Great Leadership

Project Retrospective Meetings: Why & How

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Emma Cullen2022-07-04
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. This article will explore the various benefits of retros and some advice on how to plan one.

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. 

Why should you hold project 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. A retro 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, 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. 

Being transparent and open about what happened during projects will create an environment of trust within your team. Allowing them the freedom and the opportunity to contribute to the discussion in a safe and constructive environment will build team unity and collaboration. Furthermore, providing them with an open and welcoming forum will underline that their ideas and suggestions will be taken seriously and considered. 

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 their appreciation for a job well done and to 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. Retros can be a great way to reflect on our work and what we can do to improve going forward.  

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. A retrospective meeting is a powerful tool for achieving this. Learn more about continuous improvement in this blog post.

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. 

The same goes for the team as a whole. Your team will excel in certain areas and struggle in others. 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. There will be a number you can account for beforehand while others will appear out of the blue. Both can cause delays and frustration while also requiring you to find workarounds to complete a project or move ahead. Some blockers may go unnoticed as people don’t feel it necessary to mention them at the time. Doing so during a retro can be invaluable. 

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. Streamlining your efforts and becoming a more prepared and readied unit will only set you up for success.  

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. Doing this will help you manage expectations better and set more realistic targets.

Likewise, there may be external pressures and demands that your team must face when it comes to projects. Holding these retros will not only help you as a team lead and project manager define future expectations for your team, but it also means you can give better and more accurate representations of timeframes and capabilities to external stakeholders. 

Improve planning and structure for future projects

Now let's move on to the next logical step in the chain now that we have mentioned blockers and expectations - planning 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. A well-run retrospective is the best and most efficient way to gather this info. So, there really isn’t a reason not to run one, is there?

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. 

You need to let the team take a moment to gather their thoughts following the end of a project or sprint. However, you don’t want to leave it so long that people forget or find it difficult to recall and recount their experiences. 

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 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. This section will explore a reasonably standard project retrospective that can be useful in most project situations and can be easily adapted and developed for different circumstances.

The project 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. Considering each, in turn, should lead to a successful and well-run meeting that will put you and your team in a great position to succeed.  

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 but at the same time make sure that the discussion doesn’t descend into a blame game, especially if the project didn’t go to plan.

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 information gathered in the reflections to improve projects and ways of working in the future. 

Examples of Retrospectives

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

Plenty of reasons to hold a retrospective

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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