A holistic approach to continuous learning and process improvement

Retrospectives are known by many names - postmortems, retrospectives, after-action reviews, wrap-ups, project “success” meetings. It's important in a learning organization that we actually make time to learn from our projects and activities. Retrospectives dedicate time to reviewing a completed project and learning from both the successes and the failures so the individual or team and organization can improve how they work going forward.

The process is not complex and helps us improve over time. The best part? The more you practice the easier and more natural it will become!

Best Practices

  • Prepare participants for the meeting
  • Start with the successes first 
  • Make it a safe place to share - set the tone for a blameless retrospective. It's about learning it is not about placing blame, venting or working out personal issues.  Often we start a retrospective with the Prime Directive (a common purpose setting that is used to create a safe place to learn)

    The Prime Directive:
    "Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.

    At the end of a process or project, everyone knows so much more. Naturally, we will discover decisions and actions we wish we could do-over. This is wisdom to be celebrated, not judgment used to embarrass.
    " ~Norm Kerth, Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Review

  • Always Follow Up
  • Get a Neutral Experienced Facilitator (recommended for tough/complicated processes or projects especially ones that did not fully achieve results) 
  • Plan enough time - there is nothing like getting into a great session and then we have to end. Larger projects or processes larger teams may need more time. If you find you will need additional time, make a plan

Resources - There are so many resources for retrospectives, here are a few good ones and as always test and try and work on ways that might be more effective for you and your team or direct report(s)

  1. "Types of Meetings" Training in Thinkific
  2. Retrospective Guide from EverBetter
  3. How to Lead a Successful Project Retrospective Meeting (from Elise Keith of Lucid Meetings)

Sample Meeting Agenda

  • Welcome 
    • Check-In Question 
    • Purpose Setting
  • Ask the classic questions  (use these or some form of these): 
    • What did we set out to do? / What actually happened?
    • What went well?
    • What could have gone better? 
    • What should we do the same and differently next time? / What did we learn?
    • Stop / start / continue
  • Documenting Our Action Plan
  • Closing