One of the topics covered during last week’s PDX Digital PM meetup and lead by Jeanne Bullard from Emerge Interactive was the often dreaded internal retrospective. As a project manager, I've always maintained a love / hate relationship with them. I’ve loved them and appreciated them for the value that they can bring to a team. The information that can be garnered from just one retrospective can help guide future and even existing projects. To hear the team’s opinions and thoughts can be beneficial for all of those involved. Conversely (and while I realize that ‘hate’ is a strong word in any situation), I've never been able to find a way to efficiently and effectively lead them to obtain the results that I’ve convinced myself we would all benefit from. Not only is a team probably already working on the next thing, but who wants to immediately re-address something that’s already out the door? I was surprised by how many other project managers possessed the same reaction I did when asked if they hold retro’s with their teams.
Unfortunately, what has ended up happening is that I didn’t look forward to having them and neither did the team. No one was motivated to make the retro work for us. That lead to retrospectives falling to the same line of my Wunderlist as going to the doctor.
While it’s easy to focus on the “what worked?”, the “what didn’t work?” is the hard part for all project managers and corresponding team members alike. Problem being is that the “what didn’t work” part is what contains those nuggets of gold that are valuable to any team and provide fruitful info. This is what will ensure that teams are constantly evolving and refining processes as needed. This is, of course, a major goal for a project manager!
So... how do you broach that subject when your design and development team just spent weeks and countless hours working on a launch? No one wants to be presented with a shit sandwich.
Booze, food and post-it’s.
The booze is to loosen the atmosphere, the food is to keep everyone’s stomachs happy and the post-it notes are there so that all members of the team can unanimously write comments as to what they deemed worked and what didn’t work for that specific project / iteration. Reading the post-it’s anonymously can alleviate nervous tension about participating in the retro. And when visually grouped together, can give a clearer understanding of “what worked”, “what didn’t work” and most importantly, “how to do it better”.
I can promise you my next retrospective will consist of the trifecta.