There are many advantages to running a retrospective (or any meeting) in person, at the same physical location. Unfortunately, many teams are distributed and can’t always meet in person. While there are downsides to this, such as reduced non-verbal communication, there are some surprising upsides as well, particularly for retrospectives.

1. Ideation is completely private

The typical retrospective begins with an ideation or information gathering phase. This is essentially a creative “brainstorming” process that leads us to think about what happening during the most recent period of work. This can be done “privately”, but this ideation is often done publicly. For example, individuals are prompted to use “round-robin” turn taking, or write ideas on a whiteboard to get their ideas out. Doing this ideation in a public way opens it up to a number of biases, like the bandwagon effect or shared information bias as well as phenomenon like social loafing.

Ideally, this ideation / reflection phase would be done privately. That can be accomplished in a co-located setting, but it is particularly easy with local or distributed members using a product like Instant Agenda. Instant Agenda has a private ideation mode that allows all participants to suggest ideas in private first, only later making them visible to the rest of the team. This encourages everyone to contribute, at their own pace, and without being influenced by other participants.

2. Dot voting is more efficient (and safer!)

Another common phase of most retrospectives is a “dot voting” process where participants indicate which of the suggested topics is most worthy of further discussion or action. Without a tool, in a co-located physical space, it is difficult and time-intensive to conduct a blind vote. If you vote openly, you may encounter many problems. Some people may feel pressure to vote a certain way due to politics or safety issues, thereby avoiding difficult topics that need to be discussed. Alternatively, you often get “gaming” situations where one person knows that an important topic is already voted, and will spend their votes elsewhere. Finally, late voters will see which topics are the clear winners or losers, and not want to “throw their vote away”.  Thus the outcome is often determined by the first few voters. These are not show-stopping issues, but they can skew the teams use of time towards less valuable topics. When it comes to voting, tools like Instant Agenda make this a snap because voting is blind by default. You get a true picture of what the team feels is most important.

3. Continuous improvement is effortless

Finally, with a physical retrospective process, it can be difficult to keep a running log of what the team has talked about, what actions were taken (did they get completed?) and decisions made. Online meeting tools like Instant Agenda make this automatic, and streamline a process that would often take several other tools (notes, action items, timers) to accomplish.

To be clear, there are still many reasons to conduct retrospectives live, in-person when possible. However, many teams must run distributed retrospectives, and Instant Agenda solves this problem perfectly. It is also worth noting that all of the benefits of described above can also be achieved by using Instant Agenda in-person, even if you are in the same room.

Hold a retrospective your team will love.

Follow me:

Michael Ball

Co-founder, Product Lead at Instant Agenda
Michael was born a squalling, helpless MVP and has struggled ever since to obtain product-market fit. Experiments have included Peace Corps volunteer, ops engineer, scrum master, product owner, agile coach, husband, father, armchair philosopher, and, most recently, lean startup founder. Michael is still working on his exit-strategy, but his earliest angel investors seem generally proud of his accomplishments.
Follow me:

Latest posts by Michael Ball (see all)