Project Retrospectives: Looking Back to Look Ahead
Reflecting on previous project experience is the best way to pursue continuous improvement and reduce future pain.
If you keep working in the same way, there’s no reason to expect future projects to go any better than previous projects. Continuous learning and process tuning are hallmarks of successful organizations. A retrospective is the most effective way to look back on completed work as part of a culture of continuous improvement.
Reflecting on completed projects or development iterations can yield insights that help future work be far more successful. Retrospectives are an intrinsic element of many agile software development approaches, as the team can apply lessons learned from early sprints immediately to improve their future sprints.
A retrospective is a structured way to gather knowledge, insights, metrics, and artifacts from a completed project, phase, or development iteration. Even in daily life, taking the time to reflect on why something unpleasant happened helps you to avoid a recurrence.
A formal retrospective provides closure. It’s a way for the participants to share their observations and experiences away from the day-to-day project pressures. Even if the project was a colossal failure, the lessons you harvest from it can produce something positive from the experience.
Retrospectives are sometimes called post-project reviews, debriefings, or post-mortems (even when the project survived!). Retrospective is a neutral term that suggests a contemplative reflection on previous experience to gain practical wisdom and improve future performance.
When to Hold a Retrospective
Hold a retrospective whenever you want to gather information about your project, evaluate how the work is going, or understand why it went the way it did. Agile projects iterate through a series of development cycles; gather lessons after each such sprint or iteration to help you with those that remain. Reflecting on past experience is especially worthwhile any time something went particularly well or particularly wrong.