Running useful agile retrospectives on a routine basis is a lot like executing pool table trick-shots on the deck of a cruise ship in a tsunami—even with all the right preparation, things can go overboard quick!
This is especially true for distributed teams.
But if process improvement stagnates because you’re struggling to collaborate, how can you expect product improvement not to follow suit?
Below, we’ve compiled a list of retrospective tools that make this challenge a whole lot easier to navigate. These online tools aren’t substitutes for careful planning, but they can augment what you already do, give scrum masters direction, and create a virtual platform for remote workers.
Tool #1: Retrium
Retrium is a tool for retrospectives designed around the unexpected problems that threaten to derail meetings. It allows you to run surveys with anonymity, get quick room-checks on safety, engagement, and team performance, and comes with handy built-in retrospective ideas. And if no one in the room is speaking up, it offers plenty of non-intrusive ways to ask why.
The best part lies in the user’s ability to change gears quick. Customized column-based retrospectives can be adapted on the fly (or created from scratch), so you can track and organize ideas you had not yet considered. Fresh possibilities and solutions—isn’t that the point of these meetings?
Most importantly, all the information you collect translates easily to action plans that hold you and the team accountable for following through on solutions. A commonly overlooked key to retrospective success.
Tool #2: MindMeister
Ideas are the bedrock of continuous improvement. They’re not just valuable to your customers, who benefit from a steady stream of innovation and quality evolved to their needs. Ideation is also crucial to improving internal efficiency and understanding your options for where to go next.
In a world where ideas are shared so quickly, of course, you need an efficient way to store and parse them. MindMeister does just that.
This web-based product is rooted in its ability to preserve ideas the moment they’re created. That way, you can supercharge the benefits of collaboration with everyone in the same room. Changes are made in real time and teams can choose from a variety of ways to build off or redirect the ideas in play. MindMeister is especially useful to remote teams, who will be able to share their thoughts on an equal plane from anywhere on the planet.
Tool #3: Padlet
Portability is also a good quality for retrospective tools that need to be shared by distributed workforces. For folks running retrospectives remotely, or even in small clusters across the same building, timeboxing a meeting that works for everyone can be a hurdle in itself. Padlet is another collaborative product you can use to create a virtual environment specific to your team’s needs.
Want it to run a more interactive version of Mad, Sad, Glad? Done. Trying to brainstorm your way past a problem you are struggling to define? Padlet lets everyone participate, getting their ideas up in one pane of glass. Desktop, mobile, or tablet, the user interface is surprisingly simple.
The American inventor Edwin Land once said, “It’s not that we need new ideas, but we need to stop having old ideas.” Easier said than done. It’s easy to fall back on old ideas when confronted with an unfamiliar set of problems. So, use Padlet to give your team a new sandbox to play in and see if you can’t disrupt stale thinking patterns.
Tool #4: Lino
Lino is a virtual corkboard. Like its real-world counterpart, it’s extremely useful for communicating within a community that can’t all be at the same place at the same time. Once you create a group through Lino, folks can post notes to share ideas and files. Like so many agile tools, Lino’s uncomplicated platform makes it an ideal ecology for ongoing collaboration.
Specifically, because team members can give their input remotely with ease, I find Lino works particularly well for encouraging ongoing feedback. If you have a mix of collocated and distributed workers, you can check in with everyone from a single touch point. Inviting feedback doesn’t have to be limited to a routine meeting, after all. Post a sticky. See what’s going on.
Tool #5: RetroTime
More than enabling sticky-note sharing, RetroTime works best for teams that need to learn from mistakes quickly and adapt to regular challenges. With each meeting saved and organized, RetroTime makes it easier to identify larger patterns in feedback and troubleshoot your own processes. Are you having success with a certain retrospective exercise? Does it look like you’ve gone to the same well too many times?
Use this tool to create a virtual retrospective meeting with one click, invite your team, and begin. Once you’ve set up retrospective exercises and questions, you can track what works and what doesn’t.
Another neat trick is being able to anonymize notes. This allows for people to clue you in on issues that might be tougher to express under perceived social pressure.
Tool #6: Parabol
Parabol is a retrospective meeting app. Yes, it was designed for scrum masters, but it’s an indispensable tool for managers of any stripe who want to make continuous improvement a focus.
Say you want to run a postmortem after a long project and your team doesn’t want to spend time reflecting on what happened. It’s not a commitment issue—they’re probably just worried about the next milestone. Parabol lets you get granular with your questions and dive back into prior experiences with purpose. It’s a great tool for prompting people to think about their processes and how they are functioning as part of the team.
Tool #7: FunRetro
If you’re looking for a retrospective tool designed specifically for optimizing sprint efficiency, FunRetro is a good lightweight option. Dashboards are straightforward to configure, data is a breeze to export, and Slack is integrable. You can also toggle privacy options should your team need the benefit of a secret ballot. Without honesty in a retrospective, after all, you may as well cancel the meeting.
There’s little you can’t do with this one. Choose the next retrospective’s point of departure by synthesizing the team’s thoughts. Open up channels for collaboration and keep track of brainstorming sessions. With FunRetro, the facilitator even has a bird’s eye view of multiple iterations. Analyzing big-picture process improvement is a lot easier when everyone’s ideas are available on a single dashboard.
Tool #8: Sensei
Momentum can be hard to build in retrospective meetings, and it’s easy to lose. The simple, recursive structure of Sensei begins each retrospective where the previous one ended—folks can self-assess how well they and the team followed through on their commitments from the previous meeting.
Instead of wondering if accountability is going to be discussed at the retrospective, team members are given an opportunity to shape a productive conversation by answering routine questions raised by the facilitator. Sensei encourages honest feedback from team members in a structured way, but it gives moderators plenty of custom functions to ward off complacency.
Tool #9: ScatterSpoke
If you need to scale your retrospectives, ScatterSpoke is built to handle larger groups without sacrificing the overhead view facilitators get from smaller meetings. You could try saving a years’ worth of sticky notes, or you could use this retrospective tool to easily collate data on multiple teams. Where is progress stalling? Why? Are you playing the role you need to? The data can paint a picture.
ScatterSpoke also makes it easy for anyone to play the role of facilitator, an important part of keeping retrospectives as objective as possible.
This tool also makes it easy to convert your collective ideas into an action plan and build a sense of ownership. You can flag action items to make sure they appear on the upcoming agenda rather than fade into the mists of that meeting way back when. Nothing kills a team’s appetite for retrospectives like a list of pretty ideas with zero follow-through.
Tool #10: Cacoo
A lot of teams use Cacoo for wireframing apps, and it’s certainly an excellent choice for the job. Before sinking time into development, this retrospective tool provides groups a working model of the potential product’s end-user experience.
It has traction with app developers because it allows their teams to move forward with provisional ideas. This works for other managers for the same reason—no one can realistically check off every box, every meeting. Sometimes progress occurs with known fires burning.
When a clean solution is five or six steps away, the path forward is going to be messy. Using Cacoo for retrospectives, your team will be better equipped to articulate the things they don’t quite know how to say yet. Any completed product is then the result of knowledge built from a good balance of perspectives. Cacoo provides a platform to capture those ideas as diagrams, flow-charts, and other visuals.
Tool #11: goReflect
For agile scrum teams, goReflect can serve as a backbone retrospective tool that promotes continuous process review. Share ideas in a stream or on customizable boards and make everyone aware of the action items. How did you decide (together) to improve? Is it happening?
The dashboard makes it easy to monitor the commitments you make and tendencies you follow as a group. Spare yet capable, goReflect will get a read on the room or break the ice as good as the other retrospective tools in this list. The difference is that when problems start to dead-end and the next retrospective is only days away, goReflect allows facilitators to conduct check-ins immediately, without intruding, and puts feedback in your hands as needed.
Tool #12: Sprintlio
A full-service retrospective tool, Sprintlio was crafted for agile teams that need to build constant reflection into their practice. It’s not enough to run retrospectives—the meetings have to deliver results. Again, are you coming up with specific items that the team can act on, or generating lists of amorphous goals?
For distributed teams—or a collocated team that wants to mix things up—Sprintlio makes it easier for facilitators to have real conversations and see everyone’s ideas on equal footing. This is huge for remote workers.
It also comes with the ability to vote, attach files, and toggle anonymity off and on for individual cards, which will help your team move beyond the sticky-note commitments of yesterday’s retrospective tools if that’s not your thing. Sprintlio also integrates with Slack and email to quickly distribute recaps and reminders for action items.