Remote retrospecives using Trello

Having regular retrospectives is important and that is even more true when working remotely. It’s a good way to connect and bond with your teammates while discussing work stuff and improving the way you work as a team.

There’s tons of paid tools that can help you facilitate. In the end I believe that tools won’t help you experience significantly better retrospectives, so you might as well use something that’s free of charge. The best experience I had so far is with Trello. You need to make it work for you and do some preparation but in the end you can mix and match various kinds of retrospectives and adjust it to your team’s needs.

To give credit when it’s due some of the tips mentioned here actually come from my awesome colleagues, Marco Monaco and Matthias Eichstedt. Thank you, guys!

Camera always on

This is not really Trello related but it’s so important especially when working remotely — camera always on! You would not participate in a team meeting in the office with a box over your head and the same goes for remote. Comb your hair, put on a reasonable shirt and use a zoom background if you don’t want others to see your homeoffice. But please, have a camera on!

Set up a team board

When doing a regular retrospective within a team, what works nicely is to have one go-to team board. Based on the format you would like your retro to be, you can set up the board to contain a simple layout with three columns like the following one. We’ve been using this simple layout in a team for weeks and I find it good enough for a rather small team that meets on a regular basis.

Having one go-to board is great especially because when starting new retro, you have action items from the previous one already in there from last time and it’s easy to review them in place.

Also don’t forget to share the board url prior to the meeting so that everyone can sign in to Trello and have the board open when the meeting starts.

Labels

There’s actually at least one alternative I’ve seen and that’s leveraging Trello’s labels — different colors are used for different type of card. This uses the well known Start-Stop-Continue format. People then put all their notes into one column (Inbox). When the collection phase is done you can create columns for grouping things into themes — as many as you need. This is certainly a great format for retros within bigger team. Whatever format you decide to do, always prepare your board before the retro starts.

Always use timer

Now the main part — how to organize the whole retro. To make retro a good use of people’s time, always time all the parts. Start by welcome, explain what retro is and what’s expected to anyone who might not be familiar (in case there are newcomers). Show the board while doing it. At this point, everyone is expected to have the board open on their computer as well.

What comes next is a gathering phase. Set up timer for couple of minutes (5 minutes would be a good start) and let everyone add their cards to Inbox or to one of the columns (depending on the format you have chosen). When this phase ends, go over all the cards together. I personally like to ask everyone to talk about their cards one by one because sometimes it’s hard to provide all the context on the card and presenting it usually clarify things.

Votes

Usually there will be a big number of cards and several themes so it makes sense to do some grouping and maybe at least put things addressing the same problem together. Next set up some time (e.g. 2 minutes) for everyone to vote. Everyone should have a limited set of votes (e.g. 3) and put them next to cards that matter the most. Then usually the cards with most votes are discussed in depth up to a point of some meaningful action points. To vote, click on a card and then select “Vote” in Actions or use keyboard shortcut “v”.

One thing I am missing in Trello though is that it’s not possible to cast multiple votes on one card which I like to do to put an emphasis on some problem.

And that’s all for today. Good luck and have fun during your retros!

Passionate about traveling, food and programming. Tennis player that works on container orchestration at Mesosphere. Always trying to improve.