Why & How to Run a Retrospective Meeting

March 23, 2023/7 mins min read

Great project managers, team leads, and directors, always reflect on completed projects to conclude what went well and what can be improved. A retrospective meeting is a structured way of reflecting on projects and can help promote continuous improvement.

What is a retrospective meeting?

A retrospective meeting, or retro, is a structured session that gives teams time to reflect on a completed project. It allows a team and individuals to highlight both the successes and failures of a project, identify areas that need improvement, and reflect on the project as a whole. 

Retros are popular among scum masters, software developers, project managers, and product owners.  

Why should you hold retrospective meetings?

Retros help the team as a whole, and its members, gather their thoughts and opinions on a recent project. Often, we move from project to project or task to task without taking the time to sit and reflect. An effective retrospective can thus be an incredibly beneficial way to help us improve our ways of working, especially when it comes to teams. 

Let’s look into some of the benefits of holding a project retrospective.

  • Create a transparent and safe environment 
  • Boost team spirit
  • Help your team learn and develop
  • Highlight team and individual strengths and weaknesses
  • Identify blockers in your ways of working
  • Set better and more realistic expectations 
  • Improve planning and structure for future projects

Creating a transparent and safe environment 

A well-planned and well-executed retrospective will allow each member of the team the time and space necessary to share their points of view on how the process went, the successes, and the failures, and what suggestions they may have for the future. 

Gathering these insights will be the best way to get a clear and comprehensive picture of how the project went. Allowing them the freedom and the opportunity to contribute to the discussion in a safe and constructive environment will build team unity and collaboration. 

You will boost team spirit

Retrospective meetings are good team-building exercises as they allow us to share praise and feedback. Discussing success stories, giving feedback, and brainstorming solutions will boost team spirit and energy levels. Taking time to show appreciation for a job well done and praise one another is another way to bolster morale.  

Feedback, when well-structured and constructive, can help us improve our ways of working individually and in a group. Without this, we are all likely to fall into bad habits that can be a detriment to a team’s success.  

You will help your team to learn and develop

Ensuring your team improves and adapts over time is a primary step to becoming a high-performing group. As a team leader, you encourage everyone to grow and develop during every project. 

Learning and developing take time, patience, and diligence. We have mentioned utilizing constructive feedback to highlight areas that need work, but on a broader level during a retrospective, we may identify elements of a project where the whole team needs to improve. 

Highlight team and individual strengths and weaknesses

Some self-reflection will help everyone understand when they had the most significant impact, when they felt most at ease, and when they may have struggled. Allowing them the time and freedom to reflect on this will help them identify what skills they need to develop and where their strengths lie. 

No team is perfect at everything, not even the high-performing ones. Identifying these strengths and weaknesses will help you accentuate these strengths, work around the shortcomings, and help turn your group into a high-performing and efficient unit. 

Identify blockers in your ways of working

No matter how large or small a project or task may be, there will be blockers that impede progress. Both can cause delays and frustration while also requiring you to find workarounds to complete a project or move ahead. Some may go unnoticed as people don’t feel it necessary to mention them at the time. 

By sharing their experiences, your team can work to make your processes more efficient and streamlined in the future. Having team members offer solutions to past and potential blockers will save your team time and stress in the long run.  

Set better and more realistic expectations 

Perhaps this was a project with a very ambitious scope that you managed to deliver on. Maybe you initially thought this was an easy job that would be completed far sooner than it was. Retros can be the perfect way to recap the entire process and help you better understand if your and your team's prior expectations were accurate or not. 

Likewise, there may be external pressures and demands that your team must face when it comes to projects. Holding these retros will help you as a team lead and project manager define future expectations for stakeholders. 

Improve planning and structure for future projects

You are gathering more and more information on your team, what they do well as a group, what they struggle with, what you can do to help them become more effective, and what you may be able to achieve in a certain period. 

You will be armed with a high level of insights and information when you sit down to plan your next project with other stakeholders, department heads, executives, other teams, or clients.

Now, you may be wondering, ‘When should you should a retrospective meeting?’ It’s a fair question to ask as the timing of meetings can greatly impact their effectiveness and outcome.

Look to book a meeting around five days or one week after your project or sprint ends. This should be enough time for the dust to settle and for everyone to gather their thoughts. 

How to hold a project retrospective meeting

There is no "official" or "right" way to hold a project retrospective meeting. The meeting, however, should be something that works for you and your team. 

A retrospective should include a reflection and discussion with all those involved - not just the project leader or manager. Encouraging everyone to participate should be the primary objective. Documenting their input should also be a top priority as you will want to act upon suggestions 

There are a series of questions that you can and should keep in mind when planning a retro.  

What was our goal?

This question is good to start with, as it recaps the purpose of the project and what you initially set out to accomplish. This part of the retrospective does not need to be a discussion, rather you can examine the initial goals and objectives and see if you hit all of your targets or not.

What happened?

Now it’s time to discuss what happened. You can conduct this section in several different ways. You might have notes or a timeline to present, you may present some data, and you may also wish to ask people to give their perspectives on what happened during the project.

Why did it happen?

Next, move on to the why. Focus both on what went well and what didn’t go so well. In order to keep discussions constructive, it might be helpful to make sure that you create a safe space so that everyone feels able to share their opinions.

What are we going to do next time?

After reflecting on what happened during the project, use those reflections to plan for the future. It is essential in these types of meetings and workshops to not only reflect on what happened. It is also beneficial that you use the action items gathered in the reflections to improve projects and ways of working in the future. 

Retrospective Templates

Sprint Retrospective

Here we have a Sprint Retro that one of our engineers used in his team. 

To read more, click here!

Windows 95 Sprint Retrospective

Windows 95 Sprint Retrospective

Agile Retrospective

Here we have put together a template for your next Agile retro.

Agile Retrospective

Agile Retrospective

Time to create an action plan

So there you have it, there are countless reasons why you should run a retrospective and how you can plan a successful one. If you are in need of a tool that can help you create a full presentation with ease then we have the tool for you. Mentimeter has been designed to engage any type of audience and to ensure that everyone at every meeting has the chance to take part and share their opinion.

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FAQ on Project Retrospective Meetings

Q: How long should a retrospective meeting last? A: The ideal duration of a retrospective meeting varies depending on the project size, team size, and scope of discussion. However, keeping it concise and focused, typically between 60 to 90 minutes, is recommended to maintain engagement and productivity.

Q: What are common challenges in conducting retrospective meetings? A: Common challenges include managing diverse viewpoints, preventing the dominance of certain voices, ensuring constructive feedback, and translating discussions into actionable plans. Overcoming these requires clear facilitation, setting ground rules for respectful communication, and a structured approach to the meeting.

Q: Can retrospective meetings be effective in a remote work environment? A: Yes, retrospective meetings can be effective remotely with the right tools and practices. Using video conferencing tools for face-to-face interaction, collaborative online boards for brainstorming, and ensuring all participants have a chance to contribute are key to successful remote retrospectives.

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