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Project Management Tips: How to Lead a Successful Retrospective Meeting

Jun 25, 2021 By Elyse Economides

Written by Tom Hackett

Team Ethica aims to become a seamless addition to the online and in-person shopping experience that empowers users to support brands and companies that embrace ethical ideals. The team’s project manager, Tom, shared his insights into how to lead a successful retrospective.

To SWOT or not to SWOT: That is the age-old question...

In a world of creative artists, designers and problem solvers, is repeating the same ol’ retrospective going to bring new ideas to fruition?

We ask our teams to stay agile in thinking, be adaptable to new ideas and keep flexible with new client demands. To foster fresh ideas, we should ask the same thing of our retrospectives. Repeating the same tasks repeats the same ideas. Providing new ways of framing our issues is what this is all about.

What's the purpose of a retrospective?

Retrospectives are great for figuring out where issues exist (especially online). They help to build team chemistry and work through difficult design development. But over a four month project, they can quickly become repetitive. If the same SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis is being repeated, the same answers will be repeated. Changing up the retrospectives is important and with a little work, they can become a fun weekly event. I recommend choosing different retrospectives for the mood of the week. Keep the team interested by building some anticipation. The Funretrospectives site has some great templates to keep your team engaged.

During the first week, the SWOT analysis is a great tool to start building team chemistry. A fresh concept helps to provide fresh ideas. Plus it feels good to introduce new problem solving techniques for familiar issues.

I like to change up the retro after the first week to something new, but still familiar. The 3 L’s (Liked, Learned, Lacked) provides a similar exercise to the SWOT but changes it up enough to encourage new ideas. It also lets the team know that we are committed to improving and innovating our own methods.

And the older sibling to the 3 L’s is the 4 L’s: Liked, Learned, Lacked and Longed For.

Similar in style is the: Well, Not so well, and New Ideas.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly helps to figure out improvements. It’s also a fun way to tie in movies.

These are all good retrospectives for figuring out design elements.

Sometimes, misunderstandings will happen during group work. Easy as Pie is a good way to keep the team communicating with each other while focusing on design details.

The Starfish is good for understanding teammates ideas about the project.

To keep things interesting during the middle of the semester, especially when energy runs a little low, try one of these three tools: Speed Car, Hot-air-balloon and Anchors & Engines. These are good for discovering what items are slowing the team down. They are also great for a quick meeting when everyone is feeling a little overwhelmed and the team just wants to jump into the weekend.

I recommend having some fun introducing the retrospectives as well. Try tantalizing people with just a hint of information. This will build anticipation and keep the team excited to see the new task.

“Racing into this weeks retrospective…"

“Flying into this week’s retrospective…”

“Cruising into this week’s retrospective…”

Of course, when there are more issues than just having something slowing you down, you can try the larger versions of these retrospectives. Having a little fun introducing the items is always appreciated by the team. Or they will think you are crazy, either way they will be curious.

“Yarrrr! Avast me hearties, the ol' Retrospective be ready for ye... Git yer swagger on ya scurvy dawgs! Yohoho and a bottle of rum!!!”

Johanna Torstensson

The fun thing about retrospectives is trying to find one that fits your teams mood and energy levels for that particular week. Different points in the project certainly require different methods.

Getting a team to agree on something can be difficult. Using this quick method for evaluation can save a lot of time.

When deadlines are fast approaching, the Effort x Value is great to see where your team should be focused.

The end of the semester is a great time for reflection and incorporating a 360 degree appreciation which can take the form of many different styles. Our team used the feedback sandwich with great success. Invite everyone for lunch on the Miro board and encourage the use of food emojis to help build your favourite sandwiches while working through the 360. We opted to use “Something you admire in the person”, “Something that can be improved”, “Steps to improve” and “Thank you for” as our pillars. Creating your own concept is a fun way to keep everyone engaged and they will appreciate the effort. Always remember to time box the event as well.

“All that talk about baking last night made me soooo hungry!!! Why don't we make each other lunch on Friday... Let's bring all the sandwich fix-ins and meet for a bite at noon. That way we can unpack our lunchboxes for an hour.”

Anytime you can use a holiday to keep people interested is always recommended. Using a holiday to create a new format helps teams come up with new ideas, and it is a lot of fun. Christmaspective anyone?

Nuno Silva Pereira

How about or a spooktacular halloweenspective or an easter rabbitspective? There are a world of options out there and you can always create your own retrospective to incorporate the issues your team is dealing with throughout the process. Repeating the same retrospective week in and week out will become redundant and frankly, it isn’t very exciting for anyone involved. Taking a few minutes to focus on a unique idea that caters to your team will keep people intrigued and excited, while generating new ways to sort through issues.

Jean Michel Diaz

Any ideas for a retrospective? Feel free to share them as we are always on the lookout for creative and interesting concepts.