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Methodologies & Frameworks
How to: Make process change happen using project retrospectives

So you’ve just run a retrospective at the end of your project and you have a good amount of feedback about your processes, your team, and your project itself. Now what?

As project managers, we have access to and observe a lot of data about our teams, processes, and projects throughout the course of our days. It can be hard to put all of this information to good use when we’re receiving it in such volumes. This is especially true after project retrospectives. Retrospectives allow us to look back on our projects and our teamwork to understand what we did well, where we can improve, and what we all took away from the project as a whole. These debriefs can be both educational and therapeutic—and almost always result in a lot of data. So how can we make sure we filter and utilize all of this information in the best ways to improve and grow our processes?

Making changes can be difficult, but starting from the ground up and slowly improving what we have within our control is the easiest way to noticeably make a difference with the feedback that we have.

Here are five things you can do to start making process changes after project retrospectives:

1. Conduct a process inventory and map the retrospective feedback to this

While this might seem like a large endeavor, it doesn’t have to be. Look at things from a high level and take a look at the path your project took across your team and any others, from kickoff to launch. What teams and skills were involved in ideating and executing this project? Were there many collaborations across teams, or was it somewhat independent across teams? Did it fit within existing planning/design/development/launch processes, or was there something unique or new about it? What did success look like when being handed off from phase to phase, or team to team? Were there any sticking points in these internal handoffs? Were these handoffs well-defined, or were they new and unique in some way?

Understanding what the project path looked like from the inside out allows you to see the bird’s eye view of where project feedback might be most applicable. Look at the feedback received during the project retrospective, and map that information to each stage of the project process that it applies to. This starts to clarify any patterns for improvement between sticking points, team handoff processes, project stages, or general project roles.

2. Define and create a check-in schedule to monitor project improvements

In your retrospective, you’ve talked about things you can do better or differently next time. But who owns that? How can it be managed and remembered?

[Tweet “Find ways to incorporate these improvement suggestions into habitual check-ins. #dpm #webpm”]

Decide on a way to regularly check-in with yourself and your team on the next project to continue keeping these changes in mind. That might mean a scheduled mid-project check-in the next time around, an automated survey sent out via Slackbot from time to time, or a written update weekly with your team members, or something else. Whatever it is that works for your team, the goal is to find ways to incorporate these improvement suggestions into habitual check-ins as you take on new projects.

3. Find a way to measure progress

Sure, identifying issues and checking in together is great. It gives you a way to move towards improvements and communicate together to keep these improvements in mind. But how do you know if real change is being made if you don’t have a way to measure success?

[Tweet “Creating measurable goals add a way to transparently monitor the progress of these changes over time. #dpm #webpm”]

Framing your goals as a team in a measurable manner helps you and your team know whether you’ve set an intention with your goal, and whether you’ve succeeded at achieving the goal—or how much is needed in order to get to that point. Attaching meaningful modifiers to your goals in the form of numbers, percentages, or majorities can help. Instead of saying “We should communicate more at certain points during a project”, you can say “We will meet as a team once every 2 weeks to review progress, blockers, timeline, and budget.” Creating measurable goals add a way to transparently monitor the progress of these changes over time—and you’ll see a much better return in success.

4. Be transparent about goals and ask for help

Almost every project and team has an improvement that can (or should) affect another department, level, or range of expertise from yours. You can use that to your advantage when improving your team’s processes and defining goals to work towards on future projects. Creating transparency into your process will help others hold you accountable, and can even create a framework for other teams to improve their processes or intersecting communications alongside your team.

[Tweet “Fostering transparency into your process improvements can help to shed light on further improvements. #dpm #webpm”]

Let other team leads know what you’re doing and state your goals. Ask other teams if you can work with them to better understand the parts of your team’s processes that require their collaboration, or ask advice from coworkers in other positions with different perspectives from yours. Share what you’re measuring, and how you’re measuring, and celebrate successes as an organization as you complete measurable goals. Fostering transparency into your process improvements can help to shed light on further improvements, and also larger successes, as you see how this affects the other teams you interact with on projects.

5. Stay small to avoid being overwhelmed

While this might seem at odds with the rest of this somewhat intense advice, take this to heart: change takes time. It’s difficult. It can become overwhelming if not looked at in tiny steps. Meaningful changes to your processes starts with a commitment to small steps. You will never be able to overhaul a whole process all at once, successfully and consistently.

[Tweet “Meaningful changes to your processes starts with a commitment to small steps. #dpm #webpm”]

Instead, we need to come from a place of constant iteration, tweaking, and deep knowledge of what we do. So don’t let yourself or your team get overwhelmed by the feeling or need that EVERYTHING must change. Keep goals and process changes small, light, and manageable. It’ll make the success of those changes sticking that much sweeter.

What do you think?

Do you have a strong retrospective success story? Share it with us and let us know how you’ve been able to make small changes in a big way at your organization.

By Natalie Semczuk

Natalie is a consulting digital project manager working remotely and living in the Southwest US. Her work focuses on helping small-to-medium size agencies and in-house web departments manage digital projects, clients services, and implement processes that help design and development teams work better together. She also specializes in implementing project systems across remote teams. Natalie runs the PM Reactions blog and enjoys dystopian fiction, yoga, and drinking too much coffee. Find her elsewhere on Twitter @talkanatalka or her site,

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