What Is a Project Retrospective? (With Importance and Steps)

By Indeed Editorial Team

November 15, 2021

After executing a project, it's important for a team to analyze its results to learn how to improve performance. To accomplish this, a project team may hold retrospective meetings in which they evaluate various aspects of the project. Understanding a project retrospective meeting can help you plan and execute both present and future projects effectively. In this article, we discuss what a project retrospective meeting is, explore its benefits, and explain how to conduct an effective meeting.

What is a project retrospective?

A project retrospective meeting may occur at the end of a project and can allow team members to discuss the project and evaluate its success. The meeting may aim to help the project team understand their strengths and weaknesses during project implementation to improve future performance and determine which strategies to avoid or repeat. During a retrospective meeting, the team can evaluate project tools, resources, processes, and personnel. Under the guidance of the project leader, the team can ask the following critical questions about the project:

  • What was the initial goal? This question can help remind the team of what they intended to achieve when they began the project. It may serve as a standard against which the team can evaluate the project's success.

  • What was the outcome? You can ask this question to assess the results the team achieved with the project. The project outcome may indicate how effectively the team worked together.

  • What worked well? This question can help the team identify and analyze their most successful strategies, processes, or tools. It involves determining which aspects of the project met the team's expectations.

  • What can the team improve? By evaluating the impact of challenges the team encountered during the project, they can learn what to improve in the next implementation. They can consider improvements to processes, tools, or strategies used in the project.

  • What is the new strategy? This is typically the final question in a retrospective project meeting and involves making a plan for the future. The team may combine insights from the previous questions to create an effective strategy for future projects.

Related: Essential Project Manager Technical Skills

Benefits of a retrospective project meeting

Here are some of the potential benefits of a retrospective project meeting:

Improves morale

Retrospective project meetings can allow team members to review experiences from the project's execution. During such meetings, the team usually acknowledges members with outstanding performances. This can motivate team members to perform better and improve their morale. Retrospective project meetings may also allow team leaders to receive their team members' feedback on the project. They can use this opportunity to communicate respect for their team members, which may also improve team morale. A team with high morale may be more likely to stay dedicated to tasks despite challenges, leading to increased productivity.

Related: How to Motivate Employees

Promotes team building

A retrospective project meeting is also an opportunity to evaluate team performance. During such meetings, members can provide each other with constructive criticism. By discussing each other's strengths and weaknesses, team members can improve their professional skills. Similarly, retrospective project meetings may allow teams to discuss their work structure and relationships. Through such discussions, the team can better understand each member's working style and boundaries. This can lead to more effective collaboration, as the team may develop more efficient work processes that address each member's needs.

Encourages transparency and accountability

These meetings can also encourage team accountability, as team members can analyze the project equally. During a retrospective project meeting, the team can discuss the roles, responsibilities, and performance of each member. They can also review how each team member managed resources during the project and the impact of those decisions, potentially leading to improvements in efficiency. Maintaining transparency in these meetings may lead to more open communication and mutual trust in the team.

Improves team performance

Team members can also use retrospective project meetings to evaluate each other's performance and identify possible improvements they can make in the future. They can evaluate the effectiveness of their strategies, processes, tools, and resources to gain insights into the best use of each that may inform future strategies. Retrospective project meetings can lead to more effective collaboration and more effective team performance overall.

Helps create team strategy

Conducting multiple retrospective project meetings can help team members track relevant data over a longer period to more effectively evaluate previous strategies and create a new plan. They can then use this knowledge to optimize their strategies or decide confidently when to explore new ones. For example, a team launching a clothing line may learn through a retrospective meeting that their company's sales typically decline at specific times of the year. Knowing this, they may choose to introduce a new line during those periods or reduce production temporarily to increase total annual profits.

How to conduct a retrospective project meeting

Here are the steps you can follow to conduct a retrospective project meeting:

1. Create a project report

A detailed project report can help guide a retrospective project meeting. It may contain all relevant facts in one location, making it easy for the team to reference during the meeting. This report can help ensure that the team remembers the most important aspects of the project. An effective project report may contain details about the project's work processes, achievements, challenges, and financing. You can also include information about each team member and their respective roles. Consider making copies of the project report available to everyone on the team before the meeting.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Report Writing

2. Schedule the meeting

Scheduling is another important aspect of a retrospective project meeting. By choosing a convenient schedule, you can help ensure maximum attendance and participation from team members. You may arrange the meeting's schedule well ahead of its date to allow the team members enough time to plan. Asking which time is most convenient for them can help you create an optimal schedule. You can also start sharing the meeting schedule several days ahead of the meeting date to give all team members sufficient time to prepare.

3. Invite all team members

After scheduling the meeting, you may inform all team members by sending communication through the team's regular channels. You can also send regular reminders to help ensure nobody forgets about the meeting. It's important for your invitation to be clear about the time and location of the meeting. Including a summary of the meeting's agenda in your invitation can help team members prepare any materials they may use in the meeting. It can also be helpful to send the invitations personally, helping to ensure that each person receives them.

4. Welcome everyone to the meeting

Begin the retrospective project meeting positively by welcoming all team members to the meeting. If they haven't met each other yet, you can introduce yourself and ask everyone to do the same. You can also start the meeting with a casual conversation to help establish a relaxed atmosphere. Depending on how long the meeting is, consider serving some light snacks. This can help everyone stay focused and energized throughout the meeting.

5. Review the project

After beginning the meeting, you can use some of the following methods to conduct a project review:

  • Open discussions: You can use open discussions for a project review when leading a small- or medium-sized team. With this approach, the team lead can guide the discussion and allow team members to take turns speaking.

  • Share reports: This method makes it easier to discuss very complex projects. The team lead may share copies of the project report with the rest of the team, which everyone can reference during the meeting to stay updated on key details.

  • Create a shared timeline: Under this method, team members may collaborate to create a shared timeline and analyze the project based on it.

6. Discuss the project's accomplishments

Team leaders can also use a retrospective project meeting to discuss the project's most effective methods and positive outcomes. Members of the team can highlight the most and least effective work processes, tools, and strategies used, and the team leader can compare this with their own insights. Highlighting the project's strengths and potential inefficiencies can help the team determine what to include in future strategies.

Related: Create an Effective Work Plan for a Successful Project (With Template)

7. Create a plan for future projects

The major aim of a retrospective project meeting is to help teams develop more effective strategies for the future. After highlighting the project's strengths and weaknesses, the team can use that insight to create a modified strategy. As this strategy incorporates knowledge from previous projects, it reduces the risk of encountering the same problems.