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Retrospectives: How to Impact the Future by Looking Back

Jamie Orcutt

By Jamie Orcutt

Manager, Project Management

Category

Productivity

March 8, 2018

Here at Elevate we are always looking for opportunities to improve our process and grow as a team. Retrospectives (or gathering of the team post-initiative) are a perfect way to bring our teams together and openly discuss what we are doing well, things we can do better, and ways we can refine our process for current or future projects.

Here are the four reasons you should implement retrospectives at your organization:

  • Team Appreciation: Retrospectives provide a time to pat yourselves on the back! Starting with what the team did well breathes energy into the meeting and begins the conversation on a positive note.
  • Empowerment: Each team member is encouraged to discuss their opinion on each question. Since everyone has time to provide their input, we eliminate resistance to change as well.
  • Transparency: When we discuss changes and improvements for the future, everyone is involved. Being transparent helps strengthen our internal and client relationships. If changes are made, everyone is fully aware.
  • Collaboration: Together, we identify areas of opportunity while also creating an action plan. If a team feels like they’re in it together, that support and trust go a long way to paving a successful road forward.

If you are interested in having a Retrospective with your team, we suggest taking the following steps.

Implementing a Successful Retrospective

Planning

Book a meeting room for at least an hour and invite every key person who participated in the project. It’s also important to have a neutral member (someone who was not involved in the project at any point) in the room to facilitate the conversation, ask deeper questions, and keep time. There should also be someone present in the room to take additional notes — ideally also someone who was not involved in the project.

At Elevate, we have a retrospective template document that we put together and use as a base for all project retros. From there, we customize it to include our specific questions for the retro we are preparing for.

We also encourage you to prepare your team in advance by sharing the topics and questions that will be asked during the Retrospective with them. This will allow each individual to think through their responses and will cut down on the time it takes to respond to each question.

Setting Expectations

An important piece to having a successful Retrospective is setting clear expectations and guidelines for the meeting:

  • Be clear on timing — let your team know how much time they have to answer each specific question as well as how much time will be used for group discussion. The time keeper will be responsible for determining how much time each portion of the retro will take based on the amount of questions prepared.
  • Be clear on which piece of the project is being discussed — are we covering the entire project start to finish, or are we covering a specific sprint? Encourage your team to be honest and to share what they think will help the team improve on the next project.
  • All retro participants should listen with an open mind and ask deeper questions on someone’s point of view, especially if it was on a piece of the project they were not involved in. Understanding is key.

Project Questions

Now it’s time to ask and discuss any questions the Project Manager has outlined based on how the project went. These questions can be both general to the overall project or specific to a certain phase or discipline. Here are a few possible options that you can ask or use to spark other topic ideas:

  • What did we do well?
  • What could we have done better?
  • How can we make scrum meetings more efficient?
  • How can we streamline client feedback?
  • How can we make client-facing meetings more effective?
  • What can we do to better set expectations with the client before we start a project?

Have each team member take about five minutes per question to write their responses into a shared document. As this is happening, the facilitator should be reading through the responses and noting any similar thoughts as well as differences to discuss out loud.

Discuss your ideas briefly as a team — the discussion should also take about five minutes per question.

Identify Key Action Items

It’s time to identify what actions can be taken to improve identified areas of opportunity. Have your team write down new ideas or suggested changes that can be implemented for the next project. The facilitator should pull out a couple of these suggestions to discuss with the group. It will be the responsibility of the Project Manager to resurface these ideas and lead conversations in implementing any changes that are reached through the retro.

Wrap It Up

Run through the list of any follow-up items and set timing expectations for when your team can expect any next steps.

Post Retrospective Notes

The Project Manager should go through the collected responses after the meeting and strategize when and how to implement any changes in the current process. The PM will be responsible for assigning any new tasks that may have come out of the retro — this may include adjusting tasks in current projects or it could require a separate meeting time to discuss changes to the company’s process. Finally, create an archive or a designated folder to keep the Retrospective notes in — you will need them later!

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