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How (and Why) Your Agency Should Run Project Retrospectives

Posted by Nicolas Jacobeus on Jul 20, 2016


Retrospectives are an important part of the agile project management process, and working in an agile way can help to improve your agency’s efficiency. Today I’m looking at how your digital agency can run retrospectives for your projects, and why they are a valuable use of your team’s time.

Why Should You Run Project Retrospectives?

In agile project management, retrospectives are run at the end of each sprint. That might be worth doing if your agency runs lengthy projects, but if the majority of your work is short projects (up to a couple of months) then you’ll get the same amount of value from just running retrospectives at the end of each project.

A retrospective helps you identify:

  • What went well in your project
  • What went less well
  • What you can change to improve future projects
  • What you need to do to avoid making the same mistakes in your next project
  • How you can improve your agency processes to make the project more successful or profitable.

Essentially, a retrospective gives your team the chance to reflect on the work they’ve done, and assess how they can learn from the project to improve future work.

How to Run a Project Retrospective

A retrospective isn’t the same as a review – you’re interested in how the project worked, rather than your achievements and what you produced.

To run a retrospective, you need to get together all the members of the project team. This doesn’t include the customer, but you may wish to share customer feedback during the retrospective if it ties in with your discussions.

At its most basic, you then discuss as a group what went well with the project, what could be improved, and how you will make the suggested improvements in your next project.

Recommended Retrospective Technique

There are many different techniques for running a retrospective, with varying structures and levels of detail.

At Scale, many of the agencies we work with base their retrospectives around the Starfish technique. This is because it provides more detailed and more actionable insights than a regular retrospective.

Step 1: Reflect on the Project

The team reflects on the project, and individually write down their thoughts on sticky notes, broken down into five areas. These sticky notes are then stuck on a whiteboard which is divided into five sections:

  • Things to do more
  • Things to do less
  • Things to start doing
  • Things to stop doing
  • Things to keep doing


(image source)

Step 2: Team Discussion

The team then needs to group together comments on the board into similar topics. They can then have a short discussion about the comments on the board, to decide what they will focus on for the next project. If you’ve got a large team or there’s no obvious consensus, this step may involve a vote on items that are particularly divisive.

Step 3: Prioritise

Once your actions for the next project have been decided, you need to prioritise them and work out how they will be measured. You will also identify who is responsible for each action.

Measurability is key to the success of your retrospectives – if you can’t measure your results, you won’t know if you’re improving.

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