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Retrospectives, or what others might call “postmortems,” are an important tool in any company’s operational and cultural toolbox. Originally used by agile engineering and product teams to discuss their recent “sprint” (work completed within a set amount of time), these meetings have been widely adopted by other functions, allowing business and creative teams to look back on projects, provide feedback on what’s working and what’s not, and align on ways to improve products and processes.
As hybrid and remote work gained popularity, in-person retrospectives—traditionally involving team members writing ideas on sticky notes, adding them to a wall or whiteboard, and voting on them with dot stickers—have largely moved online, giving rise to a new set of tools developed to make facilitation easy.
We tested several retro tools with our own team at Charter during remote meetings across departments, and found Parabol and EasyRetro to be simple to use for those new to the tools and process, fostering discussions that generated clear takeaways. Parabol has a better user experience overall, with playful but professional graphics and creative retro format templates, but is more expensive than the simple and streamlined EasyRetro, which offered boards in languages including Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian, German, and Polish.
Each of the tools we tested allows users to create new digital “boards” and facilitate a conversation in which participants add ideas and vote on topics to discuss. We prioritized tools with anonymous voting capabilities to make the process more equitable for those who don’t speak up as much in meetings, or who feel pressured to agree with their manager’s views on issues.
A lively, interactive interface that was easy and appealing to use by people with various technical skills put Parabol at the top of the list.
- Wide variety of creative retro format templates.
- Engaging graphics and colors that delighted the team
- May be a bit pricey for bigger teams.
With a simple interface that would fit more straight-laced business environments, EasyRetro won higher points on accessibility, with boards in different languages.
- Wide variety of retro format templates, including ones for UX design and user research reviews.
- Boards in languages including Spanish, French, Portugues, Russian, German, and Polish.
- More affordable for larger teams.
- Upvoting was a little confusing (do you use the emoji to upvote or the up arrow?).
- Less clear instructions/automated flow for facilitation, which means you’ll need someone familiar with running retros to lead it.
There are a lot of retro tools out there, from startups launching niche, specialized tools that focus solely on retros to larger task-management and brainstorm software platforms like Atlassian and Notion that include a retro tool or template in their feature set. We focused on tools with retrospective facilitation as their primary feature: Parabol, Retrium, EasyRetro, Reetro, RetroTool.io, and TeamRetro.
We created a rubric rating each tool’s visual appeal, engagement, user-friendly directions and instructions, performance and ease of use, personalization and customization, inclusion and accessibility, and price on a scale of one to five. Our favorites were chosen based on the highest combined scores across categories.
There was a tie for our two top picks, which scored highest in our rubric for visual appeal, engagement, and ease of use. We favored tools that were easy for anyone in our company to use, even those who are less technologically fluent or not as used to using software incross-functional discussions. Those that were especially frustrating or confusing for those team members, or crashed in browsers, were given the lowest ease of use and performance scores.
What to watch for: With companies working remote or hybrid, expect to see retrospective tools being used across more teams, from marketing to strategy and operations, to determine ways to improve their processes or work products. Engineering teams may use retrospectives to determine that they need to create more documentation in their code or handle technical debt to speed up their output, for example, while other teams will learn that they need better cross-functional communication or more equitable meeting practices. Watch for more operational and task-management systems for businesses to begin offering digital retro tools as an add-on feature.
Each of our picks excel in providing optimized features for running a great retro:
- Retro templates: One of the fun and important aspects of retrospectives is choosing the format that will spark the best discussion. There are the classic “What went well?” and “What didn’t go well?” prompts to discuss the most basic ideas, but others can bring about surprising takeaways. For example, the “4Ls” format, which offers four areas for people to add notes on what they liked, learned, lacked, and longed for during the project, can uncover ways the team needs to prepare materials before embarking on a similar project in the future, or how they may need to upskill their team on a new technology. Parabol offered several more creative formats to spark new ways of thinking, including a Diwali-themed retrospective that encourages people to add notes under Diyas (what do we need to guide us forward or help us find our way?), Rangoli (what practices or processes are bringing positivity?), and Ravana (what demons, projects, or problems are cursing us?). EasyRetro had a wider variety of boards that could be used for specific discussions on UX design, user research reviews, and even a personal SWOT analysis.
- Upvoting: Facilitators can’t possibly go into detail on every idea or digital sticky note added to the board. Our picks allow participants to anonymously vote on items that they want to discuss with the group, rather than putting all of the power in the HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion), which often doesn’t reflect all of the nuances or underlying issues that went into the project. Equitable voting on what’s important and what’s not encourages psychological safety and prevents participants from avoiding root problems they need to resolve together.
- Clear ways to document and export next steps: One of the most important aspects of a retro meeting is coming out of it with clear, actionable next steps and improvements to make. Both of our picks provide integrations to export into other formats, from Excel files to a PDF, so owners of next steps are reminded of what they need to do.
Pricing deep dive
For those looking to test a tool with the team before spending any money, both of our top picks provide extensive free offerings with robust add-ons for more customization, security, and archive capabilities.
Pricing varies based on the number of people you want to participate in retrospectives, the number of meetings or “boards” you want to create, and the number of “teams” you want to create (which means retros would be participated in and seen by only people on that particular team, rather than the whole organization).
- “Starter” for free, which includes unlimited meetings and users for two teams at a company, 30 days of meeting archives, and integrations with Slack and Microsoft Teams to send meeting reminders and summaries.
- “Team” for $6 per active user per month, which includes unlimited meeting history, enhanced security for privacy, and robust customer support. If you have a team of 20 people who you want to participate in retrospectives, that would be $120 per month.
- “Enterprise,” a custom pricing solution, will be an option for more technical teams who need an uptime Service Level Agreement, (which guarantees a certain percentage of time, per quarter, that a cloud-based software is up and running); integration with JIRA project management; and other security features.
- “Free” offers less than Parabol, with only three public meeting boards available and zero teams can be created.
- “Team” for $25 per month or $250 annually, would likely be cheaper than Parabol if you have a larger team, with unlimited boards and members for one team.
- “Business” for $50 per month or $600 annually includes 15 public boards for three teams, and Large Business offers $75 per month or $900 annually includes 30 public boards for six teams.
Prices for other services we tested varied based on the number of teams, security features, and customizations that could be made:
- Retrium offers a free trial and then “Team” level at $39 per team room per month, including a JIRA cloud integration. The “Business” level is $59 per team per month but offers annual invoicing, a one-hour training session, and security and domain features. There’s also an “Enterprise” level for a more custom offering.
- Reetro’s free trial has lots to offer, with unlimited teams, boards, and users, plus support and end-to-end data encryption. There is a “Pro” offering at $18 per month with single sign-on options (people can sign in with their professional emails), API integration with task management tools, data management, and more.
- Retrotool.io offers a “Company” tier for $20 per month, per team, up to three teams. If you have more than three teams, there’s the Enterprise custom pricing.
- TeamRetro has monthly costs for a single team ($25), a small organization with up to three teams ($60), and a large organization with up to six teams ($90) and comes with single sign-on capabilities at all tiers.
How we chose what to review
I am a product leader and certified agile practitioner (CSM and CSPO) who has been using remote retro tools for the past five years at various teams and companies, including some of the tools tested here. I also sought out new retro tools that I had never tried before, narrowing down the testing pool to include those that were clearly retrospective-first tools, with modern, professional design interfaces that would appeal to a wide variety of stakeholders.
The tools that didn’t make our top picks typically had performance or visual appeal issues. For example, Retrotool.io had appealing graphics, but a confusing UI that both facilitators and participants struggled to navigate. It also crashed several peoples’ browsers during the discussion. Reetrio had a great “Action tracker” tool to follow up on the actionable items that emerge from retros, but also had a bit of distracting feature bloat on the cards and interface.
Other tools like TeamMood or Sprint Boards had nice features for measuring team emotions and details that would only appeal to engineers, respectively. But they weren’t quite right for our specific purpose of holding retros with cross-functional teams.
Notion has multiple community-create retro templates available, but if you don’t have Notion at your organization, you’re out of luck. Other companies like Miro have templates for retros, but they are not worth evaluating to buy for retros alone since their primary value is for cross-team, remote brainstorming (which we’ll be writing about soon). However, if your company uses this software already, consider testing out the templates to see if they will work with your team.
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