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I am after ideas to make things run more smoothly and more quickly.

I have been using a combination of MS Teams and online tools like GroupMap and Stormz.

But there are long pauses, and less to and fro, and everything seems to take much longer.

I used to like doing attitude timelines but the online tools I have being using have been card based tools. Are there tools that are more flexible?

Clustering ideas is also a lot more awkward. I can fit a lot less cards on a screen than on a whiteboard. It would be nice to zoom in and out, resize cards, and put them were I want instead of having them on a grid.

Before in face to face meetings, when the meetings went in a new direction, I would turn the page on the flip chart, and start crowdsourcing ideas from the team. But now it is much harder to spin up a new digital board to explore something new.

Before when there was a pause in the conversion I would use eye contact to prompt people to speak, making sure everyone had their say. Now the pauses are a lot longer. When I verbally prompt people everything is sluggish and I feel like I am harassing them.

Before the seating arrangement helped determine who was going to speak next. Now I have to prompt everyone.

Before I could scan the room to get a feel for whether what I was doing was well received, or whether I needed to speedup, slowdown or change direction. Now I have to ask and there are more pauses, then the same person alway says something and I can't tell by looking whether there is someone who with a little prompting might give a different answer. I can't give non-verbal encouragement to offset inhibitory effect of the first persons answer and my verbal encouragement just doesn't seem as effective without the non-verbal component.

I have started to open the digital boards for the retrospective at the start of the sprint so people can jot down their thoughts during the sprint. However I know that only a few people will take advantage of that. I can even name them. I have also used Listy to add a Problem CounterMeasure Board to MS Team.

Does anyone have any thoughts on practices, tools or strategies that might improve things?

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    @Bogdan it's closed already in SO, it suits this community better. – Tiago Martins Peres 李大仁 Apr 12 at 14:31
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    Tools are not a substitute for promoting communication skills and active listening within the team. If you have a team with poor verbal communication skills, focus on fixing that! – Todd A. Jacobs Apr 13 at 19:31
  • Hoping to see some answers here from folks whose teams were already fully remote and distributed so we can all learn from their experience. – Vicki Laidler Apr 14 at 3:23
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All the team members can agree on some set of guidelines to help.

We are following these fun guidelines that are working very well for us:

  1. No person can talk for more than 1 minute at a time.
  2. Every person in the team must talk.
  3. Every person must nominate the name of another person in the team, at the end of his/her turn. The nominated person will then talk and pass on the baton.
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    I tried this for the first time in the Tuesday Daily Scrum and have done it again in today's Scrum (Wednesday). I gave it a name "Passing the Baton" and told people to pass the the baton back to me if they thought everyone had spoken. There is more engagement, people are more lively, alert and are paying more attention. – GeoffBurns Apr 16 at 1:55
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A few additional suggestions that we've tried with some success:

To specify seating order, you can do things like:

  • have everyone roll dice (slack has a D&D dice roller app, use /roll d100 to get a good dynamic range)
  • have everyone say their favorite color then go in spectral order
  • choose the first person by something lighthearted like oldest car, or guess the number closest to the one I'm thinking of, then have each person pick the next one

Don't do the same thing every time; mix it up.

For stickies on a whiteboard, we've been using a table on a shared confluence page that everyone can edit simultaneously. The grid is not my favorite thing, but I prepare it by putting the categories to focus on along the top as column headings. I ask people to type out their answers during silent writing, and then paste it into the table the way we woudl put up the stickies. Items can be clustered into the same table cell in a similar fashion as you would cluster stickies, and then dot-vote them with Xs in the cells. Watch out for the rows becoming proxies for individuals.

For extra fun, turn it into something like a bingo card by putting one letter at the start of each row, maybe R-E-T-R-O, and see if the team gets "bingo".

Finally, consider devoting some or all of your next retro to a "retro on digital retros" to see what your team things is working well, or not well, and brainstorm ideas. (and do come back and share them!)

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The first item in the Agile Manifesto is:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Your question lists a bunch of tools and asks about more tools, some that are more flexible to use given your new situation with people working remotely.

How about turning the problem on its head and think about improving the interactions between people? At its core, a retrospective is about what went well, what not so well, and how to improve things. Do you really need tools for collecting this feedback? You don't really. I've often used a text editor open on my computer with a shared screen that everyone looks at. Four KALM (Keep, Add, More, Less) headlines with an extra "Actions" headline works really well. Then we discussed matters and I noted things underneath each section. You can tell people to send you their input before the retrospective and pre-fill the document. Then you discuss. You can't go much simpler than that. And it accomplishes its purpose.

Doing retrospectives remotely will of course not go as smoothly as if you were all in one office. Even with something basic as KALM, it's one thing for people to all write their Ks, As, Ls and Ms on a post-it then all stand up and stick it on a whiteboard, and it's another for them to send these to you, and you serially add them to the document, but with working remotely that's just something you have to accept. Things will go slower, that's just the reality of doing stuff remotely.

The important things is to keep people engaged. Make sure everyone gets to speak. Verbally prompting them isn't harassing them, that's just the only remaining option when you loose all the visual cues, body language cues, etc. Speaking of which, if you have a small team, you might ask everyone to be on camera so that people stay focused. MS Teams should be able to handle this for a few people. Now people won't start daydreaming as easily, since everyone else is looking at them.

Also ask your team for ideas on how to improve communication and retrospectives. You don't have to figure everything out on your own. This whole remote setup is just another thing for the team "to inspect and adapt".

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You can take a look at https://funretro.io/ service. You can share the board in advance so that team adds their points in advance. This will speed up the retrospective. This service offers several popular retrospective templates. Another tool worth exploring is Miro (previously RealtimeBoard): https://miro.com/blog/features/realtimeboard-is-now-miro/. Techniques for collaboration: http://www.liberatingstructures.com/.

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  • Can't up-vote more than once ... pity. – Mike Robinson Apr 15 at 19:18
  • Hi Akima, welcome to PM.SE! You could add more value to your question (and avoiding it being flagged as spam) by adding more context on how such tools and techniques could help on the original problem. As it stands, the answer is focused on sharing tools (which is not ontopic for PM.SE) and linking to an external link, which, if broken, leaves your answer empty. – Tiago Cardoso Apr 16 at 12:44
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You will have to realize that video conferencing is a far cry from a face-to-face meeting. Almost all the non-verbal communication that takes place in a face-to-face meeting goes out the door in a video conference.

It is also harder to interrupt someone or to detect when someone is about to begin speaking, so people tend to speak more in turns and wait a bit longer before opening their mouth.

Additionally, some tools from the physical world don't translate 1-1 to the digital world and sticky notes is a prime example of that.

All of this is a fact of life and the best way to deal with it is to take it into account in the way you conduct the retrospective over a video conference.

To give some concrete tips:

  • In the digital world, a simple bulleted list works just as good as a sticky note in the real world. The only thing that you can't do with those bullet points is put one on top of the other. Clustering can easily be achieved by putting related bullets together and leaving a gap (empty line) to the next cluster.
  • People can all think at the same time what points they want to bring in, but then will have to take turns to tell the group what points they have. A real-world equivalent would be that everyone gives a short explanation as they put their sticky notes on the wall.
  • Nobody has a natural left/right neighbor, as they would have around a table, so you as SM get to decide who sis next to whom. If this order is relevant in some way, make it known to the team before or at the start of the meeting.
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But also, let it be said that most of the software teams that I have worked with over many decades are entirely or partly "remote." (Even within the USA, which is a very big country.) Some people who work in the same city work from their homes and have done so for decades.

Many different types of collaborative software, project management hubs, and so forth already exist. It really is just a matter of sorting out what will work well for your group.

Honestly, I think that "remote work" is quite typical for software workers of some experience! We can hire people without expecting them to relocate, which by-the-way they won't do because their homes are fully paid-for.

Therefore, I suggest that you invite various members of the team to suggest effective (and, inexpensive or cost-free) ways to effectively deal with the issues that are now confronting you. Admittedly, this manner of working does take a certain amount of getting used to. (Although, I would quickly argue, "so do cube-farms.")

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