How to Facilitate Retrospectives in Scrum-based Continuous Learning

StrategyDriven Project Management Article | Scrum-based Continuous LearningFor the connoisseur of Agile project management, Scrum is undoubtedly shown up on your “To Do” list. First formulated as an Agile strategy to assist software development teams in pursuit of sustainable project initiatives, the method has since found roots in a number of cross-industry projects.

Now, for those relatively new to Agile, Scrum can be thought of as an empirically-oriented strategy of project management, delivering the highest-valued outcomes with a focus on fluid adaptation. It’s footprint is small; Scrum teams strive to reduce waste by organizing work in short bursts, typically two weeks in length. The method loves focus, commitment and introspection to influence adaptation.

To best pursue Scrum, a team has to use retrospectives. Retrospectives are a vital instrument that triggers actions and serves as the ideal launchpad to changing team behavior. Any team identifying Scrum as a strategy would be wise to consider how powerful retrospectives can change the face of their product outcomes with a self-aware and dynamic approach to project management.

So… what exactly is a retrospective?

For your Scrum team, a retrospective is conducted at the conclusion of an iteration. An iterations is a short project schedule, typically ranging between one and four weeks in length, with two weeks being ideal. Keeping iterations as short as possible is key to Scrum’s success; it’s all about avoiding dragging out poor performance strategies, which means minimizing the time they’re in use.

At the conclusion of these iteration cycles, teams are tasked with reflecting on observations during this time period. Specifically, teams are faced with a combination of hard data and anecdotes and asked to consider how well everyone worked together and what problems influenced their team and individual performance.

How do you hold an Agile retrospective?

The environment for the retrospective needs to feel like a safe, open discussion forum; it simply won’t work if team members don’t feel that there’s space to share what amounts to criticism. When looking to introduce the retrospective into your Agile/Scrum team, consider the five step method for conducting a retrospective:

1. Preparing Your Audience
2. Examining Team Data
3. Generate Powerful Insights
4. Create Workable Strategies
5. Work The Closer

Let’s delve further into each of these retrospective steps.

Preparing Your Audience

The retrospective meeting doesn’t have to take off at high speeds. Let your team warm up before diving into the substance of the meeting.

Throw out a question for the team and ask for a think/pair/share scheme; it’s a classic discussion method used by school teachers. Let your coworkers come up with their own answer to the question, which might be something like, “What’s one moment from this past iteration that sticks out as a true ‘lightbulb’ moment?”

They’ll then share with a partner, discuss together and bring to the bigger group. It’s a great way to gauge the room, gather further thoughts and navigate the direction of the retrospective.

Examining Team Data

There are a myriad of ways to structure a retrospective on data and produce hyper-efficient results, and there really isn’t any single perfect approach. With that said, let’s think about some general ways that can serve as launch points for obtaining data.

A common method to think about is the sailboat method. Think of it like this: the wind that pushes the boat ahead represents items in the data that assist the team in performing well. Anchors are pulling the team down, keeping them from forging onward in their pursuit. Organizing data into these columns, wind and anchors, will help the team think visually about what metrics can be pinpointed as an absolute success and what needs improvement.

Retrospectives also don’t have to be too quantitative in terms of the data points, or even discussing about areas of improvement. Consider a method called “Success Criteria”. This strategy centers around clearing up what the intentions are as a unit and targeting outcomes and results for success. You plan for the success of a goal, but you also try to prep by thinking ahead about what total and complete failure could look like. You list out your intentions in precise terms and what the target is for a project, and by considering the worst-case scenario, you’re able to minimize being caught off guard.

Generate Powerful Insights

After you’ve assembled your data, it’s time for the main event: the discussion. Get ready to bundle up problems, ideas and opportunities in a way where actionable measures can be taken.

An Affinity Map is a key Scrum retrospective technique for insights. Take one post-it with an idea and put it in a group; grab a second and decide if it belongs in the same group. Once the groups are formed, attach names to the groups and decide which post-its are most important, taking note of how big the clusters are and the overall themes of the notes.

Create Workable Strategies

In this final step, you’ll think get to move forward with actionables. Use the method of “Start, Stop and Continue” originally brought forward by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen.

Draw three sections (Start, Stop, and Continue), and place clusters from the Affinity Map in these headers. Give each person a dot to vote on most crucial items, and pick the ones with the most votes to make an actionable decision on. Reflect on feasibility and consider the short and long-term.

Work The Closer

It’s the end of the line! Closings can be underestimated and skipped over, but don’t fall for that. There are a ton of ways to close the meeting out that are forward-looking and positive, from sharing final reflections to ending on a powerful quote gathered during the retrospective itself.

Use the closer as an opportunity to garner self-reflective feedback. It’s a bit meta, but that’s the power of Agile and Scrum. It cuts through to serve as a focal point by which we can address all matters of progress within a forward-thinking environment.

About the Author

StrategyDriven Project Management Article | Scrum-based Continuous LearningAs chief evangelist, Lean-Agile strategy at Planview and former co-founder of LeanKit, Jon Terry helps enterprises around the globe discover how to increase effectiveness, optimize processes, and deliver value faster with Lean-Agile principles. Jon actively seeks to raise awareness of the benefits of Kanban and visual project management and is a highly sought-after presenter within the Lean-Agile community. In addition, Jon has been a leader in Agile transformations for some of the largest organizations in North America, including hospital-giant HCA Healthcare and its subsidiary, HealthTrust Purchasing Group. Jon earned his Global Executive MBA from Georgetown University and ESADE Business School in Barcelona, Spain.

Connect with Jon Terry –

Why Do Good Projects Go Bad?

StrategyDriven Project Management Article‘Why do good projects go bad?’ – This seems to be a question a lot of project managers end up asking themselves. This blog post presents some of the most common project management mistakes made by companies all over the world. By being aware of these issues, you will be able to increase your chances of success with all future projects.

An organisational culture that is not ready for project management

A lot of companies initiate project management when their organisational culture is not ready for it. For instance, individuals are given special project assignments, yet they are not given the resources, training and/or tools to execute them. Such a project culture is extremely unproductive and can lead to a significant loss of money. Nevertheless, the losses are not only monetary; customer retention rates are likely to drop as well. All leading project management consultants in the UK will tell you that preparation is the key to success.

Resisting change

Yes, no one wants to make changes to a project halfway through it. However, you are going to be one of the luckiest people on the planet if you get through a project successfully without any changes at all. Projects change all of the time. The best project managers and teams know how to adapt to this efficiently.

Not planning sufficiently

When it comes to managing a project, there is simply no getting around planning, no matter how tedious or boring you may find it. Frustration will kick in without proper planning, as you will end up missing project objectives, falling short of deliverables, exceeding the scope of the project, running over budget, and missing the deadline. This is because there will not be a clear definition of overall goals, what you need to achieve, who has what role, and what they are responsible for. Planning will increase efficiency considerably, and there will be a much better chance of meeting the expectations of the stakeholders.

Being exclusive

Another big error you can make, which could cost you your career in project management, is opting to be exclusive. This type of attitude can cause risks to crop in, as it generates a situation whereby team culture is fraught with animosity and trust. There will be a disconnect between you and the team, and this is something that is very difficult to rebuild.

Failure to acknowledge employee performance

Failure to recognise employee work performance through a project review is another common mistake made. The probability of your project being a success will fall if you do not recognise, assess and appropriately reward the work of your employees. You need to get everyone on the team behind the project. Often, employee job performance only reflects the work carried out in accordance to the individual’s job description, and therefore work assigned on a project is rarely assessed. This can cause employees to treat the project as secondary in importance. Therefore, make sure each individual’s role is clear and tell each person how his or her contribution will be evaluated.

Having a know-it-all attitude

This is something that will get you nowhere. In fact, even experienced project managers could benefit from project management training from time to time. Plus, when you can do any sort of training or degree online today, even an MBA study, there is no excuse for not expanding your knowledge or the knowledge of your team. There is always room for learning and growth, and indeed possible error. A lot of project managers get it into their head that they know everything because of their significant amount of responsibility and leadership. However, this attitude can hinder projects, as team members will not receive you very well and you will struggle to get them behind you. In addition, it is not only about learning in terms of doing different training courses and advancing your skill set. It is also about acknowledging any mistakes that have been made in previous projects and learning from these for the future.

Having too many projects in production at the same time

A lot of project managers make the mistake of thinking that it is more productive to start all projects at once. However, the opposite is true. If you have too many projects in production at the same time it is counterproductive. Why? Multitasking leads to a lack of quality and slows people down. Moreover, delays caused will intensify and multiply through the organisation, as individuals further down the line must wait for others to complete prerequisite tasks.

Not having a metric in place to define success

This is another big mistake that a lot of businesses make today when it comes to their projects. After all, how are you supposed to know if your project is heading down the right path if you cannot define success because you do not have any metrics in place? You need to have a clear vision of what the end user is going to be satisfied with and you need to outline relevant goals. If you do not do this, no one is going to have a collective, clear, and consistent understanding of what counts as project success.

Being inflexible and setting overly optimistic timelines

Flexibility is imperative when implementing any project. A lot of project managers make the error of providing overly optimistic timelines and being inadaptable with project tasks and assignments. Don’t turn away new information. Listen to suggestions and be flexible in achieving your goals. When it comes to timelines, be realistic. Missed deadline after missed deadline will only cause further aggravation and distrust on the part of your client.

Setting your project up for failure

There are also a lot of businesses and project managers that set the project up for failure before it has even begun. They do this because they provide deadlines and timelines that are overly optimistic. Yes, you want to lure the client in. But if you do so under false pretenses, it will only backfire in the end.

Not communicating with stakeholders and team members regularly

When you take any project management courses, one of the first things you will learn about is the importance of communicating regularly. In regards to your team, they will feel a lack of leadership and direction if you do not converse with them on a frequent basis. Moreover, executives and stakeholders can lose faith in your ability to make and execute sound judgments.

Failure to seek expert advice

Finally, if your project is failing, don’t be afraid to seek expert help. An outside perspective is always a welcomed one. Often we are determined to put the issues right ourselves, but when you become so involved in a project it can be extremely difficult to see where the real problems lie. A leading project management consultancy will review and troubleshoot your project to ensure it gets back on track and you achieve your goals.

As you can see, there are many different reasons why good projects go bad. Some of the errors that have been mentioned above relate to individual project manager mistakes. Some of them relate to business errors as a whole. Either way, they can all have a negative impact on your projects, which is why it is important to avoid going down these routes.

How Agile Project Management Can Improve Your B2B Business

StrategyDriven Project Management ArticleAgile project management can seem to be complex and daunting to undertake but it doesn’t need to be. The key principles are the same as with traditional project management; organisation and planning must be undertaken before a project begins and then the project must be continually managed throughout to ensure it is being completed in the most efficient way. The difference is that agile management is specifically targeted at adapting the project as it progresses, ensuring the end result is more successful and meets the changing demands of the business or customer. As such, agile management can be extremely beneficial for B2B businesses.

Better Results

The success of projects is dependent on various factors, some of which are beyond the control your business. However, those elements which can be controlled should be carefully managed to ensure the success of your project. Agile management will take project management one step further. By breaking each stage of the project into separate components for completion, there is more potential to make changes to the project as it progresses. This can ensure that end result of the project meets the needs of the business. It also reduces the number of failed projects or projects which exceed their deadline.

Working Faster

Agile project management is a good way to increase the pace of your work. The careful planning of each stage of a project means that employees should have a clear indication of every action and step they need to take to ensure the project is completed. Although there is room for adaptation and flexibility, the general pace of competition should be much quicker. Agile management should enjoy workers productivity levels as there is more room for their input as the project progresses, enabling them to work in a much more efficient manner.

Keeping Up With Trends

A significant benefit of agile project management is that it enables businesses to keep up-to-date with the latest trends in technology and marketing or even software updates. These areas are constantly changing and developing, so being able to implement a new idea in the middle of a project without disrupting the schedule too significantly is essential.


Agile project management enables regular feedback to be given on each stage of a project. This feedback can come from both the project manager overseeing the completion of a project and from the stakeholders. It also offers more opportunity for collaborative feedback, which improves communication between members of the team and allows them to raise any issues before they become a significant cause for concern.

Agile project management can require a significant change within a B2B business. It can be difficult to engage employees with a new method of working. However, this is a worthwhile undertaking for many businesses and can improve the success rate of your projects and your business as a whole.

Enroll in agile courses to learn more about the techniques involved, from communication to prioritisation, and how these can benefit your business.

Top Project Management Challenges

Did you know that organizations lose $109 million for every $1 billion invested in projects and programs? It’s a staggering number to consider, and even more shocking, it’s due in part to the fact that over the last year, less than a third of all projects were successfully completed on time and on budget.

Ask any project manager, and you’ll hear that one of the top problems that they face is a high tolerance for failure. Extending due dates, forgetting tasks and cost overruns are so common that they are considered a part of the process. However, we certainly do not extend the same liberty to other professions like engineers, doctors and pilots.

A high performing project manager needs a way to track projects from start to finish, get the team on board to work together towards a common goal and get more done on time and under budget. Excel spreadsheets and emails are two ways to accomplish this, but most managers should use a project management methodology to stay on task.

Hi there! This article is available for free. Login or register as a StrategyDriven Personal Business Advisor Self-Guided Client by:

Subscribing to the Self Guided Program - It's Free!


About the Author

Fred MouawadFred Mouawad is a global citizen, serial and portfolio entrepreneur, and founder of Synergia One Group of Companies and CEO of Taskworld. He has expertise in building comprehensive management systems that are based on direct experience, academic research, ISO standards, and Lean Six Sigma. In his free time, Fred likes snow skiing, jet skiing, motorcycling, and scuba diving.

5 Early Warning Signals for a BPI Project

Can you recognize the early warning signals that derail a business process improvement project? Many articles have been written about what makes process improvement projects fail and usually they list critical success factors. But the real question is how do you recognize the leading indicators in a process? And once you identify those signals what action should you take to cure the ill and get the process back on track or put a halt to the project altogether?

Let’s look at the stages of the BPM Methodology and identify early warning signals and then suggest some countermeasures that are helpful to get things righted again.

BPM Process Methodology

This graphic shows the four stages of the BPM Methodology and the detailed phases of stage 2, the Business Process Improvement Project.

The first early warning signal is in Stage 1, Process Selection, or choosing which process to work on. It’s not that there is one right process to work on first but the choice of a poor project creates many challenges that often lead to a bad name for the whole concept of business process management. The wrong process choice is usually from three circumstances:

  1. Starting with an enterprise project with several cross-functional stakeholder groups participating.
  2. Choosing a project where a single Executive Sponsor cannot be designated and it needs two to three Process Owners.
  3. Starting with a project that requires a different culture than the organization currently has. This would be the case if the culture was authoritarian and it tried to use employee process improvement teams.

The answer to these warning signals is don’t start with a large enterprise process projects without the necessary leaders, and a culture to support it. Instead start smaller, with a key sub process, with leadership and a culture in that function or business unit that support employees working together and understanding how to look at a process and use data, diagrams, and the voice of the customer to improve it.

In the Chartering and Staffing phase of the BPI project there are many critical success factors (It is the beginning of the project! Get it right and you are off to a good start, but get it wrong and you’ll create numerous problem areas). Let me discuss two factors:

The Project Charter

Below are four early warning signals that can come up during the charter process.

  1. Having no charter. Maybe this happens because the BPM professional staff or IT knows this process needs working on and just begins trying to improve it. There is no written charter, and minimal involvement of the business executives in defining the improvement goals.
  2. No baseline measures. Without baseline measures, there is no quantitative data to see how critical this problem is, as well as data to see what the current values are and what kind of goal values should be set for the improvement.
  3. Uncommitted leadership. There is no Process Owner who is designated and steps up to guide this effort, setting the goals, vision, measures, scope, and selecting and providing the necessary team resources. Or the Process Owner has limited time for the team and moves onto other initiatives.
  4. Overburdened team members. Several team members says they have too many other projects and will not be able to devote time to this additional BPI project.

What can you do in these situations?

  1. If there is no charter, stop and develop one. Go back and do it. Write it down, put it in the Shared Repository and keep using it and iterating it as the project moves along. If the company has a real anathema to charters, don’t call it a charter, but gather the elements, and name the file something else, or put it in Blueworks Live in the appropriate fields as part of the project overall.
  2. Once you have the improvement goals for the project they will need measures. So name the appropriate measurement categories and then gather the real baseline data. It doesn’t have to be for the past three years; make it simple. But it may take some manual work this first time because process measures are not automated in most companies today.
  3. If you have uncommitted leadership, stop. Get different leadership, but make sure they have the responsibility for the process. Or, pick a different process where there is the appropriate Process Owner with commitment to the BPI project. Uncommitted leadership is a big stumbling block –not worth investing in.
  4. Overburdened team members are usually a sign of a larger problem—the company has too many priorities and keeps adding more assignments without taking some items off the plate. Team members can be ‘conscripted’ to join the team, but if they really do not have time to work on the BPI they will soon start voting with their feet and just not coming to working sessions. So reconsider if this is the right process at this time. Maybe another process where the employees are not so stretched would be better. If just one or two team members are overburdened, it may be possible to find good alternates, but if there are several, don’t start this BPI project.

These are important leading indicators that the process is in trouble. Take the early warning signals as valid information, have a discussion with the appropriate leaders, especially the Process Owner and take action. Otherwise your BPI project could drag on, probably getting weaker, and not moving toward success.

About the Author

Shelley SweetShelley Sweet, the Founder and President of I4 Process, and author of The BPI Blueprint, is a highly respected BPM Practitioner. She provides consultation, workshops and training programs for clients ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, educational institutions, and government organizations. Her programs are based on a unique 3-PEAT method of modeling processes and analyzing data that accelerates operational improvements, and builds leaders and employees who sustain operational excellence. Want to learn more about BPM metrics? Email Shelley at: [email protected]