Have you been running retrospectives?

Simon Breakspear
28 June 2024

We’re coming into the end of June, which is a great point to consider pausing to reflect on your progress so far. This week, I’m sharing my favourite tool to help teams learn from what they’ve done.

The idea: Make a habit of running effective project retrospectives

When was the last time you took time out to run a project retrospective? These structured reflection sessions are well worth the investment and pay dividends in improved team culture and learning for the next stage of the work.

30-Second Version

  • A team can be so busy running improvement projects that it often fails to pause to learn from experience. This leads to repeating mistakes and failing to leverage strengths in the next cycle of work.
  • Running project retrospective sessions provides a structured, evidence-based approach to reflecting on implementation actions and their impact.
  • Retros will help you identify and learn from your most high-impact actions, reflect on team dynamics, and focus in future on what works best.
  • Use the tool below to run regular retrospectives to generate insights and improve performance during every cycle of work.


The Full Read

All of our teams are taking action at full speed. We’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got to progress the work that matters in our schools. But in the midst of our momentum, we often struggle to create time to pause, reflect, and learn from our experiences.

One of the routines that has the biggest impact on teams that I coach is the retrospective. Running a retrospective is about having a structured and evidence-informed approach to reflecting, sense-making, and decision-making after a cycle. Structuring a 25-minute meeting as a retrospective provides a powerful reflection point to discuss the actions we’ve taken and the lessons learned.

At the core of a retrospective is a commitment to get better every cycle of work. Think of it as making better mistakes each term! It’s really difficult to do that without a structured approach to reflecting, learning, and making sense of what we’ve gone through. Like app updates on our phone that fix bugs and improve performance, retrospectives help us fix issues and make improvements.

If you can hold yourself accountable to taking that moment out to generate insights and lessons from your experience, you’ll be setting yourself up to keep getting better every cycle of work.

  1. Using a tool to run a successful retrospective:
    Focus the conversation – Retrospectives work best when you focus your team on reviewing one specific project over a specific period of time (e.g. the last term, the last eight cycles of work, the last six months, the last year).
  2. Use a structured routine/tool – Using a set tool with a clear set of questions can help the team work through them in a helpful sequence. My core tool moves through a discussion of A) implementation actions, B) formative impact evidence, C) lessons learned, D) and finally, team dynamics.
  3. Enrich with evidence – A retrospective will be more robust and useful if it uses data to inform the conversation about implementation progress and impact.
  4. Draw out lessons – Of all our actions, which are most effective? You’ll probably know of the Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule, which suggests that 20% of our actions result in 80% of our impact. Spend some time exploring which things seem to be having a disproportionately positive impact. If we can identify those, we can surface them and learn from them.

Using this tool, tap into the power of a retrospective.

Challenge → Over the coming weeks, look for opportunities to pause as an improvement team and run a retrospective on one key improvement project. Reflect on what you’ve done, the impact you’ve seen, the lessons you’ve learned, and how you’re working together.

  Related Posts

Precise Praise

Precise Praise

Why you should be giving precise praise, not blurry praise