How to run an effective project retrospective meeting

by Alex Garcia
retrospective meetings

Whether you’re moving onto the next phase of your multi-phase project or your team has wrapped up another milestone, it’s essential to learn from the experience and carry that knowledge over to the next project. Having a structured retrospective meeting at the end of every project is one way to help ensure this happens.

There is no one “correct” way to run a project retrospective meeting. However, there are some critical ideas and areas you can focus on to improve your approach and make your next project retrospective meeting more effective.

Retrospectives are one of the most powerful tools in the Scrum team’s toolbox. They allow you to identify and resolve problems, which are the primary cause of project failures. But how can you ensure that your retrospectives are effective and help you avoid or mitigate project failures?

In this post, we’re sharing tips you can use to run an effective retrospective meeting for remote employees.

What is a project retrospective meeting?

A project retrospective meeting is one of the many tools the Scrum methodology has introduced to make it easier to manage projects. This meeting is just another way for you to grasp better where your project is and how to find things that are troubling you. You, your team members, and your managers must understand what this meeting is for, who will attend, and how it will work.

In our mind, every project needs a retro. It’s a structured meeting that follows a defined format where the team (usually members of the project core team) gets together to look back over the last project cycle. The team can then identify the successes and failures and determine what they could do differently next time.

The retrospective meeting should be focused on what happened during the project and how it can be improved. It shouldn’t be about assigning blame or finding someone responsible for failure (this would create tension). Instead, focus on solutions that will make things better next time around.

Types of project retrospective meetings

A project retrospective meeting is a scheduled event to review the project, its success and failure factors, lessons learned, and improvements. 

There are two types of retrospective meetings:

Informative retrospective

This type of meeting gathers information from all stakeholders to make future projects more effective. The focus is on gathering information about what went well during the project and what did not, as well as any other relevant information that could be useful for future projects.

Action-focused retrospective

This type of meeting takes action on issues identified during previous informative retrospectives. The focus is on solving problems identified during the last informative retrospectives. Action-focused retrospectives are often held at the end of a project when there is less pressure than at other times when it might be difficult for team members to identify problems because they’re busy with their regular work.

Why must you conduct project retrospective meetings?

A project retrospective meeting is a short meeting designed to take stock of the project and identify lessons learned and potential improvements. A project retrospective meeting aims to gather feedback from team members so that they can learn from these experiences and apply them to future projects.

The benefits of holding a project retrospective meeting include:

  • By identifying problems as they occur, you can learn how to avoid them in future projects. This can increase your efficiency and reduce costs by helping you prevent issues before they arise.
  • Regular retrospectives will help ensure that everyone on your team feels like they have made a significant contribution, even if their roles don’t always get them noticed by others.
  • The most important thing is that everyone gets a chance to talk about their experiences during the project – this will help create stronger relationships within your team.
  • This can be done by asking questions about what went efficiently during the project, what could have been done better, and what could have been avoided altogether.

When should you conduct project retrospectives?

The term retrospective comes from the military, which describes a post-battle analysis of tactics and strategies used during a battle. In software development, it’s common to call project retrospectives “retrospectives” or “postmortems.”

You should conduct project retrospectives at regular intervals throughout the life cycle of a project so that everyone involved knows what steps need to be taken next for it to succeed. For example: if you have an IT project and want to ensure it reaches completion on time and within budget, it would be ideal to conduct project retrospectives frequently.

The project retrospective is a vital component of the Agile process. It’s a meeting conducted at the end of each iteration (or sprint), typically one to four weeks long. Retrospectives are usually held at the end of a sprint or release, but they can also be held at other times during the project’s lifecycle.

How do you plan project retrospective meetings?

Project retrospectives are a great way to get the team together, build relationships, improve the process, and account for 81% of the agile processes undertaken by organizations. However, sometimes teams don’t use them effectively. The retrospective meeting should last no longer than one hour, and it’s best if you can get everyone together simultaneously. It’s ideal to use a conference call or video call service to join the meeting remotely.

The following steps will help you run an effective project retrospective meeting:

1. Know why you are retrospecting

Establish an agenda for the meeting before it starts so that people understand how much time they have to contribute and what topics need to be covered during the session. The most important thing is to have a clear goal for the meeting. It’s helpful to write this down and post it in a visible place using digital tools for collaboration, so everyone can see what you’re trying to accomplish. 

Some sample goals include improving processes, identifying opportunities for improvement, sharing knowledge, celebrating successes, re-energizing team members, etc. Before officially starting the meeting, invite everyone to share something they’re proud of from this iteration or explain why they love what they do at work (or both!). 

2. Send out a pre-retrospective survey

This will give everyone time to think about what they want to say during the meeting so they can be prepared with their thoughts before the meeting starts. You may also want to ask people what they think went well during the current iteration so that these positive points can be addressed first at the meeting itself.

You can ask for suggestions about improving productivity or quality, or you can even ask them what their biggest challenge is with the current project. After all, productive meetings result in personal productivity and, eventually, job satisfaction. This will give them time to think about their responses and provide thoughtful answers during the meeting. Send an email or other communication requesting feedback from your team members before the online meeting.

3. Discuss what went well

Every meeting should end with an action list of things that went well or didn’t go well to help your team learn from past experiences.

Set ground rules for participation. Decide what questions are appropriate, whether people can ask about other people’s contributions, whether they can share their own stories, and so on. Make sure everyone understands that all points of view are welcome — even if they don’t match yours!

4. Brainstorm and plan for improving

Before the retrospective meeting, brainstorm a list of items that need improvement. You can do this with your team or individually. Then prioritize them based on their impact on the project, and use this list as the agenda for your meeting.

Encourage people to build on each other’s ideas rather than discounting them immediately because they don’t conform to what has been tried before or because they sound silly or impractical. This will allow you to come up with innovative solutions that may not have been considered previously but could lead to significant improvements in performance down the road if appropriately implemented now.

Steps for conducting effective project retrospective meetings online

Project retrospective meetings are an essential part of the project life cycle. They help you to improve your team’s performance and deliver better results. The meeting aims to build a culture of continuous feedback and improvement, but the actual outcome will depend on how it’s run.

1. Designate the session’s chairperson

The most important thing about a project retrospective meeting is that everyone, including the client, should be involved in it. However, if you’re a team leader or manager, you must lead this meeting. Assign one person as the chairperson who will set up the agenda and guide participants through different topics throughout the session.

2. Send the attendee list and meet-up instructions ahead of time

If possible, send out an email with the agenda and a reminder about the time the meeting will start one week before its date. Include links to any documents or presentations referenced during discussions so people can read up on them beforehand if needed (make sure nobody goes overboard with information overload). Please explain why you’re having a retrospective session and what you hope to accomplish during it.

3. Ask attendees to reflect on their experience

Ask attendees to reflect on their experience during the project. This can help start conversations around areas where improvements are needed or where things went well in addition to areas that need improvement.

Gather materials for SharePoint and presentations. Please note down the objectives of the retrospective meeting so attendees know what they’re there to accomplish. Ask yourself: What do we want to improve? What went right? What went wrong? How can we prevent this from happening again?

4. Arrange the virtual meeting in a manner that encourages collaboration

You may want to address and acknowledge everyone every few minutes so they can interact with different people during the meeting. This will help spark new ideas from different perspectives, which can lead to better solutions or ways of doing things differently in the future!

5. Discuss one positive and one negative experience

Be sure that everyone can speak freely and contribute to the discussion without fear of retribution or criticism from others on the team. This requires trust, which takes time to build, so be patient with people who are new to the team and haven’t yet developed that trust.

You don’t want people feeling rushed or overwhelmed during this session, so ensure you have enough time set aside for it. It’s also important to plan by having materials prepared in advance, such as copies of work products created during the previous iteration or sprint and any notes from the last meetings that may be relevant to the current one.

6. Keep it brief

Retrospectives can be long and drawn out, but that doesn’t mean they should be. The best projects are the ones that get back on track quickly and move forward with their objectives. A good rule of thumb is to keep your retrospectives short, no longer than 30 minutes or so. If a meeting runs longer than an hour, break it into two sessions or divide the plan into multiple meetings.

The first rule for running a good retrospective meeting is to keep it short and sweet. A typical retrospective should last no more than one hour (two hours at most for larger teams). A more extended meeting can cause your team members to lose focus or disengage from the discussion altogether. You should also avoid scheduling too many meetings back-to-back because this will make it difficult for people to remember what was covered in previous conferences and what actions they took based on those discussions.

7. Generate insights

Ask each team member to share their thoughts about the problems they encountered during this iteration and how they think they could have been avoided in future iterations. This is also an excellent time to discuss achievements so you can build on those successes for future iterations.

Now that you know what needs attention, it’s time to start working on solutions for each problem. This can be done at another meeting, but if you want more time, you can break up into smaller groups online, work on solutions individually, and then present them later. This should help stakeholders digest the information better, make decisions more quickly, and allow scope creepers to weigh in with their opinions.

10 best practices in a project retrospective meeting

The retrospective goal is to improve future projects by learning from past mistakes.

There are several best practices for running effective project retrospectives:

  1. Make sure everyone can attend. This includes team members, managers, and stakeholders.
  2. Hold the meeting as an open forum virtually so no one feels embarrassed or judged.
  3. Start with a short recap of the project’s goals and successes, as well as its failures and obstacles.
  4. Include time for discussion at the end of each topic so everyone has a chance to chime in before moving on to the next one.
  5. Your findings should be documented so they can be referred to later to ensure these things are still being addressed appropriately by your team members or organization.
  6. You should identify areas that need improvement or changes in the future to know what needs to happen next time.
  7. Set aside enough time for people to share their experiences without feeling rushed or pressured by other attendees’ comments.
  8. Discuss only one topic per session; try not to go on tangents.
  9. Encourage everyone to participate in the discussion; don’t let one person dominate the conversation (this is especially important if there is a manager or leader present).
  10. Don’t start until everyone has arrived and is ready to participate.

7 tips on how to conduct effective project retrospective meetings for remote employees

1. Make it mandatory

It should only take 30-60 minutes to share your observations and reflections. If someone misses a meeting, they should be required to share their thoughts later in the week. It’s essential that the entire team attends since remote work requires extra effort to streamline work and responsibilities.

2. Use visualization tools

You can use digital collaboration tools like Trello to visualize different aspects of your project by writing questions on them and grouping them around particular topics. This can help set the tone of your meeting by getting people talking about each item quickly and efficiently before moving on to the next.

The visualization tools will allow you to display all information during the retrospective meeting. Use visual aids like photos, videos, or sketches of your project’s workflow to help participants visualize the problems you’re trying to address. Use a format that makes it easy for everyone to participate (e.g., checklist or index cards).

3. Use the suitable format

Discuss the following questions and note them down in a spreadsheet or document with live sharing and access to all individuals and with a blank area next to each so that everyone can share their answers.

Focus on positive feedback first. Start by recognizing people who did something particularly well before moving on to areas with challenges or opportunities for improvement. This will allow everyone in the meeting to feel good about their work before tackling any problems during the project – which will make them more likely to offer solutions rather than excuses when identifying issues during your retrospective meeting!

4. Don’t hold back on criticism

Let people know they can say anything they want without fear of reprisal or judgment from others in the room. If someone says something negative, be sure that they hear positive feedback as well by asking someone else in the room to give them feedback related to their concern (e.g., “What do you think about this idea? Did it work out as expected? What could we do differently next time?”).

5. Prepare some icebreaker activities if you think they’re necessary

Some people find that having an icebreaker activity before getting into the actual meeting work helps them relax and get into the right mindset for talking about their work. If you think this might be helpful, consider having people write down one thing they learned from each person present to help things get started on a positive note. You could also have everyone share their favorite quote or something that inspires them about their work.

6. Give everyone 1-2 minutes to share their reflections

Start by giving everyone 1-2 minutes to share their reflections on the project. This will help them get into the right mindset for the rest of the meeting. You can go around in a circle or call on specific people as needed.

Retrospectives are a great way to learn from mistakes, share ideas and celebrate successes. However, they can quickly turn into complaint sessions where people vent about everything they don’t like about their projects or jobs. To avoid this, give everyone 1-2 minutes to share their reflections and move on to the next person in line. This way, everyone has an opportunity to speak up without being cut off by others who may not have anything helpful to say about the topic at hand.

7. Keep people accountable

It’s easy to get distracted by the fun of retrospectives, but the point is to solve problems. That means holding people accountable for what they say they want to improve and making sure they follow through on their commitments. If you want people to take ownership of their work, they need to feel personally responsible for it. 

Wrapping Up

The team will leave this meeting with a clearer set of objectives for the next sprint and with that increased focus, they should be able to meet them in a shorter amount of time. This is why retrospectives are so important in agile projects. They ensure that the team is accountable for their roles and goals before and during the sprint, helping them complete their project.

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