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Retrospective Meetings: Bringing the Post Mortem Meeting to Life

By Ted Skinner

    Sun, Jul 21, 2019 @ 09:00 AM Effective Meetings

    Whew….you’ve done it. You and your team just completed a major project and are celebrating! The groupRetrospective Meeting did a good job making adjustments and dealing with all of the curve balls thrown their way during the process, and they successfully delivered on the project. It was quite an accomplishment and the team worked really hard to deliver on it. The celebration is well deserved, so how do you follow up on it? You learn from it! There is something to learn from every project, whether a success or a failure, so you’ll perform better on your next project. The best way to do this is with a retrospective meeting. You may have heard of this type of meeting called a post-mortem meeting, but I like to call it a retrospective meeting as the project doesn’t need to figuratively die in order for you to learn from it!

    After every project, no matter how large or how small, a retrospective meeting is an opportunity for the group to get better as a team. When your unit gets better, your business gets better, more efficient and produces higher quality deliverables. As soon as your project is completed, schedule a one or two-hour meeting to discuss all of the things that went well, the things that went terribly wrong and everything in between. This needs to be scheduled right after the completion of the project while it is still fresh on everyone’s mind and before you begin your next task. The goal of the meeting is to have a constructive analysis of the project and determine actionable best practices for your projects going forward.

    An effective retrospective meeting will have an agenda that looks something like this, but feel free to tailor to your own needs.

    Retrospective Meeting Agenda

    • Meeting Overview (5 Min) – This is an extremely critical part of the meeting. Make sure that you set the tone that the purpose of this meeting is to get better next time, not to whack heads or place blame for anything that might have gone wrong during the project. On the contrary, this also isn’t the place to brag about all of the great work that you did, the purpose is to get better as a team after each project. The meeting needs to be a safe place to have open and honest conversations with your teammates.
    • Recap The Project (5-10 Min) – Give a neutral synopsis of the project. Remind the team of what the initial objectives were and how you performed against the measurable goals you set at the commencement of the project. Did you meet timelines? Did everyone have to work long hours and/or weekends to get it done on time? Was the client (internal or external) happy? Were they delighted? Was it delivered within budget? Be sure to use data and facts, rather than feelings, during this part of the meeting. Participants will have their chance to discuss feelings later.
    • Team Member Questions (40+ Min) – This is where the greatest learnings and longest discussions are likely to come. The facilitator should work to keep the group on track with actionable outcomes that can be applied to future projects, rather than just a gripe fest where people can air their differences. The facilitator should be prepared with some questions they can ask to spark the discussion, but if the conversation is fruitful, the facilitator should let it continue. I have compiled a sampling of questions that have helped me conduct extremely productive retrospective meetings.
      • Are we proud of the work that the project accomplished?
        • If yes, what made it great?
        • If no, what was wrong or missing?
      • Did we hit our milestones on time?
      • Did we get the results we wanted based on our initial goals?
      • Did the project have the impact that we wanted?
      • Which of our processes worked well?
        • Each participant names three.
      • Which of our processes were difficult and/or frustrating to use or follow?
        • Each participant names three.
      • How would you do things differently next time to avoid this frustration?
      • Was the original schedule realistic?
        • If no, what can we learn to better estimate next time?
      • What else could we do better next time?
        • What processes do we need to keep doing?
        • What processes do we need to stop doing?
        • What processes do we need to start doing?
    • Wrap-Up (10 Minutes) Thank everyone for coming, recap the action items, and let them know the notes will be distributed by the note taker.

    Use this discussion time to get to concrete, actionable takeaways that will help your team perform like a well-oiled machine in the future. For example, if the team determines that communication was a major issue from your discussions, there are several ways that problem can be solved. Here's a sample of some potential solutions:

    • Daily status updates via email
    • Daily huddles to overcome any roadblocks
    • More frequent in-person meetings
    • More frequent conference calls
    • Weekly emails from the project manager
    • Monitoring the project through cloud-based software, like Rhythm

    Ensure your discussion includes getting to the process that works best for your team. One size does not fit all, and the solution needs to be tailored to what best fits your particular team. A technology department dispersed geographically might prefer an email or software solution while marketing all in the same office might prefer more in-person check-ins. Whatever it is that you choose to do, make sure you document and use it from the start on your next project. If you can get one minor-major (a minor-major is a minor tweak to your process that could give you significantly different results) from every project, your team will be executing at an Olympic level just in time for summer!

    The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing. ~John Powell

    Happy learning! -Ted Skinner

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