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The Birth or Death of a Project?

By ryung
Oct. 4, 2012

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This quote is probably used so many times that it is often regarded as a cliché, but I think its message is still incredibly relevant to my line of work. At the end of a project (or at the end of a sprint within a project), I am a fan of conducting a retrospective meeting. While the project or iteration details are still fresh in the team’s minds I like to explore and discuss 1) what we did well, 2) what did not go so well, and 3) what can we improve on for the future and what are the immediate action plans. In my previous company, these retrospective meetings were commonly known as “postmortem” meetings. But we tried to change the company’s mindset and refer to them as “postpartum” meetings. Instead of associating the look-back review of the project with its death we wanted people to think of it as the project’s birth. It might sound trivial or amusing but I think it was a very important distinction. Too often at these meetings the focus would fall on ‘what went wrong.’ The main discussion points became venting opportunities and the meeting devolved into an hour-long complaint session. But to me that is not the main focus of the retrospective meeting. Yes, it is important to re-visit the past and examine where things went wrong. But the most important part of the retrospective meeting for me is the action plan: what 1-3 opportunities for improvement can be identified and then put into place almost immediately? A project may end but its positive impact and legacy can live on. So the next time a project winds down, the retrospective is complete, and the celebrations are in full-swing, don’t forget to bring some cigars to the party....

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