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Agile Coaches' Corner shares practical concepts in an approachable way. It is for agile practitioners and business leaders seeking expert advice on improving the way they work to achieve their desired outcomes. If you have a topic you'd like discussed, email it to, or tweet it with #agilethoughtpodcast.

May 31, 2024

This week, Dan Neumann and Justin Thatil are joined by Mike Guiler to continue the discussion on Norman Kerth’s book Project Retrospectives. In this episode, they explore the last three chapters, which are filled with exercises to apply at Retrospectives, specifically when sensitive topics are to be addressed.


Key Takeaways

  • Some Retrospective activities are designed to address emotionally charged topics.

    • Failure must be accepted and embraced in postmortem retrospectives; otherwise, no one would be open to discussing it.

    • As a facilitator, try to find the highest leader available in your organization that is willing to share with participants an instance in which they themselves faced failure and what he or she learned from it. This establishes that it is okay to talk about failure.

  • Becoming a Facilitator:

    • You have to “walk the walk”; facilitators are made by practice.

    • Ask for help when you need it! Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance when your capabilities are limited.

    • As a facilitator, you can also contact someone outside your organization for support.

    • A useful resource is getting feedback from a second facilitator about the Retrospective. Don’t be defensive; feedback is always an opportunity to grow.

    • Allow space for intense emotions during Retrospectives. Fostering the expression of emotions is healthy and cathartic for the organization, but sometimes, it can be challenging for the facilitator to deal with them during the event. Listen actively, assign a meaning to those feelings, and try to identify the feeling arousing about that feeling. Identify which feelings can be discussed at the Retrospective and which others should be addressed one-on-one.

  • Tools for Facilitators:

    • Ask for help.

    • When something isn’t working, try something different. Be humble enough to know when to pivot.

    • Avoid triangulation. Encourage people to talk to the person, not about the person.

    • Congruent vs. incongruent messaging: When delivering a message that describes a problem, first address how the problem is impacting you (the self), then the context, and finally, the intention and how this caused the problem. A similar approach is the Situation-Behavior-Impact framework.


  • What to do after Retrospectives?

    • Collect the readout: Make a summary of what was done in the Retrospective.

    • Collecting a library of Retrospectives can help estimate projects. Retrospectives contain a significant amount of useful data for the organization.

    • After recapitulating the event, think about what can be improved.

    • The information coming from Retrospectives is a great way for a better forecast.


Mentioned in this Episode:

Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews, by Norman L. Kerth

Intuitive Prediction: Bias and Corrective Procedures, Daniel Kahneman

Listen to Project Retrospectives: Book Exploration (Part 1) and (Part 2)


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