The retrospective is — in my opinion — one of the most important activities in any project. Routine post-sprint retros are a great indicator of project health, but end-of-project wash-ups are where the real gems for learning lie.
In most cases a retrospective helps the immediate team understand where things went well and what can be improved. Once the project is finished or changes, team members disseminate and can take their learnings into their next tranche of work.
Retrospectives are to design processes as flight recorders are to aviation.
Yet in some cases and contexts, retros uncover aspects of a project that need to be shared with a wider audience. Stakeholders, project sponsors and HiPPOs might have been distant from the work being done ‘at the coal face’. By sharing the retro’s outcomes with the wider business, you can help ensure future projects avoid — or adopt — particular aspects of your project.
At RSA Digital we decided to change the typical end-of-project wash-up into something that turned the lens back onto our design team. We conducted the retrospective as a customer journey mapping session, with a view to flipping a normal scenario on its head.
Customer journey maps
If you’re not already familiar with customer journey mapping, it’s a great activity for helping to visualise a user’s experience over time as they use a particular feature of your product or service.
Journey maps not only help to build a design team’s empathy with users, but they also help identify gaps, pain points and opportunities for improvement. It was this aspect that we saw a fit for our particular retrospective.
Customer journey map example, courtesy of https://www.linkdex.com/en-gb/inked/customer-journey-mapping-guide/
Building empathy with an internal design team
In this case we cast the design team as the users in a journey map, and the session mapped our experience as we progressed through a multi-month project. We put the wider business — the senior stakeholders, HiPPOs and sponsors — into the research hot seat, able to view and understand what a typical project looks like, what and where things went well, and where things could be improved.
As with any retro, hindsight provides clarity. Standard retros end on ‘what can be improved’ or ‘next steps’, and this was no different. We collectively offered ideas and opportunities that — should we do the project again — would save time, money and revenue to the organisation.
Here’s how we conducted a retro as a customer journey map:
Jog the memory
First, we tasked the project lead to map out all major events along a wall, horizontally. The team helped fill in any gaps. This became our project timeline. In our case the project spanned multiple months, so we created a new row above the events, marking calendar months.
Map the activities
We then had the team share any and all activities conducted during each event, collectively. We time-boxed this activity, and provided ample time to recall many activities over the course of months. As always, we required one topic per post-it.
List the pain points (what can be improved)
Next we tasked the team with sharing the pain points they encountered throughout the project, aligning as close as possible to the activities above. As above, we allowed ample time for this activity as (like in most retros) this is often the most cathartic. The team (individually) answered the questions:
- What went badly?
- What can be improved?
Recall the happy moments (what went well)
Addressing the negative events first in a retro borrows from the peak-end rule, whereby an experience is judged based on how they (the participants) felt at its peak and at its end.
We had the team individually list out all the aspects of the project that went well. As with many retros, the happy moments often equal the amount of negative moments, which is often a relief for project managers and product owners. In this activity we tasked the team to consider:
- What went well?
- What were the wins?
Find the opportunities
With any customer journey mapping session, the opportunities row is often a gold mine for new product features, ideas and concepts. Our retro was no different.
As a group we listed any and all opportunities for change, mapped to either happy or painful moments alike. These opportunities might have been small (consistent stationary supplies), medium (better wall space ) and large (consistent access to stakeholders) . Whatever size the opportunity, we captured it.
It’s this row that turns the retro into something to be shared with our senior stakeholders and HiPPOs audience. It creates tangible value by providing a compiled list of needs and requirements for future projects.
Bonus round: As a future task, we intend on mapping the team’s emotional journey across the project. Doing so will allow us to visualise how impactful the peaks and troughs were and how they might correlate to productivity, tasks, pain points and happy moments.
Creating a shared understanding
The outcome of this retrospective was to create organisational empathy with the design team, and to deliver new opportunities to the business that might allow future projects to run more efficiently.
Every project is unique, but many — especially those in large organisations — tend to follow similar trajectories and challenges. Through the consistent use of project wash-up retros as journey maps, we hope that other design teams can merge these two proven methods and deliver value to the wider business. Better efficiencies, a shared understanding of what challenges crop up through projects, and how best to tackle them are among the benefits of this type of exercise.
August 1st, 2018