Retrospective Meetings: Bringing the Post Mortem Business Meeting to Life

By Ted Skinner

Retrospective Meetings: Bringing the Post Mortem Business Meeting to Life

You've done it! You and your team have finished a significant project and are ready to celebrate. Your team did a great job adjusting to the challenges and delivering on the project. The team worked hard to get everything done, and they succeeded. It was a significant accomplishment, and everyone deserves a pat on the back. How do you follow up on this project? You learn from it and create a rhythm of continuous improvement. Every project has something to teach you, even if it fails. So, you'll perform even better on your next project! The best way to learn from a failed project is to hold a retrospective meeting. A retrospective meeting is when you review what happened and why it happened. You can also discuss what could have been done differently to avoid similar problems in the future.

Every project should have a postmortem meeting. "Postmortems" (PM) are retrospective meetings where teams review their successes and failures. These meetings allow teams to reflect on their experiences and gain valuable insights into what went well and what didn't. PMs are beneficial for identifying problems before they become major issues. This helps the team grow and become better at what they do. If you have a project that goes well, schedule a meeting to review the project and see if there were any lessons learned. If you have a bad project, schedule a meeting to talk about what went wrong and how you can prevent it from happening again. This should include at least one team member from each team and potentially two from any remote units for them to be heard.

A good retrospective meeting has an agenda that looks similar to this but feel free to customize it to your needs. If you produce a clear action plan at the end of the meeting full of impactful improvements, you are on your way to improved team collaboration. High-performing teams are constantly working on improvement and continue to turn the flywheel to become increasingly productive.

Retrospective Meeting Agenda

Recap the project (5-10 min): Give a neutral summary of the project. Remind the team of the original objectives and how you met them. Did you meet timelines and deliverables? Did everyone have to put in long hours and weekend work to finish it on schedule? Was the client (external or internal) happy? Did they love it? Was it delivered within the budget? Use data and facts, not feelings, during this part. Participants will have an opportunity to discuss feelings later.

The project recap is an essential part of the retrospective meeting. You need to set the tone that the goal of this meeting is to help everyone become better at what they do. Don't focus on blaming others for mistakes made during the project. Instead, focus on helping everyone become better at what we do.

Team member questions are an excellent way to get your team to communicate about what went well and what could have gone better. These questions help you identify areas of improvement and focus on them. You can also use them to discuss the project as a whole and see what everyone thinks about it, and get a good sense of team morale.

  • We're proud of the work that our project accomplished.
  • What made it great?
  • If not, what was wrong or lacking?
  • Did we meet our deadlines?
  • Did we achieve our initial goals?
  • Was the project successful?
  • What worked well for us?
  • Each participant names three.
  • Which of our processes was challenging or frustrating for you to use or follow?
  • Each participant names three.
  • Next time, I'd do things differently, so I don't get frustrated again.
  • Was the original schedule realistic?
  • If not, what can we learn from this experience to improve our estimates next time?
  • What else could we improve?
  • What processes do we have to keep doing?
  • What processes do we have to stop doing?
  • What steps do we need to take?
  • Recap the action items, let them know the notes from today's meeting will be distributed by the meeting note taker, and thank everyone for attending.

Use this time to discuss what you learned about each other and how you can work together to solve problems. You may also want to think about how you can improve your skills and knowledge.

  • Send daily status updates via email.
  • Daily meetings to overcome any roadblocks.
  • More frequent in-person meetings
  • More frequent conference calls
  • Weekly updates from the project manager
  • Using cloud-based software, such as Rhythm, to monitor the project
  • Was this the correct meeting format to improve?

Ensure that your team is using the right tools for the job. Different teams need different solutions. Some may prefer email communication; others may prefer video conferencing. Some may prefer a whiteboard; others may prefer a digital board. Whatever works best for your team, make sure you document it and use it from the beginning of your next project. Establishing and using the right tool will ensure that your team executes at an Olympic level.

The only honest mistake you can make is the one from which you learn nothing.

Happy learning!

Ted Skinner

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