David Horowitz is the CEO and Founder of Retrium, software for facilitating remote retrospectives. As a software developer, David recognized that the most critical piece of a highly effective software team is continuous improvement. Usually, retrospectives are conducted in person using flip charts and sticky notes. He saw a need for this functionality on remote teams and eventually left his job to start Retrium.
David’s tips for working remotely:
- Make it easy for people who are working distributed to randomly bump into people online and have casual conversations.
- Get to know your teammates as people and not just as cogs in the machine who are working with you on a job
- Bring a prop (like a special mug) to a video chat to help get to know each other and encourage spontaneity.
- Make yourself available and engage with the team.
- Don’t let people hide behind the technology.
- When working with distant time zones, be sure to share the pain of inconvenient meeting times.
- Be sure to assign someone to each action item you create during a retrospective.
- Silliness, playfulness, and lack of structure are also important for a team.
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Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lisette: Great! And we’re live. Welcome everybody to this remote interview. My name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people and companies who are doing great things remotely. And I’ll apologize in advance; I have a cold so you’re going to hear all the gross cold noises throughout this interview. Hope that I’ll try to mute myself as much as possible. But today on the line I have David Horowitz. Did I say it correctly?
David: You did, yes.
Lisette: Okay great. And you are the CEO of Retrium and you’re also transitioning out of another position where you work on a remote team. We’ll focus more on Retrium today because that’s a pretty exciting part. But why don’t we start with a little bit about who you are and we’ll get into what you do, but then tell me what does your anywhere office look like? I always start with that. But what I mean by that is what do you need to get your work done?
David: First I just want to thank you for this opportunity. It’s really great chatting with you today. If anyone wants to reach out after this to either Lisette, I’m offering you up, or myself to have any further questions, feel free. Again, thanks for the opportunity. In terms of the anywhere office, to me an anywhere office is very empowering and that’s because you can generally use the tools and the setup that you need and you require in order to get the job done, which is in many ways the exact opposite of a standard corporate office where the tools are selected for you before you even have an opportunity to give input. So it’s very empowering for me to be able to set up my own anywhere office. And tools are critical. I’ll emphasize that. Tools are very, very critical. And the ones that are kind of typical, so let me say WebEx, standard video conferencing like Skype, they’re fine but to me they’re not good enough and that’s because for a lot of those tools to work, you need to have people on both sides of the conversation, so around the world because you’re a remote team, who have actively logged in to that video conference session who are making an effort in order to join that conversation. And that’s not good enough because most people don’t do that all the time, and if you’re trying to work remotely, it’s better to have tools in my opinion like Squiggle, you may have heard of which is a relatively recent one.
David: You can get a dashboard of all the people on your team, the live shot of what they’re doing, their face at all times. You can click on an individual to try to initiate a conversation with them. You can setup group video conferencing, so Squiggle is great. Another one for me that’s very useful, it’s all the rage these days is Slack. Everyone talks about Slack. Really, really, just an incredible innovation in the realm of group conversation, and it’s replacing email for me entirely within my company, which is great. But beyond the tools themselves, it’s also your setup. For me, being in a coffee house is kind of an enjoyable experience. You get the energy of people around you. For others they might want the peace and quiet of their own home. The nice thing about having an anywhere office is that you can go where you need based on your mood. I’m kind of an introvert by nature and a forced extrovert by habit. And so depending on the day, I may want to be in my house or I may want to be out in a coffee house and having that choice is very empowering. So that’s kind of my setup for my anywhere office.
Lisette: Right. And I like that it’s really about where are you the most productive at any given point. So for some people it’s the office, which is great. Then you can go in the office. For some people it’s a coffee shop. For me, it’s wherever I can have that second or third monitor around me. [03:39] great for that but if there’s real work, I want that external monitor. Go to a co-working space or somewhere where it’s appropriate.
David: Right, absolutely. I completely agree. That external monitor, having at least two, if you can have three you’re even better off, the more the better.
Lisette: Yeah indeed. Great. Interesting. So now you’re leaving a company right now or in the process of starting Retrium, which is a remote retrospectives tool, which is how you and I first met. And this team that you’re building is entirely remote.
David: It is.
Lisette: And I want to know why did you decide to do it that way? Or was it a conscious choice?
David: Yeah, so a combination I’d say. First, I think that a lot of people when they look at remote things think mainly of the disadvantages. So they might say things like you need face to face time, they might say things like it’s harder to get to know the individuals on the team because they’re not face to face. But there are also a lot of advantages to building your remote team. And the biggest one to me is that you can attract talent wherever and whenever it is. And so you don’t need to limit yourself to the people who are geographically in the same location as you. I’m based in Washington, D.C. There’s a lot of techie people here who I could potentially hire but certainly it’s not Silicon Valley. There’s no question about that. And so being able to reach out and hire the right people wherever they are is very empowering, very useful. So that’s one. The other thing is that it saves you a lot of money. Leasing office space is very expensive. Commuting is very expensive, not mainly in terms of the money but actually in terms of time. It’s very expensive. That in combination with the fact that technology is getting better and better at making remote teams productive made it a fairly easy choice for us. It saves money. It saves time. That enables you to get the right people and technology is enabling it. That’s why we made that choice and we haven’t looked back.
Lisette: And how are you finding your people? I mean when you can go global, it’s kind of overwhelming to think about it. I mean how do you do that?
David: Yeah that’s a really good question. To be honest, we’re not at the stage where we are going global in terms of finding all the talent we possibly could find right now, and that’s because we’re very small. We’re still trying to find the product market fit, which is kind of buzzword for just saying. We’re trying to build the right product to fit the market need, so we’re very early and we’re intentionally not growing so fast that we need to spread our tentacles throughout the world yet. But I think to answer your question as a hypothetical, one of the things that we will be doing when we reach that phase is trying to hire through informal networks that we build via the product. In other words, if we’re successful in having product market fit and people are a fan of what we’re building, then a lot of times you can hire people through the networks you build by selling your product in the first place because people become fans of what you’re building. They get very involved in your community, in your network, and ultimately they become good candidates to work for you. Then again, it doesn’t matter where they are but because they’re already passionate about what you’re doing, they become a great fit for your company. That’s the vision in the future but it’s hypothetical at this point for us because we’re very early stage.
Lisette: It does seem like that’s not such hypothetical though. If look at places like Automatic or…I can’t think of anything else on the top of my head, but I mean there they’ve got a line of people waiting because they…or Zappos I suppose.
David: Buffer is another example.
Lisette: Right of course, Buffer, the ultimate. People are lining up because of the culture and the ability.
David: Right, exactly.
Lisette: And the love for the product, which seems like the ultimate. That’s what you want in an employee. You want somebody who loves the ‘why’ before they even…
David: Absolutely. If you can find people who are passionate about what you’re doing as opposed to looking at it as just a day job, you’re set. That’s all you need. People who are passionate, even if they have slightly less technical skills will be better fit for your company in my opinion, than people who are brilliant technically but just don’t care and think of it as a 9 to 5 job. I would hire the former over the latter any day of the week. Looking at Buffer, it’s such an inspiring story. Everyone wants to work for them. They’re doing great things. What’s interesting, this is a little bit off topic, but what’s interesting about what they do is they have semi-annual face to face retreats where they actually fly people internationally to some exotic location. I think their most recent one might have been in Sydney, I want to say. And so they’re fully remote, they’re fully distributed, and yet twice a year they meet face to face. There’s some interesting lessons to be learned there, I think, which we could get into if you want.
Lisette: I have to admit that in most interviews, people say “we’re mostly remote except for once a year everybody gets together and we just see each other.” And people seemed convinced, even though I really pushed back for a while, I must admit because I’m not convinced that you have to meet face to face because I have a number of friendships that are strong and we’ve never met. But I can imagine in a company that you’re speeding up a process and that if you can get people together, well it certainly is a great way to bond.
David: And I think also that your perspective on it, Lisette, might be a bit different from a standard employee’s perspective, and that’s because you are, and I am also, making an intentional effort to make remote work effective and productive. And for a lot of people who join maybe unintentionally distributed teams or partially distributed teams, they may be doing it because they have to and not because that’s their lifestyle choice. And so because of that it can be more challenging to meet distributed teams productive and effective, and that’s where the face to face meetings I think come in handy. But for teams that are intentionally fully distributed who are hiring people who want to be distributed, it’s probably less of an issue, I would imagine.
Lisette: Well and you’re going to always have a hybrid, I suppose. I mean I just hired somebody recently for the Happy Melly team and she said she could work remotely but when we started getting into the process, I could tell she hasn’t done this before. She’s never used Slack. It’s just noticeable. Not that she can’t learn but you have to go back to the beginning I think and sort of [10:04] these people into it. You’re right. She didn’t want to work with us because it was a remote team. It was a side effect of wanting to work with us and now she has to learn how to do it.
David: Right. Exactly. There’s a big learning curve if you’ve never done it before. One of the things that is the biggest driver, in my opinion, of creating an actual team when you’re co-located is the spontaneous interactions that you get throughout the day – the natural interactions that happen at the water cooler, in the bathroom for that matter, at the coffee house – those things happen because you happen to bump into people in the hallway and say “hey, let’s do lunch.” When you think of a standard corporate 9 to 5 job, maybe half of your day is spent in meetings, half of your day is spent at your computer doing work and then interspersed throughout that day are those random interactions that you have. And if you ask yourself when did you really get to know your coworkers as people, it’s almost exclusively you’ll hear it’s in those random interactions that are through the day and not in the meetings. And the problem with the virtual teams is that it’s much harder to facilitate those natural random interactions that would happen more frequently and more naturally for a co-located. Focusing on that, I think, is really critical to make it easy for the people who are working distributed to randomly bump into people online and have those casual conversations. You need to get to know your teammates as people and not just as cogs in the machine who are working with you on a job. And so tools again like Squiggle are great at doing things like that, whereas again Skype, less good.
Lisette: Right. And Slack also for those asynchronous jokes or “here’s a funny link” or “did you know that this did…”
David: And all those things are so important because if you’re just doing work all the time, you don’t think of the other person who’s working with you as a person, and ultimately that’s what we all are. But if it’s just a working machine, then you think of it as a machine and not as a person. So there’s random interactions. Being funny, being engaging is a good thing. One of my favorite tips that I got from a guy I really respect is Agile Bill.
Lisette: Oh yeah.
David: You may have heard of him.
Lisette: I know him, yeah.
David: He’s a great guy, really, really smart guy. He’s focused on distributed agile teams. And one of the things he always says is you can bring a prop along with you’re doing a video chat. Prop for me, today I don’t have anything good but let’s say this right here is my laptop lock. Not too interesting, not too funny. You have a lamp.
Lisette: It’s actually a wine glass with a top.
David: It’s a wine glass. So you have a perfect prop, right? So being funny like that and just being silly helps make people, people, and not being so serious all the time and not always just doing work but also enjoying who you’re working with. Those are all critical things for any team but even more so for virtual teams.
Lisette: Right. And it’s not that hard to get the random interactions to happen, but it does take an effort and you have to be deliberate. It’s the word I’m looking for. You have to be deliberate about your spontaneity.
David: I love it. It’s very true.
Lisette: I mean you’re just not going to bump into people. When you close Skype, you’re wherever, and you’re gone.
David: And it’s easier to hide also when you’re online. You don’t have to make yourself available all the time. Whereas when you’re in the office, you’re either in the office or you’re not. But virtually closing your door and leaving for the day is much easier when you’re distributed. Again, just making yourself available and engaged with the team is really critical.
Lisette: It’s also much harder when you’re distributed. It’s harder to turn off in general. Even last night I was thinking “just one more thing” and then all of a sudden it’s 11:45 and I’m just finishing one left.
David: Just keep going. Yeah it just keeps going. It never ends. That can be true for co-located teams also but it’s even more true for distributed teams. But it’s also true that it’s easier to be distracted when you’re working virtually because you don’t have the peer pressure or the social norms of being engaged all the time. When you’re on your computer to do your work, then of course there’s the internet, there’s games, there’s all sorts of things, chat, that you can be doing that’s not really related to your job. So it’s always there. It’s always accessible. You can always be doing more but it’s also possible to be less efficient with your time. Focusing on your job and making it to something that you’re very focused, very engaged on for whatever your day is, 9 to 5, 9 to 6, 9 to 7, whatever it is, and then letting it be and going and having a life is very important because like you said you can just constantly be engaged and constantly be interacting with your computer, your laptop, your iPad and so on.
Lisette: Have you come across certain people that are not suited for working remotely?
Lisette: And what is it about them that makes it not suited?
David: I set two things. The first one is people who are not naturally communicative, so possibly who are more introverted are great to have on your team. Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to have those people in your team. Diversity on your team and every meaning of that word is really critical, but it’s also important to make sure that people who are more introverted end up being engaged with your team even though it’s virtual, because again it’s easy to hide behind the technology and not communicate much easier when you’re distributed than when you’re co-located. It’s not that introverts are a bad fit for virtual teams. It’s just that you need to make a little bit of extra effort to engage them in the process. That’s one. The other type of person that I’d mentioned is people who are kind of the opposite, who are almost too extroverted and too communicative because they can get in the way of being focused, like I mentioned about a bit before. If you’re constantly bugging someone saying “please chat with me. I want to talk to you about this.” But when you start the call, it’s really not that relevant and not that important. It’s just that the extrovert needs to talk. He has a need to communicate and be part of a team. That also doesn’t work for the opposite reason. Extremes can be bad for virtual teams and it’s the people in the middle who are not too introverted, not too extroverted who tend to be really good fits for virtual teams.
Lisette: That’s brilliant. It’s actually the first time that I’ve heard that the extreme of an extrovert would get in the way and you’re totally right. I worked with them before in the past. It’s true. It’s like complete noise.
David: It’s just constant bugging. It’s just too much. It’s too much. It’s true, again it’s true with co-located teams also. It’s just amplified by the fact that you’re distributed.
Lisette: Right. So when you’re hiring, I guess watch out for both extremes or somehow. I noticed there was one woman that we were hiring on the Happy Melly team who is very extroverted and we were worried for exactly the same reason. I didn’t think of it in this way though, somehow. But it turns out that she had very good listening skills and was very conscious of the fact that…I mean I guess she’d been told she was loud enough often enough that…
David: She knew.
Lisette: She knew. And so she kept it in check for herself.
David: Good for her. That’s pretty rare. A lot of extroverts don’t realize that.
Lisette: It’s true. It is very rare. It’s very rare. Interesting. Let me see, so there’s a lot of good things about it, but what are some of the things that you struggle with or that you have struggled with or maybe even the team that you’ve worked on and struggled with.
David: I could go on and on about that. There’s a lot of things that we struggle with. The big one, the one that to me has very few good solutions is the time zone difference piece, that if you’re globally distributed and maybe you have people in the East Coast in the US and people in India or Thailand for example, there’s a 10-12 hour difference It’s almost exactly opposite. And it’s really hard to get those spontaneous interactions that I talked about before to happen when you’re not awake at the same time. And there’s no good solution to this. The best thing that we were able to do is to share the pain, where let’s say for one week to two weeks the team in the US would stay up really late and work into the night to make sure they have some hours that overlap with the people who are, again, either in India or Thailand or somewhere. And then once that one to two weeks was over, the pain would shift and the people in the US would be working normal hours and the people off shore would have to be working at odd hours for them. It’s not a good solution. It’s a really, really bad solution actually but it’s a lot better than having no hours that overlap at all. But one of the side effects is it leads to burnout because nobody wants to constantly be responsible for being up at 11:00 at night, working. It’s a tough balance. That’s one that’s really hard to solve. Another thing that I’d mention is that I think there’s a big different between a team that’s fully distributed, meaning every single person is in a different location and a team that is partially distributed, where you might have one set of people in one location, another set of the people in another location, and then maybe a few people randomly interspersed through the world. There’s a huge difference in terms of how complicated it is to make those teams function effectively. And when I first thought about that, the first thing I thought was that it would be actually more difficult to be effective for the fully distributed team because you have no face to face interactions. And so my initial impression was that that would be much more challenging, but what I found was the inverse is true, that if you have let’s say two teams, where half the team is in one spot and half the team is in another spot, then you actually have two teams. You don’t have one team because it’s very easy to assign blame to the “other” and it’s very difficult to build trust because when things don’t go well, it’s always easier to say “those guys did it wrong” or “it was the offshore team. It wasn’t us.” Whereas when everyone is fully distributed, then that doesn’t happen as much because everyone knows that they need to make an effort to build that team concept. Those are two teams that we struggle with, the time zone difference and in our case it was the fact that we were not fully distributed. We were partially distributed and both are very, very difficult to overcome.
Lisette: Yeah. One of the things that I discussed in some talks that I do is that there’s layers of complicatedness when we get to remote teams, like everyone distributed is one scenario, different offices with some distributed. You just start layering things on and you get to a point where you could try whatever you want but it’s just…
David: Yeah exactly, right. Right.
Lisette: It’s just good to recognize. I want to talk about your product, Retrium.
Lisette: Because this comes up a lot. People come to me all the time, and actually the more I talk about virtual teams, the more I recognize that continuous feedback on a virtual team is critical. It’s a critical piece of making it work. And retrospectives is part of that feedback cycle. I mean there’s many ways to do it. But let’s focus on retrospectives because that’s your expertise. Why starting, why remote retrospectives? What made you passionate about this?
David: Sure. I come from a software development background. I have computer science degree. I was a coder for many years. And one of the things that I found to be the most critical piece of a highly effective software team is continuous improvement. And that’s true, of course not just for software development. It’s true for almost any team but that’s my background. If you look at how retrospectives tend to be run, they tend to be facilitated. At least the effective ones are facilitated. So it’s not that we sit around the table and we have an open mic session where anyone can say anything at any time. We tend to use techniques to facilitate effective communication during the retrospectives. Just as an example so that we’re all in the same page, a very simply technique is called mad sad glad where you might set up three flipcharts around you room. Again I’m talking in a co-located context for now, so one location. So you might set up three flipcharts around the room. You put a title at the top of each one – mad, sad, and glad – and then you might give everyone on the team 10 minutes to use sticky notes and markers to jot down a few ideas about what they’re mad about, what they’re sad about, and what they’re glad about over the last let’s say two weeks of work. Once that is done, they put the stickies up on the charts and then there’s open discussion. People can talk about the ideas that are on the board. That’s a simple example. Just to give one more example, lean coffee is one of my favorites. Lean coffee works like this: you give everyone sticky notes, again they jot down whatever they want to talk about. It can be anything. And then once that is over you set up what is called kanban board where you have three columns on the board. There is to do, in progress, and done. And everyone puts their sticky notes in the ‘to do’ column. And then you give 10 minutes to do something called dot voting where each individual let’s say is given five votes to distribute, however they wish, amongst the sticky notes that were put in the ‘to do’ column. And the sticky notes that end up with the most votes at the end of that session are ranked at the top and the ones that end up with no votes or the lowest amount of votes are at the bottom. So you end up with kind of a democratic prioritization of the things to talk about. And then you just move them along the kanban board. These are structured facilitation techniques. The reason why I went into that much detail about all of them is because one thing that’s a commonality amongst all of the facilitation techniques is that they rely on physical tools – flipcharts, sticky notes, markers and other things. But when you’re a virtual distributed team, obviously you don’t have access to those physical tools. And so it becomes much more difficult to run effective retrospectives. A lot of times teams fall back on just doing a video chat or just doing a video conference. I mean that has a whole host of issues that I could get into but there’s very little ability to facilitate an effective retrospective for a virtual team, and that’s sad because more and more teams are becoming distributed, whether intentionally or not. And also, arguably at least, distributed teams need retrospectives even more than co-located teams do. But there just isn’t an ability to run them very well. That’s why I’m founding Retrium to solve that problem. I want to make distributed teams have the ability to continuously improve just like the co-located counterparts.
Lisette: And what do you see as the main problem with distributed retrospectives? It’s clearly, we can use video conferencing and all of these things, but there’s something else. There’s another component to that.
David: The open mic concept for retrospective simply doesn’t work. And the reason for that is that you end with two types of people who tend to dominate the conversation in any open mic meeting. It doesn’t have to be just the retrospective. You have people who are senior in an organization, so they’re given hard power based on their seniority, and you have people who are kind of the experts, the ones who need to contribute and know they should contribute because they are the most knowledgeable in whatever is being discussed. That usually is about two or three people, maybe, in a meeting. And the other 95% of people who are there sit quietly on their hands, twiddle their thumbs, check their phone. They aren’t engaged. And that’s a very standard meeting. And the problem with that of course is that a lot of those people have really great ideas and really valuable feedback to give, but they have no forum to give that feedback. And so the problem with an open mic session is that it doesn’t engage the entire team in the process. So when you go to a distributed setting, the troubles are just doubled. And that’s because it’s even easier to hide behind the technology, as I talk about before. If you don’t want to contribute, don’t contribute. If you’re on an audio conference, 9 times out of 10 no one will call you out on it. Whereas if you’re in a co-located setting, maybe you’ll be engaged a little bit by someone who’s facilitating that meeting. So we need a tool that facilitates these sessions, because otherwise you end up with certain people dominating the discussion who may have good ideas but it certainly not as effective as including the entire team in the conversation.
Lisette: Okay. And your tool, basically, is going to help solve that and that is what you’re setting out to do.
David: Exactly. We’re building what we call a toolbox of facilitation techniques, so bless you.
Lisette: Thank you. I didn’t get in time, thankfully.
David: There’s another advantage of a virtual team, germs don’t spread so easily, right? It’s a good one.
Lisette: I sit here with my fever and you’re not affected.
David: Exactly. Right, so we’re building what we call a toolbox of these techniques. There are really great books out there that describe a hundred techniques that you can use to facilitate retrospectives. And what we want to do is bring as many of those techniques as possible to Retrium so that people who use our tool can utilize those techniques to facilitate effective retrospectives. We’re not doing what we call skeuomorphic design where we’re not trying to replicate the physical world. We’re trying to optimize the techniques for the virtual world. Certainly in some cases, like lean coffee for example that technique you can pretty much perfectly replicate online. But there are other ones that we’re imagining where you might only be able to run them online, that you actually couldn’t run them in a co-located world. And Retrium would empower a team to use those concepts. I’m not going to reveal exactly what we’re talking about right now on the call because they are coming, but we have some really interesting ideas on how we can make distributed retrospectives just even more effective than their co-located counterparts.
Lisette: I really like the idea of it being a toolbox of retrospectives because I just use kind of a basic one when I do remote retrospectives and it’s just a sticky note board. But I would love if I had an option. And then of course then I have to go out and research the next kind of retrospective that I want to do, which is fine. I don’t mind doing it. But if I had a toolbox, I would just try every single one.
David: Right. Exactly. There are people are out there who are just obsessed with the retrospective concept, I mean how you’re kind of talking to one, but for most people they don’t want to spend their hours researching the right retrospective technique. They’re not going to buy a book about it. And as usual and indebted as we are to the people who wrote those books – Diana Larsen for example is one kind of Guru of retrospective. She just did an incredible job laying out the process of running an effective retrospective in her book. But most people, frankly, don’t have the time or the interest or the inclination to read that cover to cover. So what we’re trying to do is simplify the decision making process a bit. So if we provide a toolbox of techniques and also provide a bit of guidance in terms of which one you should be using based on the impediments that your team is facing, when we think that that might not only make your retrospectives more effective but also make the retrospectives as a concept more popular because they’re easier to use and more accessible. We’re hoping that that sort of guidance that we give will be helpful to people.
Lisette: I can’t imagine it wouldn’t be. Everybody would want a little tip of “if you’re struggling with this, try this technique.” Who wouldn’t want?
David: Right, exactly. Some techniques tend to highlight the negative more than the positive. Other ones tend to be focusing more on “wow, we did a good job. Let’s have a good time in this retrospective and highlight what we did well.” And other ones are focused mainly on gathering data to try to figure out what went well and what didn’t go well and what we can do to improve. Good facilitators would pick the right technique to use based on the context that the team is in, but it’s hard to know which ones to use if you’re not an expert facilitator and most of us aren’t. So trying to provide a bit of guidance there we think will be helpful.
Lisette: What happens after the retrospective? What’s something typical, because there’s all these action items. How do teams normally deal with those action items after a retrospective?
David: The problem is they don’t.
Lisette: I hear that.
David: Yeah that’s the problem. The Scrum framework, which is where the retrospective concept came from, says you need to run a retrospective at the end of every sprint or every regular frequent period of time. But it doesn’t really prescribe how you can integrate the feedback coming from a retrospective back into your next sprint or the upcoming two-week period of time. And so a lot of teams come up with action items but they don’t assign who is responsible for each action item, which okay that’s a good start. You have a list of action items. But if you don’t have people responsible for following through on the action item, then a lot of times they just fall off the radar, because let’s face it, everyone wants to build more features, everyone needs to fix bugs, and a lot of times those things just get higher priority than fixing whatever process problems that you identified in your retrospective. Assigning not just what should go into the action item list but who should do it and when it should be done by, those things can be very effective in facilitating the actual use of the retrospective. And then the other piece that I would mention is that what I found is that a lot of times at the beginning of the following retrospective to go over the action items that you came up with in the previous retrospective to see how you did. And that accountability piece, especially if you’ve assigned “you’re responsible for this item and you’re responsible for that item” can almost force the process forward a bit. It sounds almost like you’re pulling teeth, which I hate to make it seem that way because it’s not. Retrospective should be fun and I mean that because you’re using games a little bit, to have the meeting, which is fun in and of itself. And it also should be fun because when you start seeing the positive impact that a retrospective can have on your team, it becomes a little addictive actually. I mean how many teams do you know who use the concept of the post mortem, where at the end of a one year long project they talk about what went well, what didn’t go well, and what can we do to improve? It’s amazing to me that people think that’s a good way of improving. Great, so we’re going to wait an entire year until we have delivered the project to figure out what we did poorly…
Lisette: And then call it the post mortem, of all things.
David: And call it the post mortem, yeah. It’s incredible to me.
Lisette: That’s why I never thought of that. That’s hilarious.
David: Right. It’s crazy.
Lisette: It goes back to something we talked about in the beginning which is the importance of silliness and playfulness and that lack of structure. That’s really important on a team.
David: Right, absolutely yeah. And doing it frequently and getting into the habit is just critical. It becomes like a rhythm. You just know the retrospective is coming, the retrospective is coming, and you start looking forward to it because you know “I need to have this happen the next time we get together and the retrospective is my chance to raise that issue.” You no longer have to wonder “when is that going to happen?” or “how will it happen?” There’s a process by which that will happen.
Lisette: It’s also nice because you’re not waiting on the dreaded meeting that happens after something goes wrong.
Lisette: Those are the worst.
David: The dread, right?
Lisette: Some days you have to wait a few days before that horrible meeting happens and the post mortem happens.
David: The post mortem, it’s really the worst word.
Lisette: I think your tool hopefully will eradicate the post mortem.
David: I hope so.
Lisette: I’m noticing the time, and of course I can never stick to my 30 minutes because I always end up being so interested in what people say. But also before I ask my final question, is there anything that I’ve miss from this conversation that you really feel like I should’ve asked or I didn’t asked or something about the product you maybe want to tell?
David: Yeah. I’d like to emphasize and I kind of briefly touched on this before, but I want to emphasize that retrospectives are not just for software development teams. It’s a general concept for improvement for your team. And in my opinion, it almost doesn’t matter what industry or what vertical you’re working in. Use the retrospective. And yes I’m biased because I’m building a tool to help facilitate those retrospectives, but it really can help your team continuously improve. So start reading about them, learn about them, and reach out if you have any questions about how they may or may not be effective and how to use them in the right way. And again, if you’re a virtual team and I’m all about virtual teams, I think there’s a lot of empowerment that happens when you’re virtual. It’s even more important to run them. Just keep that in mind and good luck with all of it.
Lisette: I think that is a super critical point. I think in a way retrospectives don’t need to have anything to do with the software industry. I mean you schedule regular meeting with your team to talk about how things are going. It may not do anything about Scrum at all and run a retrospective.
David: Exactly. There are people who use retrospectives in their family at home. Every week we go over what went well, what didn’t go well, and what can we do to improve. And hey let’s say it saves marriages, right? That would be wonderful.
Lisette: I grew up in a military family. If only my dad had known he probably wouldn’t have the post mortem. I guess my last question is if people want to learn more, what is the best way that they can get in contact with you and learn more about Retrium?
David: It’s www.retrium.com. That’s the website. We haven’t launched yet. We’re still building it out. But if you’re interested, get in touch with me. I’m having a lot of really wonderful conversations with people about what they’re looking for in the product, so now’s your chance to influence the direction of the product because we’re going to be having a demo-able version, I’m hoping in about a month or a month and half. And then by the summer we’re going to really launch the thing. Now’s your chance to get involved. The other thing I’d recommend is just email me, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter. It’s ds_horowitz. That’s me on Twitter. And any of those ways, I promise I’ll reach straight back out to you. It’s no problem at all. I love talking to everyone who thinks this might be useful.
Lisette: Yeah you’re a good responder. I’ll vouch for that.
David: So are you, so are you.
Lisette: I’m a professional. Not everybody will agree with that. I do get behind. There’s just buckets of email. Everybody has to deal with that.
David: Hey, ban email. Ban email.
Lisette: Indeed! If we could do everything in Slack, I’ll be one happy camper. That is for sure.
David: That is for sure.
Lisette: I need to get an affiliate program started for all these great tools I’m mentioning. Well thank you very much. I really enjoyed talking in depth about this. Until next time everybody, be powerful.Podcast