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Yes, and the excitement is in the air. Time to say goodbye and move on.

The team is in the brink of project closure, the core goals had been met and within the next week, everyone is going to be reallocated to different projects. It is almost like a graduation ceremony. Everyone is excited to get the degree, happy not to be seeing some of the faces and also sad to part with friends.

As a Project Manager, you have decided it’s time for a team retrospective or ‘post-mortem’, if you prefer. While it seems a fairly straightforward thing to analyse the project by people who have been closely associated with it, here are some pointers to help you through the process.

1)  Hopefully, your first project retrospective is not at the project closure. Well, traditionally, post-mortems were done at the end of a project. So, while you jot down a list of ‘awesome’ things about the project and the ‘irritants’, you’re actually not going to act on them as your own. It becomes a reference material, as an archive data for a future team to use and in that way, not many people may care about what data is actually collated and the effectiveness of it. This is one of the reasons why you should have retrospectives more often. In Agile model, it usually happens after every sprint. So, you learn from your mistakes and also correct them before the next sprint.

2)  It’s not bad to talk about the good stuff. I had this manager once, who would only give me constructive feedback and whenever it came to the good stuff, he spoke about it in the last two minutes of the meeting and said, ‘These are obviously your strengths’. Well! Surprise, but it was not that obvious to me! Similarly, retrospectives are also for discussing what is going on great in the project and for reiterating the processes and tools that are working effectively. This not only lifts the team morale, but also ensures people understand explicitly the direction to go towards.

3)  Create a safe environment for everyone to talk. Some guys love the spotlight and they can easily hijack the entire meeting. They love to talk on and on, expressing their ideas. That may work well in a business or a technical discussion where some people tend to be the experts. But, this is one of those meetings where everyone HAS to talk and if you’re the facilitator it is up to you to get that goal achieved. Often the silent ones may have some surprisingly powerful insights.

4)  The agenda is not to crib, but to bring change. Have you been in one of those meetings where there is so much negativity that you come out and feel that your project is doomed? When people say something is not going right, tell them they need to back it up with examples and data for credibility. Most importantly, they need to also give solutions, not just state problems. This will force them to present the idea in a positive frame.

5)  Spread the accountability across the team. If you are sitting in the next retrospective meeting discussing the same bullets as in the previous one, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. Typically, when problem areas are identified, they tend to lie in a spreadsheet somewhere. Instead, cultivate the discipline in your team to bring closure to these items. Keep track of the action points, assign owners and track them religiously.

6)  Keep it fun. Lastly, keep it fun. Especially when a retrospective is happening at the end of a project, when the team is in a lighter mood, ready to disperse. There are so many structured exercises available to make this an interesting activity to participate in, instead of a banal exchange of words. Bring your creative side out.

Share your favourite moments from retrospective meetings and also suggestions that added immense value in the future.