In the article below our authors Jon & Steve will explain the project retrospective process and a plan to improve project delivery.

Retrospectives, Learning in the Project 

Learning in projects is not new, and for agile approaches, the retrospective serves well to facilitate team learning and continuous engagement and improvement. No matter the approach to managing the project, agile or stage gate, it is prudent for the team to learn while doing the work. The organization also benefits from this learning.  Ideally, we have time set aside specifically for this learning, and in agile, that time is via the retrospective. 

Purpose of the Retrospective 

In agile approaches, project there is a retrospective meeting held at the end of a sprint to reflect on what went well, what didn't go well, and what can be improved in the future. One of the benefits of an agile approach is that the work segments, the sprint, are much shorter than the gates in the stage gate.

For example, a sprint may range from 1 to 4 weeks (though I have used 6-week durations). In practical terms, the cadence for learning is faster, more learning opportunities, and closer to recent events. Recalling events and basing learning on that recollection is not reliable.

Our own and our team members’ memories may not be infallible.  Thus, the benefit is our exploration of the latest events and the ability to adjust accordingly.  Think of control systems that have quick correction loops versus ones that has long times for adjustment. 

The purpose of the retrospective is to identify areas for improvement and to make a plan for implementing those improvements in future projects.  

The retrospective follows hard upon the conclusion of the sprint and work product deliveries associated. Additionally, the focus of the retrospective is driven by the team and sometimes rotating the team member responsible for facilitating.  The retrospective is an important tool for continuous improvement and helps to ensure that future projects are more successful. The focus area of the retrospective emerges from the team members’ experiences. 

Before the meeting, the team members will have thought of areas that need improvement from their perspective, bringing sprint artifacts or other supporting material from which a conversation can take place. As with all project meetings, egos are checked at the door. Others may not agree with others’ ideas of the needs of improvement or the change for improvement. 

The Event 

During the meeting, the team will review the project's recent objectives, timelines, and deliverables.  A discussion among the team members of what went well and what needs to be improved ensues using the material brought forth by the team members.

The team will work to prioritize one or two of the areas most rife for improvement.  We do not need a perfect and finalized solution, we are seeking an iterative experiment. If this works, the team will build upon it, and if it does not appreciably help, the team will have gained additional experience in the area, enabling further improvement explorations.  Ideally, this is an open discussion exploring the ideas of what went wrong and what we can do better.   

The Goals 

Projects, no matter the methodology, is the mechanism by which the goals of the organization are achieved.  We firmly believe continuous learning and improvement are significant for the ongoing concern.  This improvement requires some time to ruminate on the work and how we set about doing it.  Additionally, we believe this continuous learning is how the organization maintains and improves team engagement. An organization with disengaged talent is not an organization long for operations. 

Elements for Continuous Improvement 

To reduce complexity, which comes at a cost of time and effort, Some key elements of project continuous improvement include: 

  • Regularly reviewing project progress and performance against objectives, timelines, and deliverables (no matter the project approach, agile or stage gate) 
  • Identifying areas for improvement and implementing changes as needed 
  • Involving all members of the project team in the improvement process 
  • Measuring the results of changes and making adjustments as necessary 
  • Continuous improvement is a cyclical process, and it's essential to regularly review the progress, implement changes and measure the results, and make adjustments as needed. 

The goal of any project’s continuous improvement is to increase efficiency, reduce costs, improve quality, improve talent engagement, and increase customer satisfaction. By regularly reviewing and improving the project, organizations can ensure that they deliver the best possible outcomes for their stakeholders. 

Project continuous improvement is a process of ongoing assessment, analysis, and improvement of a project to make it more efficient, effective, and successful. It involves regularly evaluating the project's progress, performance, and processes, and using the information gathered to identify areas for improvement and make changes that enhance the project's success.

This may include updating project plans, adjusting team roles and responsibilities, adopting new tools and techniques, and making changes to the way work is done. The goal of project continuous improvement is to increase project efficiency, reduce waste, and improve overall project outcomes.

It is an essential part of project management and helps ensure that projects are delivered on time, within budget, and to the desired quality standards. 

Making a plan to improve project delivery requires several steps: 

  1. Assess the current state of the project: Start by evaluating the current project processes, tools, and team dynamics to determine where improvements can be made. This may include conducting a project retrospective or a project audit. 
  2. Identify areas for improvement: Based on the assessment, identify specific areas where improvements can be made. This may include improving project planning and execution, enhancing communication and collaboration, or adopting new tools and technologies. 
  3. Set goals and objectives: Establish clear and specific goals and objectives for the improvement plan. This will help ensure that everyone is working towards the same end goal. 
  4. Develop a roadmap: Create a roadmap that outlines the steps and activities required to achieve the improvement goals. This may include tasks such as training, process changes, and the adoption of new tools. 
  5. Allocate resources: Ensure that the necessary resources, including personnel, time, and budget, are available to implement the improvement plan. 
  6. Monitor progress: Regularly monitor progress and make adjustments as needed. This may involve updating the plan, reallocating resources, or changing course if the original plan is not working. 
  7. Celebrate successes: Celebrate successes along the way to keep the team motivated and focused. 

By following these steps, you can create a comprehensive plan to improve project delivery, increase efficiency, and achieve better project outcomes.