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Volume 17, Issue 9;   March 1, 2017: Yet More Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why

Yet More Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why

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Last updated: August 8, 2018

Part III of our catalog of obstacles encountered in retrospectives, when we try to uncover why we succeeded — or failed.
Rosemary Woods, President Richard Nixon's personal secretary

Rosemary Woods (1917-2005), President Richard Nixon's secretary from his days as a Con­gres­sional rep­resen­tative, through the end of his political career. During the investigation into the Watergate scandal, she testified before a Grand Jury. She demonstrated during that testimony how she inadvertently erased five minutes of the infamous 18 1/2 minute gap in the tape recording of the President's June 20, 1972, conversations. Her demonstration was then, and is now, widely regarded as not credible. In any case, it is an example of destruction of evidence. Interestingly, President Nixon or his representatives exploited all of the techniques described in this article, though, the article was based on behavior observed in association with retrospectives. Photo courtesy Wikimedia.

We conduct retrospectives so that we might learn. We want to improve our process by identifying what worked and what did not and why or why not. But some people are not so motivated. Some fear that if the truth comes out about something that didn't work, they might suffer in some way, and they could be right. Others believe that if the truth comes out about something that did work, a rival of theirs might benefit. They might not want that to happen.

For whatever reason, there might be among the attendees those who don't want the retrospective to uncover certain facts. Here's a short catalog of techniques available to these, um, individuals.

Scheduling obstinacy
Even when we don't meet face-to-face for the retrospective, we do usually try to have all parties present at once, if only electronically. We do this because discussion and collaborative exploration of everyone's recollections of what happened can rapidly generate insight and understanding.
Anyone intent on limiting the group's ability to find those insights can do so by failing to attend, by preventing others from attending, or by attending only when certain other people can't.
Delay
Delaying the retrospective delays any discoveries it might produce.
But Delaying the retrospective
delays any discoveries
it might produce
it does more. Some people might be unavailable after a certain date, either because of termination, or transfer, or commitment to high-priority activities, or something else. By delaying the retrospective, our retro-saboteur might be hoping for scheduling conflicts to develop.
Failure to keep records
Early on in the effort, motivated by concerns that some actions they've taken (or haven't taken) might lead to problems later, especially at the retrospective, some people intentionally fail to keep records that they know are required. Or if they do keep records, they omit information or record misleading or falsely exculpatory information in those records.
Ensure that people are recording required information faithfully. If you anticipate that someone might engage in these practices, review those required records frequently, long before they're actually needed.
Evidence corruption
Differences in perspectives, recollections, and interpretations of past events often arise in retrospectives. Exchanging views, and resolving these differences, can lead to insights that advance everyone's understanding. Concrete evidence — logs, email messages, documents of all kinds — can help clarify what actually happened, which can differ from everyone's previous recollections.
Be certain of the validity of documentary evidence of actual events. By announcing at the outset of the effort — or at least, well before the retrospective — that measures are in place to protect such evidence, you can deter at least some of those who might be contemplating corrupting it.

All retrospectives are vulnerable to distraction. Digressions, irrelevancies, and spending inordinate amounts of time on minor issues can all happen innocently. Or they can be the work of individuals determined to waste time so as to prevent examination of incidents they regard as threatening. Be alert. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: The Opposite of Influence  Next Issue

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