Retrospect

The Retrospect is one of the most effective processes for capturing lessons learned from a project team, after the end of a piece of work. With a Retrospect, you can bring out the key knowledge and experience developed by a project team, and turn it into actions and resources for the benefit of future projects. By facilitating a dialogue within the whole team, you can bring out the knowledge that comes from the team interactions - knowledge that any one individual may be unaware of, but which the team as a whole knows.

Retrospects are face-to-face meetings that take place as soon as possible after a project is completed. The duration varies depending on number of people, duration, and complexity of the project. They can be from 30 minutes to an hour for a short, simple project or four or more hours for a 10 person, six month project. A Retrospect of an alliance between several departments or companies may take two days. A general rule of thumb for working out how long to allow, is to multiply the number of people on the team by 30 minutes.

Who to invite. Invite the team who were involved in delivering the project. The team leader, all team members, the customer or client for the project, and all other key participants. You cannot really hold a Retrospect with more than about 12 people, so if the extended team exceeds 12, then either invite just the core team, or hold separate Retrospects for sub-projects. Appoint an external facilitator.

Process. Choose a conference room, or off-site facility, where the team members can sit round a single table. This should be quiet and undisturbed. Arrange for flipcharts and pens. The Retrospect begins by revisiting the objectives, deliverables, and measures of the project. Questions include: 'What did you set out to do?' 'What was the understanding at the start of the project?' The team leader should prepare a short (15 minute) presentation of the original objectives of the project, referring back to original documents such as the terms of reference. It may be a good idea to circulate these prior to the meeting.

The next part of the Retrospect covers "what actually happened". Questions include: 'What did you achieve?' 'Did you get what you wanted?' 'Did you meet the deadlines?' 'Were satisfaction measures achieved?' 'What happened along the way?'. In a complex project, the team may wish to construct a timeline or flow chart to determine what actually happened. The team leader should prepare a short (15 minute) presentation of the final deliverables, including items such as actual vs budget figures, actual vs estimated timeline, customer satisfaction surveys, performance data etc. It may be a good idea to circulate these prior to the meeting.

The facilitator then asks the members of the team what went well (in the context of delivering objectives) and they collectively determine why these aspects went well, and how this success can be repeated in future. After this discussion, the facilitator asks what could have gone better? Why was this a challenge or disappointment, and how these challenges can be met or avoided next time. The facilitator will be guiding the discussion to arrive at specific actionable recommendations for the future. Success factors and challenges can be identified through brainstorming, through discussion, or using post-it notes.

As a final close-out exercise, the project is given a 1 - 10 (low to high) numerical rating by each participant in the meeting. If it is less than 10 each member is asked what would have made it a ten.

Recording. A huge amount of knowledge will be shared during the dialogue. This knowledge needs to be captured, and the best way to do this is to audio-record and transcribe the proceedings (or at least part 3). No transcripts or copies of the recordings will be published, or used in any way, without the permission of the people involved.

Hard deliverables. The main outcome of the retrospect is a suite of lessons with associated actions, for improving the processes of future projects and the supporting functions. A secondary output can be a learning history of the project.

Soft deliverables. Retrospect is a process of team reflection and team discussion, which looks to learn from the past in a non-judgmental way in order to improve the future. Regular Retrospects can lead to an increase in openness, an elimination of a blame culture, and an increase in performance focus.

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