not easily customized to the needs of the particular team
If your team likes to search for original and elaborate ways to tackle their problems, mind maps can be a great opportunity to combine retrospective processes with brainstorming.
Just remember retrospectives need to stay actionable in order to be useful. No matter how creative the input is, you need to have good management in place to make sure those mind mapping sessions are organized and later implemented via specific actions.
Examples of mind map services to help run online retrospectives:
- Facilitates creative input and synthesis of ideas
- Quickly turns into chaos if managed improperly
Sometimes the reason why a certain team is struggling lies within the team itself. Employees can be dissatisfied with certain aspects of their work, but often they won’t speak about those openly, especially during retrospectives when the whole team might be listening.
It’s important to unearth such issues and discuss them during retrospectives without blaming anyone. And certain tools can help you do that.
- Geekbot: run surveys directly in Slack and perform NLP-analysis of team responses over time to track the morale within your team and how it affects their work.
- TeamMood: use email surveys and check the well-being of your team with mood indicators, graph, and calendars.
- Officevibe: collect anonymous feedback from your teammates with custom polls and analyse historical data with survey reports on 10 key metrics.
Free Online Retrospective Tools
Below are some free online retrospective services that lets you run team retrospectives if you’re short on budget.
- RemoteRetro: a free open-source online retrospective tool that lets you run collaborative online sessions with your team members and supports all key retrospective processes such as idea generation, voting, labelling, and action list generation.
- Retrospected: a free agile retrospective tool that doesn’t require registration. In addition to standard features, it stores history of previous retrospections and provides a mobile-friendly version. Bonus: integration with Giphy service.
- IdeaBoardz: a free tool that allows your team to gather inputs and move them across columns on a digital board. The board is shared via the link so your team can access it independently to provide their input. Finally, you can filter and organize all the notes and export the data to a pdf or Excel sheet.
- Trello: although Trello is mainly used for Kanban-style organization of team work, it’s flexible enough and can be adapted for running retrospectives. For example, you can create “Positives” and “Negatives” columns and then drag team notes between them. Additional columns can be created on the go.
Secret Weapon: Retrospect Your Tools for Retrospectives
In this article we went through different tools that can help you conduct useful retrospectives that really enhance your team performance with every next sprint.
But running effective online retrospectives is not an easy task. Even the best tools won’t help you if your team is not willing to constantly work on how to make your retrospectives better.
So here’s a great way to improve your retrospectives and ensure that your team is constantly improving the way they work: retrospect the retrospectives.
Analyse what tools you use and how to get the most out of them. That way you’ll inevitably find tools that make your team more effective and happy without creating additional chaos or mental overload.
If you want to asynchronously collect team feedback, continuously find new ways to improve your workflows, and carefully track team morale, try using Geekbot.
With our free trial you can easily set up and customize retrospectives so that your team will always have the most actionable data in one place. Just don’t forget to let us know about your results. Good luck!