3 retrospective methods online: playful and creative!

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Do you want your boss to love you? Well, then increase the performance of your team! Go from being an average car to being an explosive rocket. 

How? Download my free and science based eBook on "Reaching team flow in 12 easy steps" and take is seriously. But now let's get to the actual topic of this text.

It is not an easy thing. Finding fun, interactive and value-adding retrospective methods online is no easy task. That you can do online with your team.

Escape your daily routine 

As a Scrum Master and psychologist, the retrospective methods that bring team members out of their daily grind are particularly valuable to me. These let you look at things from a different perspective.

That's why I have summarized 3 online retrospective methods here. These three are a little different, a little unusual, but they work in an online context!

Online Retrospective Methods 1: Taboo 

The first method here is probably the best way to check in. A check-in that focuses on the fun factor, as well as stimulates thought and reflection.

Some probably know this game: Taboo. 

The concept is simple. A person from your team - for example Max - explains a term orally. The rest of the team has to guess what Max is talking about.

There is one point for the team, for every correctly guessed term. You could therefore divide your team into two sub-teams that compete against each other.

The difficulty comes from the rule that Max may not use certain other terms that are closely related to that word.

For example, if Max has to explain the word “sprint," he may not use the following words: 2 weeks, Scrum, period, 100m, fast.

If he uses one of these words - oops! Then his team gets no points and you move on to the next word.

The steps

Here's how I would design this game as an online retrospective method.

Step 1

You should think of terms from the position of a Scrum Master, Agile Coach, Product Owner, Manager or generally as a facilitator - terms that could be used to prepare the team for later topics of the retrospective.

The terms can be relatively general, related to the context of teams, or they can relate to “softer” factors such as communication or error culture, whichever themes were the most noticeable in the last sprint. 

I have put together 10 ideas for terms for you here - from the areas of “Sprint” to “Meta-Topics”.

Before the colon is the term that needs to be explained. Behind them are the words that you are not allowed to use in the explanation. You are also welcome to add some - depending on the language used by your team.

Daily: 15 minutes, team members, every day / daily, communication…

Scrum Master: supervisor, manager, retrospective, impediment, specialist

Continuous improvement: better, worse, permanent, reflection, measure, regular

Sprint review: review, 2 weeks, scrum, period, review

Definition of done: done, goal, ticket, sprint, review

Bug: bug, software, insect, system, develop, program

Error: wrong, right, problem, culture, cost

Gratitude: work, earn, positive, helpful, feeling

Communication: speaking, talking, conversation, information, exchange

Team: group, system, we, people, people

In any case, it is recommended that you also think specifically about the right topics that fit your last sprint.

Additionally, you can think of which terms should not be mentioned in this context.

Step 2

In the retrospective, things can get a bit complicated at the beginning. You have to communicate the terms to one person in the team, but others may not see or hear them. It would be optimal if you could send it to the person privately via chat. 

Alternatively, you can also ask everyone to look away or only participate with audio. You can start explaining during this time.

If you have formed two teams, it would of course be sufficient if half of you switched off your video function or looked away from your screens.

Step 3

As a Scrum Master, you time, for example for 40 seconds, for a person to explain. 

You also need to check that the person explaining is not using the forbidden terms.

Step 4

Either when all of your pre-defined terms have been explained, or when everyone has had their turn, the game will end. Whoever explains the most terms (team or individual) wins. 

If you are more interested in the fun factor and less in reflecting on the right terms ... 

You can also just use pre-made terms. You can do online taboo, and play for example via this link. You would then only have to share your screen with a specific person or team.

Let's get to the next online retrospective method.

Retrospective Method 1.1: A Sailboat Retro Special (pre-registration)

Okay, your team will love this. The most creative, fun and interactive remote retro you can imagine.

First of all: unfortunately, it's not quite ready yet. Our team of developers is still in the process of developing the idea into our retro tool (for free), but you can already pre-register. Anyway, what is the idea?

The idea is to change the classic sailboat retro in a fun way. I'll give you two examples.

Example 1: Check-In of the Sailboat Retro Special

Our sailboat was attacked by pirates. Thank God they didn't hurt anyone, but they did lock up the whole crew in nets. That's why we unfortunately didn't get as far as planned with our sailboat (meaning the last sprint).

Meanwhile, after 24 hours in the cold, you have been able to free yourselves. So you hang up the net in which you have been caught - to symbolically destroy it.

Each crew member says: What held you back the most last sprint?

Now you pull out your knife and destroy your own net. Try it and tear the net! Ah, that feels good - destroying all those negative energies from the past sprint.

Example 2: Smart Action Items in our Sailboat Retro Special

Later in the retro, it is about deriving action items. The problem is - bad action items only solve a superficial symptom!

They do not address the core cause of the problem, which is why the problem may reoccur in a different way. To explain this with an example: Let's imagine a forest worker is very slow at chopping wood. So our action item is to bring him nuts & cola to keep his energy level up. We don't realize that we should just give him a grindstone so that he can sharpen his axe (which is the actual core problem).

To make it clear to the team that action items should therefore be well thought out, once again we use a little metaphor. Because in the meantime, your crew has been haunted by sinister creatures - zombies! They move very strangely, more like robots.

Thank goodness you outnumber them. You grab them by the tail and have some fun flinging them away.

You do this together as a team for 30 seconds. What a team building! Like in a bad Hollywood movie. In the meantime, you notice one problem: the zombies keep coming back. No matter how far you throw them.

The 30 seconds are up - so what is our learning from this interactive part towards the end of the retro? Well, one of the crew members has now identified an antidote that can be used to cure the zombies. In the real world, this antidote is called the 5-Why Method!

The 5 Why method

If you don't know it, the basic idea is to ask "Why?" 5 times in order to identify the core cause of problems and to be able to derive highly targeted action items. You can find more information and a template in the overview "5 retro methods on the whiteboard". The 5-Why method is then the next step in the retro we are currently developing.

So, I hope you got a glimpse of how we want to develop this fun sailboat retro. The center of the whole retro will be a whiteboard where everyone can collaborate live and have some (productive) fun.

If you would like to be the first to run the retrospective method with your team, register below.

Pre-register for our free special sailboat retro

Online Retrospective Methods 2: Online Retro Tools

Why not use what's already there? There are tons of tools out there that can help you find and run retrospective methods online. They are designed for exactly this purpose, and many of them are free. 

I am thinking of, for example, Retrium and Funretro. One thing you should note is that these are tools from America, where you should be careful regarding the issue of data protection. 

My personal favorite is obvious. 

Because ... I had a strong feeling that you can get a lot more out of retro tools, I teamed up with a software developer and business economist, and developed our own retrospective tool together.

It's called Echometer. The focus of our tool is to provide interactive and playful support, especially from a psychological perspective, when designing your retro. Here it is compared to other remote retro tools.

Comparison of remote retro tools

criteriaEchometerRetriumTeam retroFun retroParabol
Interactive retrospectives✅ Yes✅ Yes✅ Yes✅ Yes✅ Yes
Automatically generated retro summaries✅ Yes✅ Yes✅ Yes✅ Yes✅ Yes
Moderation support ✅ Yes✅ Yes⚠️ Partially❌ No⚠️ Partially
Templates for every level of team maturity✅ Yes⚠️ Partially⚠️ Partially❌ No❌ No
Continuous tracking of action items
(Retro to retro)
✅ Yes⚠️ Partially⚠️ Partially❌ No✅ Yes
Team development measured over time✅ Yes⚠️ Partially✅ Yes❌ No❌ No
Feedback collected in advance (before retro)✅ Yes❌ No❌ No❌ No✅ Yes
Organizational Health Check✅ Yes❌ No❌ No❌ No❌ No
Item pool with psychological nudges
(Food for thought)
✅ Yes❌ No❌ No❌ No❌ No
Data protection
(Developed and hosted in Germany)
✅ Yes❌ No❌ No❌ No❌ No

In the basic version, Echometer is free of charge. If you want to learn more and try it out for free, you can do so following this link - go for it, start your free trial..

If you are still unsure, feel free to check out the remote agile coach Holger's experiences with our tool .

Online Retrospective Methods 3: Black Stories - Remote Edition

The next of these online retrospective methods really stimulates creativity, and will surely also make one or two of you laugh. 

It is also particularly suitable for a fun online check-in, inviting you to a creative session.

By this, we mean black stories

What are black stories?

Black stories are a kind of yes-no puzzle. You have to guess as a group - based on minimal information - what happened. Typically ... something terrible has happened, which is why it's called a black story.

For this game, you may only ask yes-no questions.

An example of a black story: A diver lies dead in an office. What happened? (For the 

The best way would be, much like the first method, if you adapt it to your everyday working life. Here are four ideas of what kind of black stories to use online and in the office.

  • After the last sprint, Johannes fell motionless into a hole of darkness.
    • Explanation: Johannes is a Lego figure. It was used when practicing a Sprint within Lego Series Play to teach beginners the scrum framework. After the sprint, Johannes ended up back in the Lego box. The box is completely sealed - a hole in darkness.
  • A diver lies dead in the office building. What happened?
    • Explanation: The diver in the water was picked up by a firefighting plane to extinguish a forest fire during a diving trip. The water was accidentally drained above the office building right next to the forest - and not above the forest itself.
  • Two Product Owners (or Agile Coaches, Scrum Masters, CEOs ...) find a tube in a meadow. Both look into the opposite ends. The tube is not particularly long, not clogged and straight. Nevertheless, the two cannot see each other. Why?
    • They are look into the tube at different times.
  • (For football fans) After a physical argument, a duel is held. One of the duelists is hit in the head by a shot. The victim remains unharmed and is even happy about being hit. Why?
    • It is a foul followed by a penalty. The goalkeeper stops the ball with his head and is happy to have prevented a goal.

The steps

I recommend the following steps in order to optimally use a black story for your online retrospective.

  1. To begin your online retrospective, you share the puzzle.
  2. Anyone on the team can ask a yes-no question. For example: did the whole thing happen at night?

If the answer is no, the next person asks a question.

As facilitator, you would usually be the only one who knows the right answer. 

In theory, you could also form two teams and compete against each other (with two different black stories). Whoever solves a puzzle fastest - or with fewer questions - wins.

The advantage of having two teams: normally you have a lot of fun simply listening to how the current solution hypotheses of the opposing team go in the wrong direction ...

  1. The game can end when the term is guessed. Or, for the purpose of timeboxing: You stipulate that only 10 questions can be asked in total.

If there is a question limit, the team has to come up with a clever question strategy - which is always good practice.

Or, you can specify that the game only lasts 10 minutes.

The nice thing about the game is certainly that you can still play when there are too many players or large groups - for more retrospective ideas for large groups, you can check out our blog article regarding exactly this.

Conclusion & even more tips

It's not so easy to have a good online retrospective. Hopefully one of these three different approaches here met your taste.

By the way, did you know that 47% of all agile transformations fail – also because of "bad" retros? If you are in an agile transformation, I have one last tip for you.

In a few days there will be a free webinar on "Successfully transforming through retrospectives: 5 key learnings" - with a total of 11 international experts as guests! You can find more information in the teaser video. 

If that sounds interesting, check out the Project Scagile website for more information where you can also register for free.

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