Project Retrospective

When a project runs to an end, it is useful to look back with the entire team.  The goal is to evaluate the project in its whole so we can identify the things we can improve on future projects.

A project retrospective acquires more preparation than a sprint retrospective.  We’re looking back to a much bigger period.  Memories of the first sprints are a lot vaguer than those of recent sprints.

For projects bigger than 6 month, you might want to hold a project retrospective in the middle.

As a facilitator, it is important that you can guide the team.  Preparing with a list of events that happened, a list of features that were delivered, information about the team, …  all these artifacts can be helpful during the retrospective.  The participants will not be able to chronologically remember everything.  It is the facilitator’s job to help them through the exercise.

Literature states that the facilitator should be someone who was not involved in the project.   I find it useful that he was involved as long as he makes sure to let the team provide the input an act only as facilitator and guide.

In order to get the participants to start thinking about the project history, it can be helpful to send a questionnaire a week before the actual retrospective.  It shouldn’t be a long list of questions, just enough to get everyone thinking up front.  Make sure you set a due date for replies, otherwise the questionnaire will be perceived as optional.

Make sure you send a meeting invitation that includes provides some background about the project retrospective.  I included an agenda and off course the purpose and goal of the meeting.

There are a lot of exercises you can do during a project retrospective in order to get the necessary feedback.  This agenda works for me:

1.       Project timeline

2.       Project history walkthrough.

3.       Identification of good, neutral and bad stuff that happened.

4.       Emotional trend line

5.       To improve on future projects (lessons learned)

6.       Team survey

Project timeline

After the introduction we start by drawing a timeline that reflects the sprints and stages of the project.

Project history walkthrough

The team walks through each sprint, gathering information about events, features deliverd, emotions, issues, …  This is where the facilitator has to make sure every significant event is mentioned.  Don’t rush this exercise, take your time.  The facilitator can write short notes on the timeline that capture major themes.  During this walkthrough, the participants can already start with item nr.3 on the agenda.  The can use post-its to write down good, neutral or bad stuff that happened over the project.  When the walkthrough is finished, give the participants some time to reflect in peace and complete their notes.  When everyone is done, we put the post-its on the timeline.  It can be useful to use three different colors of post-its:

Good = green

Neutral = yellow

Bad = red

Emotional trend line

As you can see on the picture below, we left some space beneath the timeline.


This is where we can draw an emotional trend line.  Its purpose is to visualize the emotions of the team during the project.  You divide the space below the timeline in two pieces.  The upper part means happy, the lower part means sad.

Next, every participant places a dot below every sprint indicating his feeling at that time.  The more upwards the dot: the happier, the more downwards: the sadder.

When everybody is finished, the facilitator can draw a trend line through the dots.  In the picture above, you can see what the emotions were during the project.  We started happy, went to neutral in the middle of the project.  Then the moral went up again to finally end up sad (due to a cancellation of the project).

To improve on future projects (lessons learned)

It is important that you can translate the stuff that went wrong into actions.  We go through every post-it on the timeline and were necessary discuss about possible actions.  Make sure these get written down.

Team survey

As a final exercise, every participant answers two questions:

1)      What aspect of the project would you change, if you could?

2)      What aspect of the project would you definitely keep?

Make sure you write down every answer.

It is important to formalize the outcome of the retrospective in a document that is distributed amongst everyone who was involved in the project.

The end of a project retrospective is an ideal moment to have a drink and celebrate.   Even when a project got cancelled J


I used two great books that helped me a lot preparing for a project retrospective:

Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great

Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews

About Nick Oostvogels

Hi, I'm an independent management consultant. My biggest strengths are located in the fields of teamwork, motivation, leadership and continuous improvement. In the IT industry you find a lot of these values in the agile movement, in which I often act as a project leader, product owner or coach. My interests go a lot further, into other industries where we find these values in lean production. Besides that, I try to broaden my horizon as much as possible, always looking for better ways of doing business.


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