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Three great project retrospective exercises

by | Nov 16, 2022

I had a big birthday at the weekend, and as these things are want to do, I’ve found myself looking back on my life, the highs and lows, personal and professional (and what I can remember!) of the past five decades.

I was drawn to revisit Steve Job’s famous commencement speech for Stanford University where he famously said:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

When I was studying on the MICL a few years ago, one of the practices we had to learn was the art of reflection. I came to it kicking and screaming, and honestly it took me a good year of study before I finally ‘got it’. Self-awareness and growth comes with reflection and so it is something I try to practice regularly still. Even if it’s as simple as a quick stop, start, continue below- which is exactly as it says on the tin.

So given that we’re in November I thought I’d share three great project retrospective exercises to look back to look forward and join those dots.

1/ Exercise: stop, start, continue

We all have a limited range of time, energy and resources. You might have come across the stop, start, continue model which is a simple framework to manage change, which I think is useful in a range of situations and here in your personal development. In relation to your creative progress ask yourself these three simple questions – that can then lead to further questions.

  1. What should I start doing?
  2. What are some things I should stop doing?
  3. What should I continue doing?

2/ Exercise: look back to look forward 

This is a tool from the Institute for the Future. It can be really intimidating to start thinking about the future. But when you’re looking back in the past, that’s something that everybody’s an expert on. It’s a really easy way for people to start thinking about how change happens without having to go out on a limb and express an opinion or take any risk.

Well, this is a perfect tool for beginning any sort of exploration of the future (like your 2023 planning). Anytime you want to think about what’s possible in the future, it’s always great to think about how change has happened in the past. To get started pick your topic, pick a timescale (say Jan-Dec 2022) and write down the key moments of change around your topic:

What made this change possible? What effort did it require? How long did it take to happen? How quickly did things change after? What ripple effects did that change have in unexpected ways?

3/ Exercise: sail away, sail away, sail away 

The MIRO whiteboard Sailboat Retrospective is a fun and easy way to boost the communication of what went well and what slowed the team down. Based on the topics addressed during the retrospective, the team agrees on the improvement activities needed for future projects. It’s often used for Agile Sprints but can be adapted to any project.

The tropical island represents the set project goal they have aimed to achieve in their daily work.

The Wind represents everything helping them to achieve the project goal, pushing the team’s sails boat to go even faster.

The Sun represents all the things making them feel good and happy during work. As a retrospective is a time for team celebration an opportunity to bring forward kudos to your team friends.

The Anchor on the sailing boat represents everything that is slowing us down an holding us back on the journey towards the goal.

The Reef represents potential risks ahead that we see will jeopardise future project work.

I hope you find these project retrospective exercises helpful!

Fun fact: did you know that in ancient Roman religion, Janus is the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, frames, and endings? He is usually depicted as having two faces, one looking ahead, one behind, and the month of January is named for Janus.

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