Retrospective Analysis

  • Retrospective analyses are held after a project to determine what worked well and what did not. They are also conducted at the end of an iteration in Agile project management.
  • Agile practitioners call these meetings retrospectives or retros. They are an effective way to check the pulse of a project team, reflect on the work performed to date, and reach a consensus on how to tackle the next sprint cycle.
  • These are the five stages of a retrospective analysis for effective Agile project management: set the stage, gather the data, generate insights, decide on the next steps, and close the retrospective.

Understanding retrospective analyses

In business, retrospective analyses are held after a project to determine what worked well and what did not. They are also performed at the end of an iteration in Agile project management

Retrospective studies were once the domain of the healthcare industry where existing data are studied to identify risk factors for certain diseases.

In more recent times, retrospective analyses have been adopted by project teams to uncover what is working well and what needs improvement.

Retrospective analyses are also a perfect match for Agile project management and, because they are held after each iteration, respect one of the philosophy’s core tenets of continuous improvement.

Agile practitioners call these meetings retrospectives or retros. But whatever the name, they are an effective way to check the pulse of a project team, reflect on the work performed to date, and reach a consensus on how to tackle the next sprint cycle.

Retrospectives also have a knack for allowing blockers to surface before they become problematic. Blockers are any factor that impacts the team’s ability to work.

They may describe a work environment that is too loud, slow user-story acceptance, or too many meetings that hinder progress. 

How to run a retrospective analysis

David Horowitz is the co-founder and CEO of Retrium, a company that helps clients develop sprint retrospective analyses that are fun, interactive, and fuel continuous improvement. 

In an interview with Forbes in March 2022, Horowitz posited that five phases described an effective retrospective.

Phase 1 – Set the stage

To foster an effective meeting, it is important to first check the temperature of the room and ensure that everyone is in a mood conducive to reflection. 

Horowitz uses the example of a team of developers who are thrown from deep technical work to introspection in rapid time.

Since they have not had adequate time to adjust, their engagement in the retrospective analysis is low at best.

So how can the facilitator provide mental separation from the previous task and the task at hand?

One way is to move around the room and ask everyone to contribute a one-word emotion that describes how they feel. Collective deep breaths can also work well.

Phase 2 – Gather the data

Otherwise known as setting the terms of reference, gathering the data means clarity is provided on what is being reviewed.

Is it a process, procedure, or specific event? Whatever the case, it is vital there is consensus on the set of facts that will be discussed. 

Teams that skip this phase end up failing because they try to fix a problem without a shared mental model of what the problem actually entails. 

In Agile projects, this phase may encompass objective data such as the number of stories completed, average cycle time, or velocity.

There is also subjective (soft) data to consider which deals with team motivation, emotions, opinions, and feelings.

Phase 3 – Generate insights

The third phase is characterized by assessing the state of the issue. Note that it is not quite time for problem-solving. Instead, the team should discuss what changed and how the iteration came to be the way it is. 

Root cause analyses such as the Fishbone diagram or 5 Whys can be useful to narrow down a list of factors to two or three the team can focus on.

Otherwise, the team can ask themselves if it sees any patterns or surprises in the data and if so, what they signify. 

Before moving to the next phase, there must be consensus around the major factors at play.

Phase 4 – Decide on the next steps

In the fourth phase, the team takes what it has learned and incorporates them into a plan to move forward.

Most teams understand this process well because of a natural desire to come up with ideas that enable them to improve. 

To a lesser extent, however, some other teams will use this phase as an opportunity to complain and thus fail to identify actions that will lead to beneficial change.

These teams tend to see little value in retrospectives and may cease performing them entirely.

Frameworks such as Stop Start Continue can be used to brainstorm a list of potential actions.

These are subsequently analyzed in the Force Field Analysis to identify the strongest supporting and inhibiting factors for a change item.

Once a list has been assembled, the team can vote on a way forward with impact, effort, and energy mapping.

Phase 5 – Close the retrospective

The fifth and final phase should only last a few minutes. Consider this phase to be a retrospective of the retrospective. What worked? What didn’t? How could the team do better next time? Is there any constructive feedback for the facilitator?

Individual contributions should also be recognized and celebrated at this point. 

Main Free Guides:

Connected Analysis Frameworks

Cynefin Framework

The Cynefin Framework gives context to decision making and problem-solving by providing context and guiding an appropriate response. The five domains of the Cynefin Framework comprise obvious, complicated, complex, chaotic domains and disorder if a domain has not been determined at all.

SWOT Analysis

A SWOT Analysis is a framework used for evaluating the business’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It can aid in identifying the problematic areas of your business so that you can maximize your opportunities. It will also alert you to the challenges your organization might face in the future.

Personal SWOT Analysis

The SWOT analysis is commonly used as a strategic planning tool in business. However, it is also well suited for personal use in addressing a specific goal or problem. A personal SWOT analysis helps individuals identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Pareto Analysis

The Pareto Analysis is a statistical analysis used in business decision making that identifies a certain number of input factors that have the greatest impact on income. It is based on the similarly named Pareto Principle, which states that 80% of the effect of something can be attributed to just 20% of the drivers.

Failure Mode And Effects Analysis

A failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) is a structured approach to identifying design failures in a product or process. Developed in the 1950s, the failure mode and effects analysis is one the earliest methodologies of its kind. It enables organizations to anticipate a range of potential failures during the design stage.

Blindspot Analysis

A Blindspot Analysis is a means of unearthing incorrect or outdated assumptions that can harm decision making in an organization. The term “blindspot analysis” was first coined by American economist Michael Porter. Porter argued that in business, outdated ideas or strategies had the potential to stifle modern ideas and prevent them from succeeding. Furthermore, decisions a business thought were made with care caused projects to fail because major factors had not been duly considered.

Comparable Company Analysis

A comparable company analysis is a process that enables the identification of similar organizations to be used as a comparison to understand the business and financial performance of the target company. To find comparables you can look at two key profiles: the business and financial profile. From the comparable company analysis it is possible to understand the competitive landscape of the target organization.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

A cost-benefit analysis is a process a business can use to analyze decisions according to the costs associated with making that decision. For a cost analysis to be effective it’s important to articulate the project in the simplest terms possible, identify the costs, determine the benefits of project implementation, assess the alternatives.

Agile Business Analysis

Agile Business Analysis (AgileBA) is certification in the form of guidance and training for business analysts seeking to work in agile environments. To support this shift, AgileBA also helps the business analyst relate Agile projects to a wider organizational mission or strategy. To ensure that analysts have the necessary skills and expertise, AgileBA certification was developed.

SOAR Analysis

A SOAR analysis is a technique that helps businesses at a strategic planning level to: Focus on what they are doing right. Determine which skills could be enhanced. Understand the desires and motivations of their stakeholders.

STEEPLE Analysis

The STEEPLE analysis is a variation of the STEEP analysis. Where the step analysis comprises socio-cultural, technological, economic, environmental/ecological, and political factors as the base of the analysis. The STEEPLE analysis adds other two factors such as Legal and Ethical.

Pestel Analysis

The PESTEL analysis is a framework that can help marketers assess whether macro-economic factors are affecting an organization. This is a critical step that helps organizations identify potential threats and weaknesses that can be used in other frameworks such as SWOT or to gain a broader and better understanding of the overall marketing environment.

DESTEP Analysis

A DESTEP analysis is a framework used by businesses to understand their external environment and the issues which may impact them. The DESTEP analysis is an extension of the popular PEST analysis created by Harvard Business School professor Francis J. Aguilar. The DESTEP analysis groups external factors into six categories: demographic, economic, socio-cultural, technological, ecological, and political.

Paired Comparison Analysis

A paired comparison analysis is used to rate or rank options where evaluation criteria are subjective by nature. The analysis is particularly useful when there is a lack of clear priorities or objective data to base decisions on. A paired comparison analysis evaluates a range of options by comparing them against each other.

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