Retrospective: Looking back to move forward


Most project management manuals encourage you to look at lessons learnt or perform a “root cause analysis” on any problems that occurred. This is usually done at the end of the project or significant project stage to gather learnings before going on to the next. It often takes the form of a document  with an executive summary, scope, review, and next steps.

Here in HQ Digital, we are working to improve the digital services we offer. We are doing this in 3 distinct stages; Discovery, Alpha and Beta. We have come to the end of the first discovery of the first service, and are about to start our next. Therefore, we thought it important to take stock of our journey so far and gauge how the team were feeling about things in a Retrospective.

adjective; looking back or dealing with past events
noun; an exhibitions or compilation showing an artist’s work over time.

Rather than produce a lengthy Lessons Learnt document we put the headings “Happy”, “Sad”, and “Mad” on the wall, gave everyone a pen and some post it notes and added our thoughts under the appropriate headings. Instead of taking only an objective view to write a report from, we complemented this with a subjective view on the impact that the way we are working has had on the team.

This process enabled everyone on the team to voice their successes, praise teammates and also raise their concerns and disappointments. We took time to congratulate the team on the notes under “Happy” and recognised the elements of the process that everyone had enjoyed with a goal to replicate them in the next discovery process. We addressed the disappointments under “Sad” and frustrations under “Mad”, discussing different points of view and resolved how we would avoid repeating these incidents in our future work.

By going through a Retrospective in this format, we gave all team members a voice and picked out the things that impact a team as well as a project. This allowed us to discuss changes we needed to make to our environment and working styles to create a productive yet enjoyable working team. Some of this came from quick wins like changing the layout of the chairs and tables. Others will come from the way we approach challenging situations in the next Discovery process we run.

We left the session with a clear idea of what we already do well and what improvements we need to make. We also left as a more resilient team, knowing that frustrations we had felt had been shared, listened to, understood and hopefully would be prevented in future.  

A lot of projects will require a written Lessons Learnt document in a set structure. However, running a Retrospective exercise beforehand will give the opportunity to learn from your peers and collectively review the process providing invaluable insight and raising lessons that perhaps you hadn’t thought of before. Give it a go.


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