Post Mortem or Retrospective

Whether we like it or not, software engineering projects sometimes do go wrong. So much so that you need to try and determine what happened so that you can practice continual improvement.

My last statement sounds friendly, even Kaizen-like and suggests that this is a positive learning exercise. But hands up if you’ve attended a Retrospective, a Post-Implementation review or even a Post-Mortem exercise. 

In my experience, these are negative events and are mostly likely aimed at looking for scapegoats. And this, in my opinion, has a direct impact on company culture. 

So I tried to change the model and inject some fun by using an analogy stolen from religion and hold a “Confession” session. It was a better experience but in fact it still had a negative context (begging for forgiveness) and I also thought that I might be being a tad incentive to some people’s religious beliefs.

Luckily, I’ve been immersed in the world of Agile (Lean/KanBan/DevOps/CD) over the last few years and I attended a retrospective on one of my own programs; the roll-out of DevOps and it’s cultural impact on our teams. One of my direct reports is a Lean Coach and he wrote up the ground rules for the session and I tweeted the photo. It went viral and was one of my most loved and quoted tweets ever!!

The ground rules read:


“Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand”.

The Retrospective Prime Directive was born 🙂

The session was a normal retrospective but the opening comments were really powerful for me. But just in case you’ve never used this technique, then here is what you do:

To facilitate a session, all you need is three topics written on post-it notes and stuck on a wall, targeted at what we should Stop Doing, Continue Doing and Start Doing.


The participants write on their thoughts and ideas on post-it notes and stick them on the wall within the broad grouping as pictured above.

After about 20 minutes, the facilitator weeds out the duplicates and then the group votes on the top three post-it’s in each section in order to debate them further and come up with actions to address them.

Then it’s a simple task for the facilitator to write up what we should stop, start or continue doing for future projects or initiatives and share the one-pager with the wider organisation. 

It’s really that simple but the interaction amongst participants drives a sense of collaboration, the voting allows one to focus on the key issues and the output is simple enough to influence outcomes in the future.

Give it a try and you won’t be disappointed 🙂


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