How to Lead a Retrospective for a More Successful Project

By Rose

So, what’s a retrospective meeting?

For one thing, a retrospective meeting is not a post-mortem meeting. At the end of a project, the new website is anything but dead. It’s living and breathing. And hopefully neither our team or our client is feeling the need for resuscitation!

On a more serious note, a retrospective meeting is an opportunity to look back at what worked well and what didn’t, with the ultimate goal of taking lessons away that will improve the project in question as well as future projects.


We always hold a retrospective at the end of every project. And for larger, more complex projects, we often hold a retrospective mid-way through. This allows us to address pain points immediately, making the rest of the project more successful and efficient.


Everyone who touched the project at some point on our internal team should ideally be in the meeting – project manager (PM), account manager, team leaders, developers, designers, etc. But the meeting itself isn’t led by that project’s PM. We want PMs to be able to participate in the discussion without worrying about facilitating or taking notes. So another PM who did not participate in the project leads the retrospective.


We discuss the following topics:

  • Project budget and project timeline
  • What worked well?
  • What did not work well?
  • What problems did we solve during this project?
  • What problems have we not yet solved?
  • In hindsight, what one thing would we each have done differently on this project?


The retrospective has two components: An in-person discussion and and online follow-up.

For the in-person discussion, we have a few ground rules that we review before we start the discussion.

  • Be honest: Nothing is meant personally, so it’s ok to speak honestly about what has been challenging.
  • Be positive: Don’t blame other team members for what didn’t work well. This is an opportunity to learn and improve.
  • No laptops or phones: The only person with a computer is the one leading the meeting and taking notes. We all need to be engaged and fully present.

After the meeting, we send out a quick SurveyMonkey link that asks team members to score the project from 1-5 on a client satisfaction, product quality, adherence to budget, timeline, requirements, end user experience, project leadership, and team morale. They can also add more comments that they didn’t convey during the meeting. It’s anonymous, and once responses are in, the retrospective facilitator sends the summary to the project PM.


Our attitude with retrospectives is that the next time is NOW. We don’t have to wait until the next project starts to make improvements. The project PM digests all the retrospective notes, and they take the lead on moving forward any changes to the project itself (if it hasn’t fully wrapped), or if we have new projects coming up with the same team or client. They also share major takeaways with the other ThinkShout PMs. But the responsibility ultimately lies with every team member to make changes to how they work based on the outcomes from the meeting.

Opportunities for Improvement

We can’t help but do a retrospective on our retrospectives! We could do a better job sharing out takeaways from retrospectives to our entire company. And for some projects, it might be useful to have a second retrospective exclusively for the project leads. They may hesitate to discuss certain challenges of a sensitive nature with the client, or other team members for that matter, but would be comfortable speaking about that with a smaller group. We’re continuously iterating and working to make our retrospectives more useful.

Why are retrospectives important?

As project managers, it’s our responsibility to not set our processes in stone, but rather to keep improving. A retrospective is an excellent way to make processes better and more efficient for entire project teams. It also helps your team members to feel heard and supported because they see that processes re not coming from on high, but are based on their direct feedback. Finally, retrospectives let you fix pain points before they begin to negatively impact your team or your client.

Do you hold retrospectives at your organization? What has worked well for you? Drop us a line and let us know!