How to Lead a Successful Project Retrospective Meeting

April 29, 2016 at 6:48 PM by Elise Keith in project management, meeting design

We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.

John Dewey

These meetings go by many names - postmortems, retrospectives, after-action reviews, wrap-ups, project “success” meetings. Regardless of what you call them, they all have the same goal and follow the same basic pattern. The Project Retrospective dedicates time to reviewing a completed project and learning from both the successes and the failures so the team and organization can improve how they work going forward.

Formalized as the after-action review by the US Army, these meetings ensure a team quickly learns from each engagement.

There, the classic questions go something like:

  • What did we set out to do?
  • What actually happened?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What are we going to do next time?
Retrospectives give a team time to reflect on what they learned.

The Core Process

The process for debriefing a project covers roughly the same topics as the quick after-action discussion. I’ll go into more detail below, but in brief, it looks like this.

1. Review the project.

Start by reviewing the project facts: goals, timeline, budget, major events, and success metrics.

In order to come up with useful ideas that everyone can agree on, the team needs a shared understanding of the facts and insight into the parts of the project in which they may not have been involved.

It’s important not to skip or rush through this step, especially for larger projects. People will arrive at the retrospective ready to discuss and solve problems, often assuming they know everything they need to know about what happened. This is rarely true.

If you are reviewing a project as a team, that means it took many people with unique experiences to get to that point. This step ensures everyone gets all the facts straight before they try to solve problems they may only partially understand.

2. Discuss what worked well and what didn’t.

This is the heart of the meeting. Everyone shares what they learned during the project: both the good and the bad.

In my opinion, this is the most fun and most challenging part of the meeting. As the meeting leader, you have an enormous impact on the success of your retrospective by deciding which questions you’ll ask and how the team shares their answers.

3. Action planning: identify specific ways to improve future work.

Have you ever worked with a group that talks about their aspirations, problems, and what needs to change, but never actually does anything about any of it?

That sucks. It’s de-motivating, discouraging, and a waste of time.

Real change is the ultimate measure of a retrospective’s success. To ensure that your retrospective results in something actually getting better, you’ll end the meeting by creating a specific action plan for improvements.

Real progress feels sooo good.

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Topics: project management, meeting design

5 Ways to Successfully Jumpstart Your Next Project

December 8, 2015 at 7:20 PM by Brad Egeland in project management

Getting the Project Started

Have you ever sat down to get start work on a new project that you were handed and then run into some sort of strange project manager's “writer's block”? I have.

I'm guessing at some time or another most of us have.

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Topics: project management

5 Steps to Land Your Next Project Management Job

November 12, 2015 at 7:34 PM by Brad Egeland in project management

The economy hasn’t completely turned around yet, but it is getting better. Unemployment rates are slowly going down, foreclosures are dropping, and house values are finally going up again.

But it still isn’t easy to find a job – you’ll know this if you’ve applied to any in the last year or so. It’s still tough and there are still a lot of jobs you apply for and never hear about again even though you looked like a perfect match.

And those others where you interviewed and maybe were even a finalist and then…nothing…or a surprising flush.

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Topics: project management

Top 5 Ideas for Technical Project Managers to Accelerate Deployment

October 29, 2015 at 7:02 PM by Brad Egeland in project management

Top 5 Ideas for Technical Project Managers to Accelerate DeploymentHave you ever had a project client come to you and say, “Can we implement this a month sooner than we originally planned?” No, that never happens…right? As a technical project manager, if something similar hasn’t already happened to you, trust me, it will.

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Topics: project management

3 Rules for Building High Performance Project Teams

October 22, 2015 at 8:06 PM by Brad Egeland in project management

Performance, performance, performance. Doing more with less. Making the most of what you are given. Meeting the needs of the project customer head-on.

Are you and your team doing these things every day on your project?

Your competition is, so you better be. But how? How do you get the most out of your team?

How do you ensure they are performing at their individual best and at their best as a team?

What can you do as a project manager and fellow project team member to help get them to that level of cohesiveness and performance?

In my opinion – based on I how have managed project teams…both successfully and in failure…it comes down to three main concepts to get the most out of your teams… 

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Topics: project management

3 Proven Strategies for Exceeding Customer Expectations

September 1, 2015 at 5:05 PM by Brad Egeland in project management

You can look at project success from many angles and probably come up with a dozen different ways to measure it.

However, there are really three main keys to project success:

  • on time delivery
  • on budget delivery, and
  • exceeding customer expectations

 

Some project managers like to include quality in there as well, and you can, but usually a customer won’t be satisfied with a project that is delivered sub-standard.

So, in my book, customer satisfaction covers quality too.

Is one more important than the other? Well, that depends on why the project may be going over time or over budget.

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Topics: project management

3 Keys to the Best Project Meetings with Remote Teams

August 12, 2015 at 11:32 AM by Brad Egeland in remote work, project management

Meetings come 3 general forms:

  1. The traditional face-to-face meeting
  2. conference calls, and
  3. video conference calls

There are probably some variations you can think of on these three based on different technology, but this about covers it.

Now, consider you’re working with a remote team – you’re the project manager and your team is geographically dispersed so you’re never co-located…you may never be throughout the entire project engagement.

I’ve worked several projects like this where I never even met any members of my team face-to-face during the entire project.

Related: 4 ways to run status meetings with your remote team that actually work

How do you keep virtual team meetings cohesive and focused during such a project? How do you make sure everyone is working their respective tasks and you’re consistently getting closer to a working end solution? Are meetings important?

Communication is always critical and meetings are probably more important than ever on an engagement like the one I’m describing here.

When you’re running meetings where everyone is remote and may never meet face-to-face, there are three things you need to ensure are always happening…

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Topics: remote work, project management

The Essential Project Kickoff Meeting Agenda

July 17, 2015 at 3:21 PM by Elise Keith in project management, meeting design

How we begin matters.

In the life of every project there is a time before, when the project exists as a possibility. From this possibility, we craft our intentions for the project.

We envision what could be, and we fear what might happen. At some point, perhaps when a contract gets signed or a team comes together, the project transitions from a possibility to an inevitability.

We mark the project’s official beginning with a project kickoff meeting.

 

How we kick-off a project matters.

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Topics: project management, meeting design

Plan to communicate, and have a communication plan

April 4, 2014 at 6:38 PM by Tricia Harris in leadership & facilitation, project management

Do you tend to manage projects loosely, or do you develop detailed project plans with pages of fancy Gantt charts? Either way, there's one strategy you should always consider: a plan to communicate.

Communication is simply defined as an exchange of information, yet this can mean different things to different people. For instance, all of the following could be considered project communication:

  • A series of status report meetings
  • A website where customers go to access information
  • Emails between members of the team
  • Instant messaging
  • A detailed project communication plan

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Topics: leadership & facilitation, project management