Excited to announce Retrium — distributed retrospectives made easy

For the past few months, I’ve been hard at work in my spare time on a startup in the agile/scrum space. Along with my co-founder, Ryan Detweiler, I am very excited to reveal it to the world (or, at least to those select few who actually read this blog!). It’s called Retrium — and it’s a tool that makes sprint retrospectives easy and effective for distributed scrum teams.


Here’s why we’re building it. If you’ve ever worked on a team that uses the scrum framework, then you probably know all about sprint retrospectives. Most likely, you’ve been exposed to retrospective facilitation techniques like 4Ls, Lean Coffee, The Wheel, or Mad/Sad/Glad (no? you should try them!). Here’s the problem: all of these techniques require flipcharts, sticky notes, markers, and other physical tools. While that’s fine and dandy for collocated teams, geographically distributed teams are left out in the cold. That’s where Retrium comes in. We want to bring the power of these retrospective techniques to distributed teams.

Here’s what it is. Retrium is a set of super-simple interfaces to some of the most popular retrospective techniques. It is completely device independent, so you can use your phone, tablet, or desktop to participate. Retrium is also a facilitator that guides you through the retrospective itself. Don’t know how to run Lean Coffee? Don’t worry, Retrium takes care of that for you. Finally, Retrium doesn’t try to do too much. It isn’t intended to replace video conferencing, it merely complements it. In fact, we recommend you run a video conference while you run a Retrium-powered retrospective.

Here’s our timeline. We are aiming to launch our MVP in the summer. In the meantime, in good lean startup fashion, we have a pretty landing page with a place to enter your email if you’re interested in hearing more.

So that’s it. If this resonates with you, reach out and get in touch! Please email me so we can schedule a time to chat.

Retrium — retrospectives made easy.

Should the Product Owner be included in a sprint retrospective?

I came across this question on Quora recently and couldn’t help but respond, as its a question I deal with pretty regularly. Here is my answer:

Why shouldn’t the product owner be included in a sprint retrospective?

TL;DR: Sometimes its a good idea to invite the PO and sometimes its not. It’s the Scrum Master’s responsibility to invite the right people to the retrospective each time, based on the team’s current impediments.

Long Version: There is no hard and fast rule on who to invite to the retrospective. The right answer will almost certainly change on a retrospective-by-retrospective basis. The right answer also depends on many things:

  1. The relationship between the PO and the team
  2. The relationship between stakeholders and the PO
  3. The relationship between your manager and your team
  4. The current issues that the team faces (are they more technical or more business-oriented?)
  5. And any number of other potential things (sorry to be vague…)

As the facilitator of the Retrospective, it is up to your Scrum Master to structure the Retrospective such that it will lead to continuous improvement. If that means involving key stakeholders, then those stakeholders should be invited. If that means a closed door session for just the core team, then the retrospective should be closed to external participants.

Since Scrum Masters have no hard power, a good Scrum Master would understand the need to seek input from the team, the manager, the PO, and relevant stakeholders in order to build consensus on who to invite each time. A good Scrum Master would build a positive relationship with your manager such that the manager will eventually understand why this flexibility is so important.

Scrum Masters, what do you think? Do you agree that the best answer is it depends?

10 Things A Good Scrum Master Never Says



Good Scrum Masters are almost always busy. Yet, plenty of articles wonder what a Scrum Master does all day. In response, here are 10 Things A Good Scrum Master Never Says:


#1 I have nothing to do today because my team isn’t facing any impediments!

#2 The product backlog is in such good shape that we don’t need to look at it anymore this sprint.

#3  I wish we had at least another page of documentation on that requirement. It would help clarify what our stakeholders want.

#4 Our meetings don’t start or end on time, but I can’t change that because it’s part of company culture.

#5 I know everything about scrum, so there’s no need for me to attend scrum-related meetups, classes, or conferences anymore.

#6 If only I had more hard power. Then I could affect real change.

#7 I’m so bored of our daily scrum meetings that I always find myself spacing out! I wish we could just skip them once in a while.

#8 Everyone in my company is on board with this agile thing. There’s no need for me to take them to coffee to get to know them a bit more.

#9 Our retrospectives are so useful that I don’t need to research any new facilitation techniques.

And lastly…drum roll please…

#10 I wish we could go back to the waterfall model. At least we had clarity on what we were trying to build.

Perhaps this list of “quotes” will give the doubters a sense of how complex the Scrum Master role really is, and how few people really have the skills to do it right.

Any other quotes you’d like to add to this list? Feel free to comment below.

The Top 5 Ways Your Startup Fails*

As a source of inspiration, I’ve been reading a lot of startup success stories recently. They are fun, easy to find online, and extremely motivating. Perhaps most of all, they make you want to quit your day job and go “all in” on your idea. But reading about everyone’s “oh so easy” successes got me thinking: we know that 90% of startups fail, so why is it that its so much easier to find stories about startup successes than failures? More importantly, can we learn from other people’s startup failures in order to increase our odds of success?

I don’t know the answer to the first question, but the answer to the second is a resounding YES. It is critically important to learn from others’ mistakes. As I consider my startup future, I’ve compiled what I believe to be the top five reasons that startups fail*:

1. The mythical product-market fit stays mythical

If you haven’t heard of product-market fit, you need to read about it. Right now. The term was coined in 2007 in a blog post by Marc Andreeson, the cofounder of Netscape. It has since become the mantra of all startups, everywhere. According to Marc, “product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.” It sounds simple enough, yet it is also the hardest thing to achieve for a young startup. We all have great ideas that we think people would be interested in enough to pay for. Yet chances are we’re not right — at least not on our first product iteration. So we pivot. Perhaps we pivot again. Some of us keep pivoting and never find the product-market fit, and so our company, like many others, goes to the startup graveyard. Startups are born and die every day — only the best live on to find product-market fit. For the rest of us, it remains a mythical holy grail.

2. They run out of runway

A fundamental truth of business is whoever controls the money controls the company. Here’s why: suppose you have an amazing product that people love and are even willing to pay for (lucky you!). Then suppose you run out of runway because your company isn’t profitable enough to be self-sustaining. You need a cash infusion quick. So you go to the bank to ask for a loan, or you approach your VC firm or angel for another funding round. In this scenario, who controls the future of your business? You? Of course not — even if you own 100% of the shares in your company. If your lender or investor refuses to give you money and you’ve reached the end of your runway, your company dies. Simple as that. Whoever controls the money controls the company. So, don’t reach the end of your runway. Easy, right?

3. Deafening echo chambers

We all love to hear that we’re loved. Especially when the love relates to our startup idea — we are spending the majority of our waking hours thinking about it, after all. Its just dandy to hear that everyone thinks we’re brilliant! The problem, of course, is that we’re probably not as brilliant as we think, our idea probably isn’t as good as we imagine, and the people we talk to are probably predisposed to give us positive feedback. Its not enough to get out of the building. We need to get out of our echo chamber. Strategies like “the mom test” help, but far too many entrepreneurs fail because they refuse to heed the advice of those outside their echo chamber.

4. Having no business model

Ok, let’s get this out of the way. You need a business model. Too many first-time entrepreneurs think this is hogwash. I know I used to. On the surface, the popular mantras “stop planning and start doing” and “fail fast” both tell us to put our heads down and GO. But if you don’t have a vision with a plan to back it up, how will you know what feature to build next? Which customers to focus on? What marketing strategy to employ? Remember, having a business model doesn’t necessary mean writing down 500 pages of detail that no one will read. Your business model can be very lightweight. But either way, you need one. Otherwise, you’re just shooting darts at the dartboard hoping something will stick.

5. Too big, too fast

Growth! We all want growth — revenue growth, valuation growth, customer acquisition growth. The trouble is its also very possible to grow too soon, too fast, or even in the wrong direction. This relates back to the first reason startups fail — their inability to find product-market fit. Too many startups grow before determining whether the market they are in is large enough to be self-sustaining. And when they realize they’ve grown in the wrong way, they have to scale back and pivot … which might work, but think of all the cash they’ve already burned through! Imagine if they had realized it earlier, before all their jetpack-fueled growth! They could have saved time, money, and a whole lot of headache. And perhaps given them a better chance at succeeding. So remember: growth can kill.

So there it is. Nothing earth-shattering for a seasoned entrepreneur, but useful to keep in mind nonetheless.

* – Note that this list is entirely anecdotal. It is, however, based on a lot of reading and on commonalities I found time and again. Use it at your own risk 🙂
Ryan Hoover, of Product Hunt fame, has compiled a list of startup postmortems which help expand on the themes I’ve identified above. You can find it here.