What Is It & Why Do It?
A Retrospective is a practice to hold after a phase of work or at the end of a project to assess how your team has performed during the period. It addresses what went well, what didn’t go so well, ideas for how to improve and actions that come out of those ideas. The premise of the exercise is not of blame and defensiveness but of continual team growth, group support and improvement.
It can be a powerful method to address tricky problems and offer practical solutions. If held on regular occasions this practice can create a supportive company culture and give members of the team a chance to express their concerns as well as celebrate the victories!
Who’s Involved & What’s The Setup?
In holding a retrospective you should try and involve the entire project team to allow everyone to have equal say and offer multiple perspectives. If your team is too large for reasonable discussion, break them down into smaller groups to keep the discussions focused. You should allow a good 1–1 ½ hours for the retrospective as there is normally a fair bit to cover. Hold the meeting in a relaxed environment to get the best out of people. Compare your retrospectives over time to give a sense of progression.
- The first step in carrying out a Retrospective is to start with ‘What went well’? As a team discuss all the positive aspects of the project thinking back to what stood out to you. This could range from deliverables, estimation and timescales, to team dynamics, team culture and social activities. Were there improvements over your last project? What victories can you think of to celebrate? Now’s your chance to praise!
- Next, address what didn’t go so well. List out the things that you think could be improved, were roadblocks during the project or things that just flat out failed. During this section it’s important not to play the ‘blame game’ but rather take a proactive approach to the problems. It’s also important to be honest and upfront about issues. Try and think introspectively about how you could improve. Then think about the team dynamic and processes used.
- Moving on, consult these positive and negative points and discuss how you can improve on these for your next phase or project. Are there any ideas that can solve these issues? What can you do to encourage more of the positive aspects? Brainstorming as a team is great for bolstering motivation. The smallest of tweaks can go a long way and make the biggest difference.
- Next move onto the ‘Actions’ section. This part turns your ideas into meaningful tasks. Assign these tasks to people who want to be responsible for the idea. Give them responsibility to propagate these lessons into the team. Some actions are for the entire team but it’s great to have someone to remind everyone to stay on track!
- When partaking in a Retrospective there will be times when discussion leads to other sections of the exercise and this is ok. Quickly jot these points down so you don’t forget them and move on. Assign a ‘note taker’ so things don’t slip by. This works well when capturing natural discussion.
- Repeat a Retrospective every time you finish a phase of work. This will allow you to compare yourselves to the previous Retrospective and see if the actions were successful. Having a team feedback loop is really useful for improving all sorts of areas and surfaces to other members things they might not realise. Becoming a regular practice helps foster a culture of continual group trust, improvement and growth.
- Retrospectives are great for collectively assessing how your team is doing on a regular basis.
- It addresses the positive and negative aspects of a project but importantly turns these into actionable tasks to move these forward. Retrospectives are all about communal growth.
- They help foster a greater sense of team culture and give a chance to celebrate the little and large victories!
- Repeat the process to see how your improvements are affecting team dynamic and output. You’ll be amazed how the little things make all the difference!
Check out pivotbot.com for more design thinking toolkits for Researchers, Designers and Product Managers.