Project retrospectives – more than a lesson learned activity
DI Sieglinde Hinger, Consultant, Certified professional Facilitator
Holding a retrospective ritual is a very old idea. It has served the human species well, as the stories of hunts are retold around campfires and the stories of child rearing are shared as baskets are woven. It has survived this long because it works. It’s a fundamental vehicle to discover, share, and pass along the learning from experience—something we also call “wisdom.” (from Norm Kerth, “Father of the retrospectives”)
retrospective (rèt´re-spèk-tîv) — a ritual held at the end of a project to learn from the experience and to plan changes for the next effort.
What is a project retrospective?
A retrospective is a gathering of a project team at the end of a project / a project phase to review the events and learn from the shared experience.
No one knows the whole story of the project. Each person has a piece of the story. The retrospective is the collective telling of the story and mining the experience for wisdom. It is an extremely productive method of improving your practices.
The main difference of a project retrospective and lessons learned activity is that a main part of a project retrospective is to look into the future and to plan concrete steps for the future.
A common structure
Usually, a project retrospective follows the following steps:
– Analyze the Project. The project is reviewed from a number of different aspects to understand the important events that occurred.
– Generate Insights. The specifics about what went well and what can be improved on the next project are captured.
– Create Action Plans. A plan outlining the tasks, deliverables, and timelines, and owners for implementing changes to address the highest priority lessons is created.
There is a great variety of possibilities how to do a specific project retrospective: From a one hour session at the end of a 14 days sprint in an agile project in the meeting room on the same floor as the team rooms to a big event of 2-3 days in a seminar hotel – everything is possible. A well planned retrospective is always based on the circumstances of the project and the goals you want to achieve.
Sometimes retrospectives are held at the end of the project – to learn and plan for future project, the next release and so on. In agile project management (as in SCRUM) sprint retrospectives are an integrated part of the process and help the team to accurately find and fix problems.
Success factors for a project retrospective are:
– follow the structure shown above: it gives the project team a tried-and-true process for the inspection and the learning
– have a trained and experienced facilitator, someone who was not involved with the project
– Include everyone who participated at the project
Project retrospectives – a handbook for team reviews, Norman L. Kerth
Agile retrospectives – Making Good Teams Great, Esther Derby/Diana Larsen