Last updated Oct 2020
The guide to retrospectives – remote or in person
Michael de le Maza,
Agile Coach
Michael is an industry recognized Agile & Scrum Coach and consultant who helps companies succeed by supporting company-wide agile transformations.

How to run a successful remote retrospective

Remote work is no longer the future of work – it’s the present. More and more teams are moving away from the traditional office environment and working together online instead.

That offers plenty of advantages, but there are hurdles to overcome as well. Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work Report found that communication and collaboration are some of the biggest challenges of working remotely. 

This can make your agile retrospectives particularly challenging. Fortunately, I'm here to help. Let’s talk about how your distributed team can run a successful remote retrospective. 

What is a remote retrospective?

A remote retrospective is a version of the agile retrospective you’re likely familiar with. Retrospectives typically happen at the end of the sprint (hence why they’re often referred to as sprint retrospectives) and are a chance for your team to evaluate your processes, get down to root causes, and make necessary changes.

However, during a remote retrospective, you and your team members won’t be in the same room when you have this conversation. You’ll use video conferencing (like Zoom) and an online whiteboard to collaborate with your team.

Over 300 employees participated in Miro's remote retrospective during a virtual offsite in 2020.

Why the retrospective is a critical part of the agile process

You can’t skip your retrospective, as it’s a core piece of most agile approaches. But, it’s a good thing that your retrospective meeting is unmissable because it offers tons of benefits. 

1. Identify flaws and inefficiencies in your processes

Processes aren’t set in stone. They’re meant to be refined and improved, and your retrospective is a chance for your team members to identify what went well and what needs to change. That time for reflection and discussion can get lost in the hustle and bustle of your daily task list. But, having regular retrospectives on the calendar means your team prioritizes continuous improvement. 

2. Hold team members accountable

Taking a fine-tooth comb to the successes and sticking points of your previous sprints requires that your team members hold themselves accountable for their responsibilities in the process. That level of ownership is important, especially when you consider that in one study, nine out of 10 employees pointed to accountability as one of the top development needs in their organizations. 

3. Iterate more effective sprints in the future

A retrospective has one key goal: to help your team become more and more effective. You and your team will use the information gained during a retrospective to identify action items, implement improvements, and make your next sprint that much better. 

How to run a remote retrospective in 5 steps

So, your retro is important. But, that doesn’t change the fact that a remote retrospective introduces some new challenges and complexities. Unlike with a face-to-face retrospective, communication is limited to only what you can see and hear and you don’t get to enjoy shared snacks. 

Rest assured that these hurdles aren’t insurmountable – they just require a bit of ingenuity. Here are five steps to help you ace your next retrospective with your remote team. 

1. Boost engagement right out of the gate

Retrospectives (whether they’re remote or not) require that the entire team is engaged in the process. Team members need to feel comfortable getting candid and voicing honest feedback about how things went during the latest sprint. That means you need to set the tone right away and get your team involved.

A couple of tips for doing this:

  • Switch up your retrospective format: If you keep using the same retrospective format over and over again, your team is bound to become bored with that rinse and repeat approach. Switch things up and keep everybody on their toes. That will keep participants more interested and engaged.

  • Get everyone talking: Make it your goal to get everyone in the meeting talking within the first five minutes. The sooner you get them to chime in, the more comfortable everybody will be. Starting with a few icebreakers will get everybody warmed up. Plus, it gives you a chance to make sure everybody’s tech is working correctly. 

Here are a few great ice breaker templates created by Miro users:

2. Start with a quick review

Now that your team is warmed up, give them some context before going into your discussion. In order to have a productive conversation, you need to confirm that everybody is on the same page. Do so by kicking things off with a brief recap of the action items from the previous retrospective. Make sure to include:

  • What the action items were

  • Who was responsible for each action item

It’s helpful to have this all recorded on the Miro board, so that team members can continue to refer back to that information as they dig into the discussion. You can create a dedicated frame and list a summary of this information to go through with your team.

Additionally, set up any necessary context for your current retro by providing a summary of what you'll be reflecting on.

3. Discuss with the team

Here’s where you get into the meat and potatoes of your agile retrospective: the discussion. To guide this conversation, and it’s helpful to have some predefined tools and methods to do so (I'll give you some suggestions for this in a minute).

Use sticky notes to brainstorm and generate insights and ideas, record them on your Miro board so that you don’t lose track of them. 

4. Identify actionable commitments

The main goal of your retrospective is to figure out what actions need to be taken in the next iteration. What will you actually do to make your next sprint better? The more measurable you can make these actions, the better.

For example, don’t just conclude that code reviews need to be done more quickly. Assign a value to that statement by saying that all code must be reviewed within four hours of submission. That makes it way easier for your team to tell whether an item is achieved, and it also gives you a more impactful way to evaluate yourselves during your next retrospective. 

Your remote team should jot down all of the action items you identify on the Miro board. Most agile coaches recommend that you should aim for at least five items, but no more than 10. Once you're ready to turn ideas into action, you can convert the sticky notes to cards that can be added to a kanban so you can manage the progress of each action item.

5. Review the retrospective 

I’m about to get really meta: at the end of your sprint retrospective, it’s important to discuss how it went. Yep, it’s a retrospective.

How can you improve your next retrospective? If new online tools or collaboration tools were used this time around, how effective were they?

Learn more about facilitating retros in Miro in this Miro Academy course on agile workflows>> 

5 useful techniques for remote retrospectives

Another key to a successful remote retrospective is using the right retrospective technique for your team. Not sure where to get started? Here, I’ve included five popular types of sprint retrospective templates for your Miro board.

1. Start, Stop, Continue

This template is split into three areas labeled start, stop, and continue. Your team reflects on three key questions:

  • What should the team start doing?

  • What should the team stop doing?

  • What should the team continue doing? 

Participants jot their ideas on digital sticky notes, place them in the appropriate column of your Miro board, and then discuss what was identified on those virtual post-its. 

Learn more about the Start, Stop, Continue Template>>

2. Mad, Sad, Glad

This retrospective technique also uses a template that’s split into three sections: mad, sad, and glad. Attendees are given 15 minutes to jot their observations on digital sticky notes. 

Once that time is up, they place them in the column that best matches their feeling of the observation. Did that observation make them feel mad, sad, or glad?

Similar observations are grouped together and then the team votes on which ones have the most value – so you know which ones need to be actioned on for the next sprint. 

Learn more about the Mad Sad Glad Template>>

3. 4 Ls

With this technique, your team will take some individual time to think of what they liked, learned, lacked, and longed for during the sprint and then jot those on sticky notes.

Next, they’ll place their sticky notes on the respective boards and split into four groups (one for each L). Each group should look through the sticky notes on their assigned board and group them according to similar themes.

Once that’s done, each group will present their findings and the entire team will discuss what actions can be taken to address those themes in the next sprint. 

Learn more about the 4Ls Template>>

4. Quick Retrospective

For teams who don’t have a ton of experience with retrospectives, this technique is a great starting point. You’ll ask your team:

  • What was good?

  • What was bad?

  • What ideas do they want to try in the next sprint?

They’ll jot those on their digital sticky notes and place them in the appropriate box in the Miro board. Once everything is placed, the team will discuss and come up with actions they’re going to take. Those also get placed on the board, so that everyone can see and refer back to that information. 

Learn more about the Quick Retrospective Template>>

5. Sailboat 

I love a good metaphor, and this technique compares the sprint to a sailboat. Your sprint has things that propel it forward (like the wind to a sailboat) and things that hold it back (the anchors).

With the sailboat retrospective technique, the team will identify things that helped the sprint move forward as well as what held it back. They then place those on the board (which has a picture of a sailboat) – either on the sail or below the boat. Again, when everything is on the board, similar themes will be grouped together and the team will vote on what’s the most critical to focus on. 

Learn more about the Sailboat Retrospective Template>>

Stay organized

The bulk of your retrospective should be dedicated to the actual discussion. However, it’s smart to leave five minutes for icebreakers and introductions, five minutes for a quick overview of the latest sprint, and then five to 10 minutes at the end to discuss how that retrospective went – and how your next retrospective could be better.

Miro can help your remote team run amazing retros. Sign up for a free Miro account to give it a try!

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