Putting Learning into Action

Someone recently asked, “How would you go about inculcating the results from retrospectives [sic] back into the culture for the benefit of future projects?”

There are two different approaches depending on whether the team holds retrospectives as they go, at the end of every iteration (or at intervals during the project) or at the end.

Teams who do retrospectives regularly during the project can apply what they learn right away. When teams reflect and improve as they go, the issues then to be more focused–either issues they can fix or obstacles to getting their work done. These teams incorporate learnings into their team culture as they go and help the current project. To the extent the team stays together, they help future projects. And of course, each person will take a broader set of options to thier next project, along with better problem-solving skills and a focus on continuous improvement.

As a facilitator/retrospective leader, I find that some of the keys to putting learning in action are for iteration (or interval) retrospectives are:

  • Help the team choose one or two high-impact changes they can make in the next several weeks. I’ve seen too many teams lose faith in retrospectives because they try to change too much, become overwhelmed and end up dropping the improvements and changes.
  • Incorporate changes into day-to-day work plans. Changes that are carried in a separate plan never get done; “real work” always wins out.
  • Help the team to be clear about what is within their control and which changes they need to use their influence and elevate issues so management can remove obstacles.

    For end of project retrospectives, especially when the team will disperse, focus on personal action plans (what the individual can do differently the next time) and recommendations that address systemic or management problems–assuming that there is some management team that will work on those systemic issues. If no one is going to work on them, it’s a moot point. Though sometimes I’ll do a retrospective any way to bring closure for the team and help them see how they can influence and affect the system. Some organizations use patterns to inculcate learnings into the culture.