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.
- Delaying the retrospective delays any discoveries it might produce.
- But Delaying the retrospective
delays any discoveries
it might produceit 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 Top Next Issue
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More articles on Project Management:
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if you have enough time and money. There's a less radical solution, and if it works, it's usually both
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- The Risky Role of Hands-On Project Manager
- The hands-on project manager manages the project and performs some of the work, too. There are lots
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conflicts of interest.
- Personnel-Sensitive Risks: I
- Some risks and the plans for managing them are personnel-sensitive in the sense that disclosure can
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- More Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
- Retrospectives — also known as lessons learned exercises or after-action reviews — sometimes
miss important insights. Here are some additions to our growing catalog of obstacles to learning.
- The Planning Fallacy and Self-Interest
- A well-known cognitive bias, the planning fallacy, accounts for many unrealistic estimates of project
cost and schedule. Overruns are common. But another cognitive bias, and organizational politics, combine
with the planning fallacy to make a bad situation even worse.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 8: The New Virtual Meeting: Digressions
- The bane of meetings everywhere, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, has been digressions. But there are reasons to expect the incidence of digressions in meetings to increase now. What reasons could there be, and what can we do about digressions? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
- And on April 15: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 15.
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