Project retrospectives, or “retros” as they are often called, are critical for continuous improvement within any product development team. A retrospective is a meeting held at the end of a project, or at regular intervals within large projects, where the team reflects on what happened, what worked, and what didn’t. The goal is to improve the process for the next iteration or project. In this blog post, we will explore the key questions that should be asked to run an effective project retro. I’ve landed on these questions after being part of, and conducting several project retros in my career.

It’s worth noting, when conducting a project retro, it is essential to invite views and opinions from everyone that is attending. I’ve often encoutered meetings where the most senior members of a team will speak up and junior members stay quiet. It is very important for everyone to feel included therefore, I personally tend to be mindful if certain members are not speaking up and politely request their input.

Kickoff: Evaluating the Starting Point

The kickoff is the stage where the project’s foundations are laid. To understand the effectiveness of the scoping the answers to the following questions should be sought:

  1. How effectively did our initial plan guide us through the project?
  2. Were there unexpected roadblocks or bottlenecks? If so, what were they and how did we overcome them?
  3. Could these roadblocks have been anticipated or avoided with better planning?

Reflecting on these questions can help identify areas for improving your project planning process.

The last two questions are especially pertinent and would have saved us at least a sprint’s worth of delay in the last project. We discovered an issue in the Golang GCP Pub/Sub library which made it impossible to roll back a Pub/Sub topic that had schema revisions specified. Although, one should not spike out everything during scoping however the rollback approach documented in the scoping document should have been tested at least.

Scope: Examining Boundaries and Deadlines

Every project has boundaries – the agreed-upon features, functionality, and timelines. During your retro, you should ask:

  1. Did we stick to what we initially scoped out? Why or why not?
  2. Were the project timelines and deadlines realistic and achievable?
  3. If not, what factors contributed to timeline changes or deadline misses? The goal is to determine if the project scope was well-defined and managed and if your time estimates were accurate.

Team: Analyzing Communication and Collaboration

A project’s success often depends on the team’s ability to collaborate effectively. Reflect on your team’s dynamics by asking:

  1. How effective was the communication and collaboration within the team during the project?
  2. Were roles and responsibilities clearly defined and understood?
  3. How well did the team manage conflicts or disagreements? These questions can help uncover insights into the team’s dynamics and identify opportunities for improving collaboration.

Communication: Ensuring Clarity and Consistency

Effective communication is crucial in project management. Analyze your communication processes with these questions:

  1. Did everyone have the information they needed to do their work effectively?
  2. Were there communication breakdowns? If so, what were the impacts?
  3. How can we improve our communication processes for future projects? By addressing these questions, you can identify communication gaps and develop strategies for more efficient communication.

End Product: Evaluating the Outcome

At the end of a project, it’s important to reflect on the final product. Use these questions to guide your discussion:

  1. Are we satisfied with what we’ve built?
  2. Does the end product meet the project goals and requirements?
  3. What feedback have we received from stakeholders or users? These reflections will provide valuable insight into the quality of your work and its reception by stakeholders.

Learning: Identifying Growth and Skill Gaps

Lastly, a project retro should include reflections on learning and development. Consider these questions:

  1. Did everyone on the project get opportunities to learn new skills or deepen existing ones?
  2. Were there areas where the team faced knowledge or skill gaps? If so, how did we address them?
  3. What can we do to better support learning and skill development in future projects? Reflections on learning can illuminate opportunities for training and development, which can boost your team’s performance in future projects.

In conclusion, retrospectives are an essential tool for improving team performance and project outcomes. By asking the right questions, you can uncover insights and takeaways that lead to tangible improvements in your processes. Remember, the goal of a retro is not to blame, but to learn, grow, and improve.