How to Run a Project Retrospective

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How to Run a Project Retrospective

Postby McDanielCA » Thu Jan 15, 2009 2:12 pm

How to Run a Project Retrospective was originally posted on the main page of LDS Tech. It was written by StacyAnn Allen.


A project retrospective is a way to look back at events that have already taken place and help managers increase the effectiveness of their teams. Regularly held retrospectives break the repetition of ineffective program and project management practices, give the opportunity to solve immediate problems through rapid application of key learning, and increase the probability of affecting behavioral changes.

Retrospectives should not be a one-time event that happens at the end of a program or project. Team members should meet at strategic points during the project life cycles to discuss what is working and what needs to be improved. Retrospectives explore what is working well on a project and ensure that good practices are reinforced and repeated.

The intent of a retrospective is to capture key lessons during a project and apply improvements during the remainder of the life cycle.

During a retrospective, the team works together to create actionable plans to improve both effectiveness and efficiency.

The three goals of a project retrospective are:

  1. Review the project from a number of different perspectives.
  2. Capture and record specifics about what went well and what can be improved.
  3. Create an action plan for implementing changes that is outlined with tasks, deliverables, timelines, and owners.
To run a successful retrospective, first identify the objectives. A facilitator – who may be a professional from outside the organization, a team member, or the project manager – should be chosen. The facilitator should meet with the project manager and selected project team members to get a sense of what happened, to get relevant project data, and to understand the organization’s roles, responsibilities, and reporting relationships. This helps give a sense of the culture and to identify any important issues.

The facilitator’s role is to watch the process and guide the team by providing opportunities for all to be heard and to participate. The facilitator should also help the group work under guidelines that yield healthy human interactions, and be willing to work with emotions.

The retrospective attendees need to be identified next. A group of six to eight people is most effective. If there are more people working on the project, then several small retrospectives can be initiated to include everyone. The facilitator should create a safe space, an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable talking openly about important issues. Food can help get team members talking.

A retrospective survey may also be helpful in running the meeting. Questions may include:

  • What worked well?

  • What did we learn from this project?

  • What should we do differently next time?

  • What don't we understand that needs to be clarified for the future?

  • What made you laugh?

Discussion at a retrospective should be recorded and analyzed. Once specific themes are identified, an action plan can be developed. Specific action items should be created and assigned to retrospective attendees. The information captured can then be reviewed with management in a summary report, and any documented good practices can be shared across the organization.

A project retrospective should not be held as an afterthought without a defined, objective process. If retrospectives are held after a project is over, then the lessons learned should be applied to the next program or project. The sharing of perspectives leads to the understanding of what worked well. The discussion identifies opportunities for improvement, and highlights lessons learned.

A retrospective helps the team see ways to work together more efficiently. With increased buy-in from the people performing the work, a higher probability of achieving sustainable and permanent change occurs.

Kerth, Norm. Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews.

Rising, Linda, Mary Lynn Manns. Project Retrospectives.

Lavell, Dabra and Russ Martinelli. PM World Today – Case Study Series- January 2008.
Program and Project Retrospectives: An Introduction. (Vol. X, Issue 1).

StacyAnn Allen is a project coordinator for the Church.

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