Post-Mortems vs. Agile Retrospectives

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 product and 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.

Topics to check:

  1. Key differences between Post-Mortems and Agile Retrospectives
    a. Post-Mortems
    b. Agile Retrospectives

  2. How to get started with Agile Retrospectives
    a. Set the stage
    b. Gather data
    c. Brainstorm ideas
    d. Pick the ideal solution

  3. The best tools for useful Retrospective sessions

1. 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. Let’s start by briefly defining each concept:

a. 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.

b. Agile Retrospectives: defines Retrospectives as sessions whose main purpose is to plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness. By definition, these check-ups are hold at the end of each sprint or work cycle (every 2 or 4 weeks) to understand what went well, which issues where faced and how they were solved or not.

The session is attended by the team working on the project and any Action Item should 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 in 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, Retrospective sessions are conducted at the end of each sprint (or whenever needed) during the entire lifetime of the project. It is also different because the Retros involve the whole development 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 to perform and results-oriented practices that will enhance your business from day one.

2. 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 Retrospective format that might be useful for you is:

a. Set the stage

Greet each attendant and be mindful about their reactions. Make everyone feel like they are being heard and that their opinion matters (because it does). This can also be the time to turn in some ice breakers, casual comments or even jokes that can draw everybody’s attention.

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

b. Gather data

The team needs to understand its own vision about the last Sprint. This can be done by asking the classic Agile Retrospective 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.

You can add variety to your sessions and draw even more value by using different techniques. Some other Retrospectives examples are:

  • Sad, Mad & Glad
  • I like, I wish, What if?
  • Three Little Pigs
  • Sailboat
  • 4 Ls

c. Brainstorm ideas

After gathering everybody's ideas, it's time to group them based on similarity of themes. One group could be named 'Communication', another 'Tools' and so on.

Grouping makes it easier to understand which are the most relevant topics for the whole team and have a high-level discussion

d. 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.


3. The best tools for useful Retrospective sessions

As Agile has gotten more used across several industries, with heavy support by Jira adoption and not just software development, different 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.

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.

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 and, aside from using the correct word, understanding their structures is truly useful. And specifically picking-up on the Retrospective sessions and other Agile methods will help you refine your project management skills.

  • A Post-Mortem is a full-scope review of a project, which is delivered after its completion. It isn’t usually performed when working within agile frameworks.

  • A Retrospective is a session where the team discusses what went well and what didn’t during the past sprint. The result must be an array of Action Items that must be implemented to fix or improve the raised issues.

What other differences can you see? We want to hear from you! Comment, share & subscribe!

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