Post-Mortems Vs. Agile Retrospectives

As George Santayana once said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. That is why in project management, there exist Post-Mortems and Agile Retrospective sessions. These practices, aside from being both reviews of delivered work, are different in essence and distinguishing them will be very beneficial for you and your team.

Topics to check:
1. Key differences between Post-Mortems and Agile Retrospective sessions
2. How to get started with Agile Retrospectives
3. The best tools for useful Retrospective sessions

Key differences between post-mortem and retrospective sessions

They might sound similar, but be careful not to confuse them: Post Mortems are not the same as Retrospectives. Each one is driven with a distinct goal and the dynamics are not the same, either. So, let’s start by briefly defining each concept:

Post-Mortems: The ultimate objective of a Post-Mortem analysis is to understand and study all the failures encountered after a project has been finished, in order to prevent these issues from happening again in the future. This diagnose will then serve to improve risk management policies and practices for other projects, and it is usually conducted by a manager or leadership team.

Retrospectives: According to Scrum.org, sprint Retrospectives main purpose is to plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness. By definition, these check-ups are hold at the end of each sprint (every 2 or 4 weeks) to understand what went well, which issues where faced and how they were solved or not. This information is reviewed by the team working on the project and any action item can be followed-up on the next sprint.

Even though similar in nature, we can easily see that Post-Mortems and Retrospectives effectively differ in time framing, as well as some other features.

In general, Post-Mortems are done by a management team after a project is concluded (Post-Mortem = After-Death). While in Agile software development, Retrospectives sessions are held at the end of each sprint (or whenever needed) during the entire lifetime of the project. It is also different because the Retrospective involves the entire team.

These differences make it key for you to understand when to use which one. We will further focus on Retrospectives, as they are easy and results-oriented practices that will enhance your business from day one.

Getting started with retrospectives

It all starts with keeping regular sessions with your team. If you are a devote of Agile, you might have already started with Sprints, Stand-up Daily Meetings, Reviews and of course, Retrospectives. Our advice would be to make them simple but positive and effective as possible. A standard format that might be useful for you is:

Set the stage

Greet each attendant and be mindful about their reactions. Make everyone feel like they are being heard and their opinion matters (because it does).

Establish the meeting structure. This can be the time to turn in some ice breakers, comments or even jokes that can draw everybody’s attention.

Set the goals. What will be reviewed during the session and what do you expect as an outcome of it? After everyone is synced in, you are good to go.

Gather data

The team needs to understand its own vision about the last Sprint. This can be done by asking each attendant the following questions:

What went well?

What did not go well?

What could we improve?

This information will then be used to understand the key obstacles and opportunities that should be addressed during the next Sprint.

Brainstorm ideas

After you have learned the ideas of everyone, there are several exercises that can help to unify and prioritize this information in order to further discuss them through brainstorming so you can effectively define follow-up actions and next steps.

Remember that a specialized tool, such as Agile Retrospectives for Jira or Confluence, can help you to easily hold engaging and dynamic sessions as well as saving time when collecting and analyzing feedback.

Pick the ideal solutions

You know what to mitigate or solve, so you have some action items to chase after for the next Sprint or at least, you acknowledge them and plan to solve them during another phase of the project.

The best tools for useful Retrospective sessions

As Agile methods have become more and more used across several industries and not just software development, several ways of adopting them have arisen. Teams in companies such as Sony Music, Disney, US Bank and Dell have found success in Agile Retrospectives, the easy-to-use app that lets you follow action items in Jira or Trello boards.

Agile Retrospectives for remote teams in Confluence

You can take full advantage of your sessions, make your team's time worth and keep complete transparency, visibility and accountability with this add-on. Start a free 30-day trial in here.

Check out more of Agile Retrospectives in this video:

In conclusion, there are important differences between Post-Mortems and Retrospectives. Aside from using the correct word, understanding their structures is truly useful. And we think that, specifically picking-up on the Retrospective sessions and other Agile methods will help you refine your project management skills.

What other differences can you see? We want to hear from you! Share all your comments with us on our social media channels.


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