In Praise of Retrospectives

‘Don’t look back in anger’ I found myself singing in a karaoke bar in Tokyo earlier this year (Oasis forever). But actually looking back, or retrospectives, have become an important part of how I work.

In business we often search for ways to save time and deliver more quickly. When things get busy, it can be tempting to jump straight from one project to the next ticking those items triumphantly off our to-do lists. Yet if we don’t take the time to reflect on what we’ve achieved and how we work periodically, we may miss opportunities to refine our processes and become more efficient next time.

I first noted the value of retrospectives when working with one of our development teams. Their sprints culminated in a showcase of their work to stakeholders, which was followed by a retrospective with exercises to gauge the mood of the team, what was working well and what they wanted to improve. Giving them space to discuss these points seemed to help bond the group together and lead to action plans for what to focus on next time. I made a note to introduce them into more of my projects.

There are different ways to run retrospectives and they can provide a great addition to a workshop agenda. You could be asking a team to reflect on a specific project or the way they have been working for a period of time. My preferred approach is to ask two simple questions: What has gone well? and What could be improved? The group will be given time to write their answers individually on post-it notes, then we’ll stick them on the wall so we can discuss detail and themes. There is usually a nice rhythm of finding positive points to celebrate, getting negative points out on the table and using them as guidance for improvements we can make in future. I have also experimented with variations on this theme. One example is Speedboat (see Innovation Games) where an image of a speedboat is used to get the team thinking about the anchors holding them back and the propellers allowing them to move forward. Substitute for whatever image works. This exercise can fit well in strategy or planning sessions.

Another way in which regular reflection has added value is via our UX graduate placements. We run a graduate scheme where UX designers move to different business units after a fixed period. They summarise and present back the projects they have worked on, what they have learned and what they would like to improve. It always offers a fresh perspective and ideas for ways of working, and we steadily improve how we run our placements.

Finally on a personal level, I’ve been using 1 second everyday app this year on the recommendation of a team member. Each day you record one second of video footage, building up short clips of everyday life. I’ve remembered to do this most days in 2017 and each month I look back on what I did. It’s become a really useful reminder of the adventures, the challenges, the highs and lows. Just how much we manage to cram into our lives. And just how quickly it all becomes a blur. Those short moments of reflection are helping me to recognise how far I’ve come.

So take the time to reflect and give your teams the space to do so. You may be surprised by the results!