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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- Since companies sometimes tackle projects that they have no hope of completing successfully, your project
might be completely wrong for your company. How can you tell whether your project is a fit for your company?
- Risk Management Risk: I
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- Mitigating Risk Resistance Risk
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- Ten Approaches to Managing Project Risks: III
- Project risk management strategies are numerous, but these ten strategies are among the most common.
Here are the last three of the ten strategies in this little catalog.
- Avoid Having to Reframe Failure
- Yet again, we missed our goal — we were late, we were over budget, or we lost to the competition.
But how can we get something good out of it?
See also Project Management and Workplace Politics for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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