A project retrospective

I've learnt how incredibly valuable retrospectives are. A simple, yet powerful technique; I wish had been exposed to it earlier in my career. I love learning and I think this is a great way to reflect on what I learn from each project.

Today Clare facilitated a project retrospective for Jess, Mikey, Matt and myself as we looked back at a project we collaborated on between March and July this year.

A retrospective is an agile technique, which happens at the end of a project sprint or at the end of an entire project. It gives everyone in the team a chance to look at what went well, what went less well and what is valuable to take onto another project.

A retrospective takes the following format:

  • Set objectives for the session
  • Write a timeline for the project
  • Identify the good and bad parts of the project
  • Set actions

A facilitator

Retrospectives must be facilitated by someone who was not involved in the project. The facilitator should plan the retrospective, make sure that actions are identified and the goals are met whilst keeping the session on track for time. They can also make sure that everyone has a chance to contribute.

Objectives

We started by figuring out what we wanted to achieve in the session. This gave us something to check against to see if we had achieved what we wanted to in the session. These were our objectives:

  • Pick out what is valuable to share with others
  • Celebrate what went well
  • Identify key learnings
  • Consolidate understanding of the project as a whole

Build a timeline

We wrote a timeline of the project—starting with the pitch, ending with the last day of the project. We documented key events like when people joined, left or had holiday; workshops; sprints and the like.

Good and bad points

We all took some post-it notes and wrote down the good and bad points about the project: green for good, pink for bad. Then we placed them at their relevant points on the timeline giving us a long line of pink and green prettiness. Having everything on a wall highlighted the balance between good and bad points and it helped us identify particular times or events that lead to good or bad points.

Then we discussed each point. The great thing about writing them down individually was that it gave everyone a chance to contribute something and explain their points in more detail during the discussions.

Identify themes

Clare grouped points into themes and summarised them with us. This enabled us to see all of the points clearly without any duplicates.

Voting

In order to identify the most valuable key learnings from the project, we all voted on the points using the dots system. So, we each placed three dots on what we believed to be the most valuable point to take away from the project, two for the second and one the third. Once everyone had voted, we collected the post-it notes with dot votes and agreed on the three most valuable points to share with others and take to a new project.

Wrapping up

To wrap up the project, we checked that we had met the objectives set out at the start of the session and did a quick appreciation exercise. We all shared something that we enjoyed, learned or appreciated most about the project. It felt a like a nice, positive way to end the session.

There are several reasons why I have found project retrospectives valuable so far. Firstly, I think we uncover more learnings when we reflect and discuss projects with others. Documenting the session in a write-up reduces the chances of valuable lessons slipping through the net and we can look back at it in the future. I always leave these sessions feeling very positive about what I've learnt from each project and ready to share it with others. Clare does a great job of planning and facilitating our retrospective sessions, which I'm sure is a contributing factor to their success here.