You would never start a project without an official kick-off. Conversely, you should never finish a project without conducting a retrospective. Like bookends, these two meetings work together to make sure your team is prepared to produce their best work.
Why do you need a retrospective?
Starting every new sprint with a kick-off meeting ensures that your team is on the same page from the get-go. This meeting gives you the chance to establish timelines and budgets and work out task assignments. That way, no one is walking into a project blindly. It’s also possible to make clarifications and catch any mistakes before the project even begins. From dev teams to ad agencies, most successful companies start every new project this way.
For some reason, we often overlook the importance of using retrospectives (or ‘retros’) as analytical tools. The kick-off is necessary to start a project with as much knowledge as possible. Then, the retrospective helps you gain new insight from your most recent project or sprint.
Your team will discuss questions such as “What went well?” and “What could have gone better?” Then, teammates should work together to solve these questions, improve the next project, and streamline their workflow. Every finished project is an opportunity to learn a whole host of things you may otherwise sweep under the rug.
Fortunately, Cacoo offers a series of guides on running retrospectives and includes templates you can use with your team.
Important elements of a retrospective
Many retrospective methods share similarities that you’ll see. We’ll provide the building blocks all good retrospectives share and then outline our six favorite retrospective models. Conducting a retrospective shouldn’t add more than an hour to your process. And that one hour could save you a lot of time or money as you continue through iterations, sprints, and projects.
Whenever you conduct a retrospective of any type, planning is always essential. You have to give your team time to think analytically about the project they just completed.
If you put people on the spot, you’re unlikely to have an illuminating conversation. People can’t usually recall every important project detail from memory alone. And without time to think through causes and effects, team members are more likely to start blaming one another for problems to blow off steam rather than think through issues logically and look for solutions.
With proper planning time, they can review the entire process and take detailed notes. Make sure everyone knows to come to the meeting with at least one item for each of the topics you’re going to cover (depending on which method you choose to follow), preferably written down.
While this component is optional, icebreakers are a common tool to set the stage for a retrospective and get the team in a communicative mindset. Think about your own workflow. Are there times when your energy is low or you’re hitting a break wall because you’ve been cracking away at the same task for too long without stepping away?
Your team faces the same challenges. If you call them into a meeting and try to get meaningful feedback without setting the mood, your retrospective will probably go slowly and fail to yield much insight.
To avoid this outcome, prepare brief retrospective icebreaker activities to lighten the mood and get people to relax. You can kick off the meeting with a playful question, for instance, to encourage your co-workers to open up. The goal is to get them talking, laughing, and sharing, so they have a higher energy level when you start discussing crucial topics.
Create an open and respectful environment for your team. It doesn’t matter if the meeting is in a conference room in person or online; everyone needs to feel safe to share the insights they’ve spent so much time compiling.
The work to do this starts long before you ever sit down in the room (or open your video chat.) These types of meetings require mutual respect between all of your team members and a desire to explore solutions rather than place blame.
A great way to build trust is to set and follow through with ground rules. This might include rules like focusing on processes and workflows and discouraging people from calling out specific teammates. This should stop emotions from rising and prevent any particular team member from feeling singled out or bullied.
Whether you run a retrospective weekly, biweekly, or monthly, a lot can happen in the period between your last meeting. Remember, your team members handled different aspects of a project, and they may have different perspectives on how it went or what the most pressing priorities are. Some people may have missed the last retrospective altogether and need some context for decisions made on other parts of the project.
So, before you go through the retrospective categories, provide a quick overview of the last meeting. Dedicate some time at the beginning of a retrospective to bring everyone up to speed on key goals, challenges, and discussion points. If you shared important data or diagrams in the last meeting, remind everyone how they can access these resources for further information.
After discussing the project (following whichever retrospective model you choose), there’s usually a round of retrospective voting — often dot voting — to narrow down your list of suggestions to a few you can reasonably use to improve your process.
In dot voting, each person typically has a maximum number of votes per category. They can use those votes however they wish, either allotting one vote for each suggestion they like or giving all votes to one option that they find extremely important. You can either conduct this vote publicly or blindly if you’re worried about hurting someone’s feelings.
When the voting has concluded, you should have one or more obvious winners that deserve to have your team’s focus for your next iteration. It’s up to you to decide how many of these options your team can tackle at once. Maybe, there’s one big issue that will take the entire team’s effort to fix, or there are five small issues you can address all at once.
Just make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew, especially if this is your first time running a retrospective.
Once you’ve completed your retrospective, it’s just as important to follow through on the ideas you generated as a team; otherwise, you’ve just wasted your team’s time.
Create accountability by assigning the solutions to team members directly. Tasks can involve anything from research and follow-up to making sure you implement a new step in the next iteration. It’s usually best to assign a task to someone who has some specialty experience relevant to the solution.
It might also help to add these new assignments as specific tasks within your task management system (like Nulab’s own Backlog). That way, your team can see it, reference it, and track its progress and improvement.
The Agile methodology is increasingly popular with teams. Running retros according to Agile models will allow your team to fix problems or bottlenecks as they arise. That way, you don’t have to wait until the end of each project to figure out how to improve.
Agile retrospectives, as opposed to waterfall retrospectives, allow you and your team to run these retros after each sprint. You can learn while doing instead of waiting to finish an entire project or deliverable before running the retro. The ability to insert this task and change what you’re doing based on your findings is what will render your team “agile.”
Each time you run a retrospective, you make your next sprint or project that much more efficient. The whole team is able to adapt to follow a model that you now know is going to work better, cheaper, or faster than your previous process, so you can get the project done and deliver a higher-quality product to the client.
Cacoo’s retrospective templates
Here are a few of our favorite types of retrospectives, including a more detailed step-by-step process of how to run each one:
- Quick Retrospective: the perfect choice if your team is short on time, it’s your first time, or you want to keep it simple
- 4Ls Retrospective: gives ample opportunity for each team member to ask themselves what resources would help continue the project if your team gets a larger budget
- Mad Glad Sad Retrospective: a simpler one great for a team that is adept at expressing themselves and don’t mind integrating a little bit of emotion
- Start Stop Continue Retrospective: pretty straightforward and great for a team that maybe doesn’t have as much experience with retrospectives
- Keep Problem Try Retrospective: opens the floor for your team to suggest new steps to the process and start experimenting with what works best
- Starfish Retrospective: provides a few more shades of gray than other options for when you’re not entirely sure how starting or stopping an action will affect your process
While there are many options for the type of retrospective that will best help your team, there’s no question that conducting one will make your next iteration better.
To start working retrospectives into your projects or sprints, choose a method, and get your team into a meeting. Feel free to try a different type each time until you find the one that best suits your needs.
To help conduct these meetings, our free diagramming tool Cacoo offers a range of project retrospective templates to get you started. There’s no easier way to start integrating the perfect retrospective.
This post was originally published on November 22, 2020, and updated most recently on February 23, 2022.