Yes, I am a Trekkie. And while I usually do not share such stuff it is the little bit of context setting I need for this blog post.
Since everyone moved to their home offices in the wake of corona, our team put some deliberate effort into their ceremonies, to make them something “special”, to compensate for not meeting IRL any more. Thus, I had the honor to design our first online retro. I received fantastic feedback, thus I thought it may be quite interesting for others to try something like this, too.
I chose a format that I call 2 : 4 : 8 (I believe I found this label somewhere else, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to dig it up and link to it again).
The idea of the format is the following: In normal Retros there are up to 10 devs and 2 – 3 other roles. Due to the nature of the roles, also a lot of tech problems are usually shared. In the democratic dot-voting afterwards, the developers often promote the tech topics. I am not saying that this is bad intention, it’s just a natural outcome based on the interests of the different groups in a retro.
To avoid this effect, we went for a format which supports “minorities” and focuses on how important a topic to a certain person is. In this format usually topics come up that are super important to some people but can in the other format never be shared other than in a side note. It’s a very inclusive retro edition.
Here is how it works:
- each person writes down what the two most important things are to them. There is no categorization: could be things to start or stop or change or …, there is just limitation that it could only be 2 things in total for each person.
(Most retros allow unlimited amounts of contributions but restrict the categories, this was the other way around: unlimited/no categories but restricted to 2 contributions).
- after each person found two issues that were most important to them, the participants were paired up. Then, 2 paired-up people need to agree on the most 2 important thing inside their pair.
(So 2 people each bring 2 topics = 4 issues in the pair. Then the pair needs to pick the top 2 of them)
- after the pairs found two issues they go into group discussion (2 pairs = 4 people now). Again, they should discuss the two most important issues.
- finally, all get together with a total of 4 issues left. They are discussed, action items are derived and assigned. Finally, the retro is closed.
So I wrapped the retro into a Star Trek Story. I used the video conferencing system Zoom which allowed me to share video and audio from my computer. And it allowed me to design “breakout rooms” which I could then assign to the people. This was particularly helpful to have all the different discussions with different amounts of people. I also used google slides as the collaborative tool.
I think one can make it work with any tool and there are tools out there which work even better. This combination was just handy for me and I will use this as the example tool going forward.
Setting the Mood
Before the first people joined, I started my screen sharing with the presentation. The first slide had a video and background music. In this way, the people who joined early had a bit of space themed ambience music while waiting. That was already a positive and freshly surprising start.
After officially starting the retro, we watched a tiny teaser to get into the Star Trek mood:
We followed with a “Weather Check” to see how everyone felt and continued with a “Safety Check” to understand if the level of trust in the Retro was high enough. I used an anonymous google form to collect that data, that was a bit cumbersome to set up but an easy, quick and secure way to collect this information.
After that, we went into the 2 : 4 : 8 exercise: The Google Presentation Deck was shared with all and each person randomly picked a Star Trek movie character and wrote (5 min timebox) 2 things to change or stop or improve.
Then the people were asked to team up. There were prepared zoom breakout rooms in the call with names fitting the theme (“Bridge”, “Captain’s Ready Room”, …). On one slide there was a pre-selection which characters would meet in which room. In this way it was a random meet & mix of people who would share their thoughts.
After the pair discussions, we came back once more and divided into two groups with 4 or 5 people, each. Then both smaller groups reported the two main issues back to the whole group and we discussed actions for them.
This gave us quite some action items for 4 issues we found. It also turned out that no-one in the team (but me) watched Star Trek. However, everyone enjoyed the retro and some said it was “the best they ever had in their live”.
The full slide deck is here as a PDF. This is for inspiration, I don’t think that one could just copy & paste the whole thing.
This is a template for the retro. We were 9 people + me facilitating, thus, this is how it’s structured. The format itself also works for 30 people.