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.
Retrospective AnalysisDescriptionAnalysisImplicationsApplicationsExamples
1. Define the Objective (DO)Retrospective Analysis begins with clearly defining the objective or purpose of the analysis.– Define the specific event, project, or period to be analyzed retrospectively. – Identify the goals and objectives of conducting the retrospective analysis. – Establish the scope and boundaries of the analysis.– Ensures a clear understanding of what the analysis aims to achieve. – Sets the context and expectations for the retrospective process.– Analyzing the outcomes of a software development project. – Reviewing the performance of a product launch campaign.Objective Definition Example: Defining the objective to analyze the reasons for project delays.
2. Data Collection (DC)Collect relevant data and information related to the event, project, or period under analysis.– Gather data through various means such as project documentation, reports, team feedback, and surveys. – Ensure that data collection is systematic and includes all relevant details and timelines. – Preserve evidence and documentation related to the retrospective subject.– Provides a factual basis for analysis and helps in reconstructing the sequence of events. – Ensures that the analysis is based on accurate and comprehensive information.– Collecting project documentation and team feedback for a software development retrospective. – Gathering performance data and feedback for a marketing campaign review.Data Collection Example: Compiling project timelines, task completion records, and team feedback for a project retrospective.
3. Analysis and Reflection (AR)Analyze the collected data and engage in reflection to gain insights into the events or processes.– Examine the data to identify patterns, trends, and key observations related to the retrospective subject. – Encourage team discussions and reflections on what went well and what could be improved. – Use techniques like “SWOT” analysis to assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.– Provides insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the analyzed subject. – Facilitates open and constructive discussions among team members.– Analyzing project performance data to identify areas for improvement. – Reflecting on a sprint cycle to understand team dynamics and productivity.Analysis and Reflection Example: Identifying trends in customer feedback and team collaboration for a product launch retrospective.
4. Identify Key Insights (KI)Identify and distill key insights, lessons, and takeaways from the retrospective analysis.– Extract the most significant findings and lessons learned from the analysis. – Highlight actionable insights that can inform future decisions and improvements. – Document best practices and areas for enhancement based on the analysis.– Captures valuable knowledge and insights gained from the retrospective. – Provides actionable recommendations for continuous improvement.– Identifying key lessons from a project retrospective that can inform future project management practices. – Documenting best practices to enhance team collaboration based on a sprint retrospective.Key Insights Example: Extracting insights about product quality issues that impacted customer satisfaction during a review.
5. Recommendations (RC)Develop specific recommendations and action items based on the insights and lessons learned.– Specify actionable steps and recommendations to address weaknesses and capitalize on strengths. – Assign responsibilities, timelines, and priorities for implementing the recommendations. – Ensure that the recommendations align with the goals and objectives of the retrospective.– Provides a structured and comprehensive approach to addressing identified areas for improvement. – Facilitates accountability and follow-through on recommended actions.– Creating a project plan to address project management challenges identified in a retrospective. – Developing strategies to enhance product quality based on customer feedback.Recommendations Example: Specifying the steps to improve team communication and collaboration following a sprint retrospective.
6. Action Plan (AP)Develop a clear and actionable plan for implementing the recommendations and improvements.– Outline the steps required to execute each recommendation effectively. – Specify responsible individuals or teams for each action item. – Set timelines, milestones, and key performance indicators for tracking progress.– Ensures that the recommendations are translated into actionable plans with clear responsibilities. – Provides a roadmap for implementing changes and monitoring their impact.– Carrying out the steps to enhance project management practices following a project retrospective. – Implementing product quality improvement measures based on customer feedback recommendations.Action Plan Example: Developing a timeline and assigning responsibilities for implementing communication improvements following a retrospective.
7. Implementation (IM)Execute the action plan as outlined and monitor progress to ensure that corrective actions are carried out effectively.– Assign responsibilities to individuals or teams for each action item. – Track the progress of implementation and ensure adherence to timelines. – Communicate the status of corrective actions to relevant stakeholders.– Ensures that the action plan is executed effectively and within specified timelines. – Allows for real-time monitoring and adjustment of actions as needed.– Carrying out the steps to enhance project management practices following a project retrospective. – Implementing product quality improvement measures based on customer feedback recommendations.Implementation Example: Rolling out new project management processes and tools based on retrospective recommendations.
8. Evaluation (EV)Assess the effectiveness of the implemented recommendations and improvements in achieving the desired outcomes.– Measure and evaluate the impact of corrective actions on performance and outcomes. – Use data and performance indicators to assess the effectiveness of implemented changes. – Compare post-implementation results with pre-implementation data to verify improvement.– Determines whether the implemented changes have been successful in achieving the desired results. – Validates the effectiveness of the recommended actions and their impact on outcomes.– Assessing whether the new project management processes have improved project delivery. – Evaluating whether product quality has been enhanced based on customer feedback-driven improvements.Evaluation Example: Comparing team productivity and project delivery timelines before and after implementing recommended changes following a 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. 

Case Studies

  • Software Development Project:
    • Set the Stage: The team assembles in a conference room with post-it notes and markers ready. Everyone shares a word about their current feeling – “optimistic”, “curious”, “overwhelmed”.
    • Gather the Data: A review is presented on the number of bugs fixed, features developed, and user feedback received.
    • Generate Insights: The team identifies a recurring issue in code integration causing delays. They discuss patterns and realize that clearer documentation might have prevented misunderstandings.
    • Decide on the Next Steps: The team decides to allocate time for documentation updates and training sessions on the integration tool.
    • Close the Retrospective: Everyone agrees that communication needs improvement. They commit to more frequent check-ins and appreciate the QA team for their diligent testing.
  • Restaurant Opening:
    • Set the Stage: The restaurant staff gather after the first week of opening. The manager starts by expressing gratitude for everyone’s hard work.
    • Gather the Data: Customer feedback cards, sales data, and kitchen performance metrics are shared.
    • Generate Insights: The team notices that certain dishes have consistent negative feedback and service was slower during peak hours.
    • Decide on the Next Steps: The chef decides to tweak the recipes and the manager schedules additional staff during peak times.
    • Close the Retrospective: The team celebrates the successful dishes and events, and the waitstaff is praised for handling challenging customers gracefully.
  • Product Launch in Retail:
    • Set the Stage: The product team gathers in a calm environment, starting with a brief meditation to ensure focus.
    • Gather the Data: Sales figures, customer reviews, and stock levels are presented.
    • Generate Insights: The team identifies that while sales were good, restocking issues caused missed opportunities.
    • Decide on the Next Steps: A review of the supply chain process is planned, and a meeting with suppliers is set to ensure smoother stock replenishment.
    • Close the Retrospective: The marketing team is appreciated for a successful campaign, and the team commits to addressing supply chain hiccups.
  • Event Management – Annual Company Conference:
    • Set the Stage: The event team meets in a relaxed setting, opening the session with a fun ice-breaker game.
    • Gather the Data: Feedback from attendees, budget utilization, and event timeline adherence are discussed.
    • Generate Insights: The team observes that while the sessions were well-received, the registration process had bottlenecks causing delays.
    • Decide on the Next Steps: Plans to introduce a digital check-in process for next year and a dedicated team to handle on-the-spot queries are finalized.
    • Close the Retrospective: The team celebrates the successful sessions and guest speakers, and the logistics team is recognized for handling venue arrangements seamlessly.
  • Marketing Campaign for a New Beverage:
    • Set the Stage: The marketing team starts with a fun recap video of the campaign’s highlights.
    • Gather the Data: Metrics like audience reach, engagement rates, conversion rates, and feedback from influencers are discussed.
    • Generate Insights: The team acknowledges that while the online engagement was high, in-store conversions didn’t meet expectations.
    • Decide on the Next Steps: Plans to collaborate with retail partners for in-store promotions and sampling events are discussed.
    • Close the Retrospective: The creative team is praised for engaging content, and the team commits to aligning online and offline strategies better.

Key Highlights:

  • Retrospective Analyses: Held after a project or Agile iteration, they determine successes and areas for improvement.
  • Effective Agile Project Management: Retrospectives help check project team pulse, reflect on work, and plan for the next sprint cycle.
  • Five Phases of Retrospective Analysis:
    1. Set the Stage: Create a conducive atmosphere for reflection by checking the team’s mood and facilitating mental separation from previous tasks.
    2. Gather the Data: Define the scope of review and establish consensus on the facts to be discussed, including objective and subjective data.
    3. Generate Insights: Assess the situation, identify patterns, use root cause analyses, and reach a consensus on the major factors at play.
    4. Decide on the Next Steps: Develop a plan for improvement, brainstorm potential actions, analyze them, and vote on the best way forward.
    5. Close the Retrospective: Conduct a retrospective of the retrospective, evaluate what worked and what didn’t, recognize individual contributions, and offer constructive feedback.

Connected Analysis Frameworks

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.

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.

Business Valuation

Business valuations involve a formal analysis of the key operational aspects of a business. A business valuation is an analysis used to determine the economic value of a business or company unit. It’s important to note that valuations are one part science and one part art. Analysts use professional judgment to consider the financial performance of a business with respect to local, national, or global economic conditions. They will also consider the total value of assets and liabilities, in addition to patented or proprietary technology.

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.

Monte Carlo Analysis

The Monte Carlo analysis is a quantitative risk management technique. The Monte Carlo analysis was developed by nuclear scientist Stanislaw Ulam in 1940 as work progressed on the atom bomb. The analysis first considers the impact of certain risks on project management such as time or budgetary constraints. Then, a computerized mathematical output gives businesses a range of possible outcomes and their probability of occurrence.

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.

CATWOE Analysis

The CATWOE analysis is a problem-solving strategy that asks businesses to look at an issue from six different perspectives. The CATWOE analysis is an in-depth and holistic approach to problem-solving because it enables businesses to consider all perspectives. This often forces management out of habitual ways of thinking that would otherwise hinder growth and profitability. Most importantly, the CATWOE analysis allows businesses to combine multiple perspectives into a single, unifying solution.

VTDF Framework

It’s possible to identify the key players that overlap with a company’s business model with a competitor analysis. This overlapping can be analyzed in terms of key customers, technologies, distribution, and financial models. When all those elements are analyzed, it is possible to map all the facets of competition for a tech business model to understand better where a business stands in the marketplace and its possible future developments.

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.

Comparable 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.

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.

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.

Business Analysis

Business analysis is a research discipline that helps driving change within an organization by identifying the key elements and processes that drive value. Business analysis can also be used in Identifying new business opportunities or how to take advantage of existing business opportunities to grow your business in the marketplace.

Financial Structure

In corporate finance, the financial structure is how corporations finance their assets (usually either through debt or equity). For the sake of reverse engineering businesses, we want to look at three critical elements to determine the model used to sustain its assets: cost structure, profitability, and cash flow generation.

Financial Modeling

Financial modeling involves the analysis of accounting, finance, and business data to predict future financial performance. Financial modeling is often used in valuation, which consists of estimating the value in dollar terms of a company based on several parameters. Some of the most common financial models comprise discounted cash flows, the M&A model, and the CCA model.

Value Investing

Value investing is an investment philosophy that looks at companies’ fundamentals, to discover those companies whose intrinsic value is higher than what the market is currently pricing, in short value investing tries to evaluate a business by starting by its fundamentals.

Buffet Indicator

The Buffet Indicator is a measure of the total value of all publicly-traded stocks in a country divided by that country’s GDP. It’s a measure and ratio to evaluate whether a market is undervalued or overvalued. It’s one of Warren Buffet’s favorite measures as a warning that financial markets might be overvalued and riskier.

Financial Analysis

Financial accounting is a subdiscipline within accounting that helps organizations provide reporting related to three critical areas of a business: its assets and liabilities (balance sheet), its revenues and expenses (income statement), and its cash flows (cash flow statement). Together those areas can be used for internal and external purposes.

Post-Mortem Analysis

Post-mortem analyses review projects from start to finish to determine process improvements and ensure that inefficiencies are not repeated in the future. In the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK), this process is referred to as “lessons learned”.

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.

Root Cause Analysis

In essence, a root cause analysis involves the identification of problem root causes to devise the most effective solutions. Note that the root cause is an underlying factor that sets the problem in motion or causes a particular situation such as non-conformance.

Blindspot Analysis


Break-even Analysis

A break-even analysis is commonly used to determine the point at which a new product or service will become profitable. The analysis is a financial calculation that tells the business how many products it must sell to cover its production costs.  A break-even analysis is a small business accounting process that tells the business what it needs to do to break even or recoup its initial investment. 

Decision Analysis

Stanford University Professor Ronald A. Howard first defined decision analysis as a profession in 1964. Over the ensuing decades, Howard has supervised many doctoral theses on the subject across topics including nuclear waste disposal, investment planning, hurricane seeding, and research strategy. Decision analysis (DA) is a systematic, visual, and quantitative decision-making approach where all aspects of a decision are evaluated before making an optimal choice.

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.

STEEP Analysis

The STEEP analysis is a tool used to map the external factors that impact an organization. STEEP stands for the five key areas on which the analysis focuses: socio-cultural, technological, economic, environmental/ecological, and political. Usually, the STEEP analysis is complementary or alternative to other methods such as SWOT or PESTEL analyses.

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.

Activity-Based Management

Activity-based management (ABM) is a framework for determining the profitability of every aspect of a business. The end goal is to maximize organizational strengths while minimizing or eliminating weaknesses. Activity-based management can be described in the following steps: identification and analysis, evaluation and identification of areas of improvement.

PMESII-PT Analysis

PMESII-PT is a tool that helps users organize large amounts of operations information. PMESII-PT is an environmental scanning and monitoring technique, like the SWOT, PESTLE, and QUEST analysis. Developed by the United States Army, used as a way to execute a more complex strategy in foreign countries with a complex and uncertain context to map.

SPACE Analysis

The SPACE (Strategic Position and Action Evaluation) analysis was developed by strategy academics Alan Rowe, Richard Mason, Karl Dickel, Richard Mann, and Robert Mockler. The particular focus of this framework is strategy formation as it relates to the competitive position of an organization. The SPACE analysis is a technique used in strategic management and planning. 

Lotus Diagram

A lotus diagram is a creative tool for ideation and brainstorming. The diagram identifies the key concepts from a broad topic for simple analysis or prioritization.

Functional Decomposition

Functional decomposition is an analysis method where complex processes are examined by dividing them into their constituent parts. According to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK), functional decomposition “helps manage complexity and reduce uncertainty by breaking down processes, systems, functional areas, or deliverables into their simpler constituent parts and allowing each part to be analyzed independently.”

Multi-Criteria Analysis

The multi-criteria analysis provides a systematic approach for ranking adaptation options against multiple decision criteria. These criteria are weighted to reflect their importance relative to other criteria. A multi-criteria analysis (MCA) is a decision-making framework suited to solving problems with many alternative courses of action.

Stakeholder Analysis

A stakeholder analysis is a process where the participation, interest, and influence level of key project stakeholders is identified. A stakeholder analysis is used to leverage the support of key personnel and purposefully align project teams with wider organizational goals. The analysis can also be used to resolve potential sources of conflict before project commencement.

Strategic Analysis

Strategic analysis is a process to understand the organization’s environment and competitive landscape to formulate informed business decisions, to plan for the organizational structure and long-term direction. Strategic planning is also useful to experiment with business model design and assess the fit with the long-term vision of the business.

Related Strategy Concepts: Go-To-Market StrategyMarketing StrategyBusiness ModelsTech Business ModelsJobs-To-Be DoneDesign ThinkingLean Startup CanvasValue ChainValue Proposition CanvasBalanced ScorecardBusiness Model CanvasSWOT AnalysisGrowth HackingBundlingUnbundlingBootstrappingVenture CapitalPorter’s Five ForcesPorter’s Generic StrategiesPorter’s Five ForcesPESTEL AnalysisSWOTPorter’s Diamond ModelAnsoffTechnology Adoption CurveTOWSSOARBalanced ScorecardOKRAgile MethodologyValue PropositionVTDF FrameworkBCG MatrixGE McKinsey MatrixKotter’s 8-Step Change Model.

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