PM Articles > Kent McDonald > A Personal Retrospective for 2010

A Personal Retrospective for 2010

by Kent McDonald

Given the choice between writing a kitschy Christmas-themed post, and an equally kitschy end of one year/beginning of a new year thing, I chose the latter. While riffing on the 12 Days of Christmas or The Night Before Christmas sounds appealing, I thought a take on the annual celebration of what has passed and what is yet to come might be more helpful.

If you think about it, the end of a year has a lot of similarities to the end of a project (never mind the fantasy that many project managers repeatedly fall into that they could actually complete a project in line with the end of the year). You have a fury of activity toward the end of the effort (the craziness of getting Christmas presents purchased and attending an inordinate amount of celebrations with different combinations of friends and family) followed by either a blow-out celebration or a quiet lull where you thank the stars that you got another project (year) under your belt. Then you have the pressing need to make your plans for next year, whether it's your resolutions for the New Year, or the plan for your new project.

I have covered the topic of resolutions before. In this article, I'd like to talk about an activity that is always a good way to determine what some of those resolutions should be, or in the case of the project, what techniques or approaches you utilize on your next project. That activity is known to many a project manager as the "Lessons Learned" or "post mortem." I prefer the term retrospective, because it does a better job of conveying the "reflect and adapt" nature that helps project managers practice continuous improvement. I also am a big fan of doing retrospectives throughout a project so the team can revise their process while there is still time for the changes to make a difference.

Regardless of when you do it, a simple approach is to guide a conversation with the team using a set of questions. This approach is described in the Retrospectives Technique Brief, but I'll give an overview here.

Start off by posing a set of questions to your team. Ask the team to write their answers to the questions on sticky notes and put them up on the walls on separate sheets, one for each question. Then facilitate a discussion, looking for trends amongst the feedback and work to determine what action plans should be undertaken to revise the team's approach, and to shed some light on the things that still puzzle many of the delivery team members.

To give an example of what responses could look like, I performed a personal retrospective. Here's what I came up with using a set of questions representing a combination of two commonly used sets of questions:

What should I start doing?

  • Pay closer attention to how I communicate with my stakeholders before, during, and after the project.
  • Stop thinking of risks as just bad things that could happen, and take more calculated risks where it makes sense.

What should I stop doing?

  • Any activities that do not directly add to the accomplishment of organizational objectives.
  • Creating project documents for the sake of the documents, or because the "methodology says so" (this is actually a special case of the above item).

What should I continue doing?

  • Seek to understand the problem a project is trying to solve by asking the right questions.
  • Pausing periodically throughout a project to reflect on how things have been going and adapt my approach accordingly.

What did I learn?

  • Politics are not reserved just for Washington DC; they play a very active role in corporate life, and even projects. Ignore them at your peril.
  • Life is too short. Do what you like, and like what you do.

What still puzzles me?

  • Why do people continue to ferociously fight for projects they know are not aligned with their organization's strategy (i.e. boondoggles)?
  • How can I usefully measure the value that a project delivers, and perhaps more fundamentally, how do I define "value"?

As you can see, by guiding the conversation with these questions, you arrive at actionable answers for revising your project's processes based on your experiences. The next steps are to identify who is going to be responsible for making sure the identified activities are accomplished and by when. And if the team is paying attention, they'll make those plans commitments, not resolutions.



Related Links

We don't actually make our columnists choose between kitschy Christmas-themes and kitschy New Year stuff, but the mind seems to naturally wander to reflect-and-adapt themes this time of year. If you're in that boat personally, check out Kent's Agile Technique Brief on Retrospectives for a more detailed look at the process he describes above. (A more traditional version is our detailed Lessons Learned Survey and the related Meeting and Report. To translate those lessons into action plans, use an Action Item List or (for personal goals) Kimberly Wiefling's Priorities, Goals, and Actions Alignment Worksheet.

Looking for some good old-fashioned Christmas classics? Check out Carl Pritchard's 2008 PM wish list ... and a Partridge in a Pear Tree" or his 2004 entry "Yes Virginia, There Is a Project Manager."




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