“Practice makes a man perfect“.
“Persistence is the key to success“.
“Through practice even an idiot can become wiser“.
These are all great sayings !
Sadly they don’t hold good if you are practicing or persisting with a wrong thing.
In such cases be assured that success, perfection, wisdom or whatever you are seeking will remain elusive.
The project planning and execution practices, which you may have got used to and are comfortable with, may not necessarily be the right way and the only way to project success.
So how will you know which is the “right way” ?
By regularly and frequently “Inspecting” your ways of working and “Adapting” them to appropriately address the prevailing project situation.
This is what will set you on the right direction and on the right track to success.
The practice of “Inspecting and Adapting” is also recognized in one of the Agile Software Development principles which states “At regular intervals,the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”
Don’t you think that it is an universal principle that makes sense in every aspect of our lives both at the individual level and at the social level?
Then why should our projects be an exception ?
Irrespective of the software development lifecycle (whether the classic Waterfall or the emerging Agile) followed by your project, the practice of regularly taking a hard look at your way of working and continuously improving them is a must for the success of your current and forthcoming projects.
How do we ingrain this practice in our projects?
By performing a ritual called “Retrospective” at every significant milestone - at the end of a phase; at the end of an iteration; after the release of of a product version; after project completion; after project cancellation.
It is quite natural that once you cross a significant project milestone you feel like taking a well deserved break instead of participating in a retrospective.
I find, this is one reason (there are many more !) why many projects either do not conduct retrospectives or pay a lip-service to it by going through the motions without active engagement of the team members.
But do they realize what they are losing out?
If you compromise on retrospectives, you have lost an opportunity to
a) bring your stakeholders and team members together to share their experiences, to celebrate the project accomplishments and to appreciate each other for the job well done
b) build cooperation within your team and with multiple external teams and groups
c) look back and reflect on your mistakes and learn from it so that in future you sweat and bleed a lot lesser in a project
d) look ahead and plan a fresh approach for the next project or the next phase, iteration or release of the same project
Having raved about the retrospectives so far, let me also caution you that, a retrospective is a double-edged sword.
If you do not manage it well it will turn out to be nothing more than complaining, blaming and finger-pointing game that can even become hostile.
If you do not make at the minimum an honest and sincere attempt to implement the action items for improvement you identify during the retrospective sessions you are sowing the seeds of cynicism and indifference among the team and the stakeholders.
You can reap the benefits of a retrospective only if it is well structured, well managed and the action items arising out of it are tracked to closure. Effective facilitation of the retrospective sessions can ensure this.
Retrospectives are sacrosanct !
It is perhaps the most important step a project can take towards encouraging and motivating continuous improvement especially in a dynamically changing and competitive business environment.
So don’t ever compromise on Retrospectives !