Feedback is a primary value at Thought Ensemble. Here, we strive to provide each other with timely and actionable feedback in order to reinforce positive behavior and help each other grow professionally. The point of a project retrospective is the same: to provide positive and constructive feedback on how the project went in order to improve project success in the future. During a retrospective, you discuss important topics, such as project scope, team cohesiveness, and how well training and/or communication prepared end users for any changes related to the project.

I spent some time at a recent client providing Project Management services, and one of my responsibilities with the client was to facilitate and document project retrospective meetings for all of the Project Managers on the team. It could have been the candy we brought or the excitement of a project well-done, but these meetings were among the most enjoyable and refreshing meetings I held throughout the project cycle. Due to the environment of trust that we had built through the project cycle and previous retrospective meetings, the attendees were happy to celebrate the project successes and share constructive criticism that they knew would be heard, considered, and acted upon if appropriate.

In order for a project retrospective to be valuable it has to be meaningful, otherwise it becomes just another burdensome meeting and a potential waste of time. Here are three key ways to make project retrospectives meaningful:

Build Fun into the Meeting

Keep in mind that your participants just worked very hard to complete the project and are now being asked to come together and revisit it. Rather than making this yet another project-related meeting, consider turning it into a bit of a project celebration as well. Bring in cookies, create a list of things that went well to highlight during the meeting, and if possible highlight the results of the project (demo the end product, bring in a quote from a thrilled customer, etc.).

Create an Environment Where Ideas Can Flow

When planning your retrospective meeting, consider ways to make your participants more willing to share their opinions. This might include holding separate meetings with leadership so that individual contributors feel less intimidated. Or maybe holding separate meetings with members who are less likely to speak up in a group situation. You might also consider having people write down their ideas in advance of discussing them as a group so that others’ thoughts do not sway theirs.

Prove That Feedback is Valued

Once you’ve gathered the feedback, your next challenge will be to incorporate the suggestions to improve your Project Management process, skillset, and toolkit. I would recommend breaking these suggestions into “quick wins” and “more difficult tasks” so that you can show immediate progress while at the same time addressing larger improvements. Doing this quickly will show your project teams that you listened, valued their feedback, and took action. As you build trust and the expectation that retrospective meetings are valued and acted upon, you will begin to notice more support and enthusiasm for them.

We’d love to hear your thoughts! What has worked for you in planning and facilitating a project retrospective? What were some key actions you took based on the outcome of a project retrospective meeting?