Many leaders focus on improving productivity and performance. Leaders who support regular retrospectives gain an effective organizational learning tool that guides project teams (and ongoing work groups) to reflect on their technical, human and organizational systems that affect performance. A well-facilitated retrospective gathers together significant project stakeholders (including the development team members and other critical players) to review their project experience, learn from the experience, and take action to improve - in the next iteration, the next release, and for all future projects.

Does your organization utilize retrospectives as part of its project management goals? If not, here are some simple steps on how leaders can incorporate retrospectives for positive change:

  1. Establish a focus on the importance of learning from experience to gain continuous improvement. Make it clear that time spent on improvement is part of everyone's work.
  2. Plan to conduct a retrospective at the end of the project from the beginning. (You may also want to hold mini-retrospectives at significant project milestones or after each iteration or sprint.) Make retrospectives a standard part of the overall project budget. A serious commitment to retrospectives sends a message to the team that you value its input.
  3. Determine who will facilitate the retrospectives. Do you have resources in-house, or will you bring in someone from outside? Only in the rarest of cases will someone from inside the project be the best facilitator; it’s better to have someone who is neutral and does not have an important perspective on the project to share. Many organizations are building a cadre of internal retrospective facilitators who can step in on projects.
  4. As you near your delivery dates, schedule the retrospective dates so that all team members have it on their calendars. It’s much more difficult to wait until the project is over and try to pull everyone back together. Consult your facilitator for the right time to hold the retrospective (usually two to four weeks after the end of the project, though the scheduling varies depending on other constraints). Dedicate enough time — typically one to four days depending on the length, complexity, and size of the project.
  5. Work with your facilitator and administrative staff to select a location and set up other arrangements.
  6. Attend the event in whatever capacity is appropriate depending on your day-to-day involvement in the project. You may need to participate only in the opening and closing, or your presence may be important for the duration of the event. Work with the facilitator to determine how actively you should participate. Sometimes its best when organizational leaders listen more than talk.
  7. Follow up on the outputs of the retrospective. This involves fulfilling your own commitments and holding others accountable for theirs.
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