This is the fifth and final part of my series explaining how Don’t Panic Labs approaches project management through the lens of a software release cycle.

The release is out the door. Now it’s time to reflect on the work that’s been accomplished in the past weeks or months. It’s time for a retrospective.

We know we’re only going to truly learn and grow from our experiences if we sit down as a team and discuss it. We talk about what worked, what didn’t, propose what could be done differently next time, and generally air any thoughts or concerns we had during this release cycle.

How do we keep our lessons learned top of mind after the retrospective meetings? We created a “Lessons Learned” spreadsheet where things the team has learned are consolidated into a single document. We send an automated email containing a link to this document twice a month to our project managers and lead architects asking them to review this doc for any lessons learned that might apply to their currently active projects. For each lesson learned, we capture additional information that allows us to easily know at a glance if this lesson applies to a project I’m working on now (e.g., if it’s a “Do or Don’t” lesson learned, when in the lifecycle this lesson learned applies, or what general category does it fall into).

We used to have retrospectives more frequently that we do today, but found that we weren’t getting a lot of value in doing them so often. Now, I think we have slipped too far to the other end of the pendulum and aren’t having them often enough. We’re still learning.

So what can I suggest for other project managers and teams out there? Know who you are. Identify things you value and make sure the practices you have in place support those values. If you’re doing things that don’t support those values, quit doing them.

Here are a few examples of our values and practices:

Value Practice
Clear definition of the problem White papers
Responsiveness to change Weekly iteration cycles
Collaboration/Communication Daily standup
Quality Unit tests
Transparency Daily email alerts showing iteration progress
Improvement Retrospectives

Review your values and practices once a year and update them to reflect what you’ve learned. Use what you’ve learned over the past year to make your next year even better.

As I stated in my first post, not everything we do fits all companies, but they work for us and our culture. We still learn new things every day and hopefully we have mechanisms in place that allow us to make the necessary adjustments along the way to improve our processes.

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