Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 17, Issue 9;   March 1, 2017:

Yet More Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why

by

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

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Project Management:

Gen. T.J. "Stonewall" JacksonFlanking Maneuvers
Historically, military logistics practice has provided a steady stream of innovations to many fields, including project management. But project managers can learn even more if we investigate battlefield tactics.
A flapjack breakfastBois Sec!
When your current approach isn't working, you can scrap whatever you're doing and start again — if you have enough time and money. There's a less radical solution, and if it works, it's usually both cheaper and faster.
The Bay of Whales off the Ross Ice Shelf, AntarcticaHow to Make Good Guesses: Strategy
Making good guesses — guessing right — is often regarded as a talent that cannot be taught. Like most things, it probably does take talent to be among the first rank of those who make conjectures. But being in the second rank is pretty good, too, and we can learn how to do that.
Industrial robots assembling automobilesUnnecessary Boring Work: I
Work can be boring. Some of us must endure the occasional boring task, but for many, everything about work is boring. It doesn't have to be this way.
Cargo containers at a port of entryUnresponsive Suppliers: III
When suppliers have a customer orientation, we can usually depend on them. But government suppliers are a special case.

See also Project Management and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Tennis balls on a tennis court. Your fitness program can be a part of your job search.Coming July 28: Be Choosier About Job Offers: II
An unfortunate outcome of job searches occurs when a job seeker feels forced to accept an offer that isn't a good fit. Sometimes financial pressures are so severe that the seeker has little choice. But financial pressures are partly perceptual. Here's how to manage feeling that pressure. Available here and by RSS on July 28.
A beach at sunsetAnd on August 4: What Are the Chances: I
When estimating the probabilities of success of different strategies, we must often estimate the probability of multiple events occurring. People make a common mistake when forming such estimates. They assume that events are independent when they are not. Available here and by RSS on August 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.