For The Brain

An Ode to the Project Retrospective

An Ode to the Project Retrospective

Kelly Wrather

Vice President, Marketing Services

May 21, 2024

This post started from a Slack I shared in our team #shout-outs channel following two highly productive project retrospectives (retros) our team completed.

I shared: While in the weeds of a challenging project, it is easy to only see what’s going wrong. Retros help us take a step back to understand what we learned and can improve and celebrate the things that went well.

And joked: Please slot into the calendar my forthcoming blog An ode to the project retrospective 👀

Cut to me searching “how to write an ode.” 

An ode, I learned, is a lyrical poetic form that expresses praise, glorification, or tribute, examining its subject from both an emotional and an intellectual perspective.

Let’s break that down for the thing that I am looking to praise: the project retrospective.

First: let’s level set. A retrospective is a practice for reviewing completed projects to discover what went well (successes) and what went wrong (failures) in order to improve. Retros foster an environment of continual learning and improvement. The practice helps build team trust, accountability, and collaboration and can lead to true problem solving and improved planning capabilities. 

When ML conducts retros, we like to use the simple “Start, Stop, Continue” feedback framework. In this structure we ask our team members to reflect on the following questions:

  • What are the opportunities? How could we do things differently?
  • What held us back?
  • What went well and helped us move forward?

Through this inquiry we hope to:

  • Uncover new practices or strategies that should be implemented in future projects.
  • Identify practices or strategies that were not effective and should be discontinued in future projects.
  • Reflect on the practices or strategies that were successful and should be continued in future projects. 
  • Share our wins and celebrate the team's achievements

Emotionally, I love retros because they allow us to take a step back. The end of a project can be stressful as you try to hit final deadlines and deliverables. Retros create space for perspective and remembering all the good hard work you achieved during the course of a project. They also allow you to approach the work with the full context. There may have been a stressful period of work in the project, but when you examine it within the full picture, you can see how it can become manageable.

Intellectually, retros are a treasure trove for learning. The only way a retro is not productive is if you are not taking the insights you are learning and actually applying those to future work. Change or growth as a result of a retro is the true measure of success. 

There are plenty of posts out there to help you run a successful retro. You should check those out and brush up on my tips for effective meetings before you schedule your next one. But ultimately, my biggest tip is just to get into the habit of doing a retro as a standard practice at the end of every project. With enough productive retros under your belt, you might just be compelled to shout my ode (that is not structurally confirmed to actually qualify as an ode) from the rooftops.

An Ode to The Retrospective

While consumed in the weeds
Of a project and all its amassing deeds
I stop to reflect and provide perspective
On the glory of the retrospective

We all sprint to the finish line
Ready to put that project behind
When a project manager shouts “No!
We must do a retro before we go!”

I ponder what went right and what went wrong
Your structure guides me to what I knew all along
How even during challenges and times of stress
We are learning together, improving our process

You reveal to us how opportunities abound
What we can improve upon in the next go around
Working as team we grow even stronger
Dear retro, you are the one meeting I’ll let run a little longer


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