Three Breaths

Musings on code, management, and life

Project Retrospective

Posted at — Oct 2, 2008

I held my first project retrospective this week. It was probably overdue, but there is no time like the present right?

I found Peter Steven’s blog and Boris Gloger’s paper on Heartbeat Retrospectives helpful in setting the format. I decided to cover the following topics in our retrospective

We used sticky notes and a white board. You need to be succinct to state your point on a sticky note. Plus once they go up on the whiteboard they tend to lose ownership and they become the team’s ideas. There were only a few times when we had to ask who wrote something and that was only to clarify an idea. The group ownership of ideas keeps things flowing and prevents the meeting from being driven by one or two strong personalities.

Starting with “what went well” set the tone that the meeting is going to be positive and constructive. At other companies I have been at these type of meetings often turned into a finger pointing exercise and went downhill rapidly. Our team has a lot to be proud of, and it was great to reflect on the things we did well. And if it ain’t broke…..

The things we thought we did well broke down into 3 catgories: Team, Process, and Technology. I am not sure if that categorization was planned or an impromptu decision. Grouping them into categories didn’t really serve any purpose other than it allowed us to acknowledge each point as we decided where it belonged.

Like any project there are things that we can do better. We purposely did not put any limits on what people thought we could do better. Once we put everything up on the board we broke it down into two groups: Team and Organization. Team means we can do it within the framework of our own team structure. Organization meant we had to bring others (HR, management, etc) into the mix to help address the problem.

Once we had things broken down into 2 categories, it was time to prioritize the lists. There are a couple of different schemes you can use here. Seeing the same issue raised by multiple people may indicate something that is important. Ultimately we decided to do a simple voting scheme where everyone got one vote, and that seemed to work pretty well. Next time we may try giving everyone three votes, but that’s for next time. We have a small team, so there were only a few items in each category that got votes, but even that tells you something, and we were able to prioritize those items. The reality is you can’t fix everything, so you focus on what is most important.

Probably the most important part of a retrospective is that you take action on the high priority things to improve. I am anxious to seize the momentum and teamwork of the meeting. That is the challenge for me and the team in the very near future.

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