Finding the Hidden Treasure in a Retrospective


Finding a hidden treasure

By: Susan Walsh, SHRM-SCP

An organization I work with recently began implementing Scrum methodology in specific parts of the organization. Scrum is an adaptable, fast, flexible, and effective agile framework that is designed to deliver value to the customer throughout the development of the project. Widely used in software development, it also has application to a variety of projects within functional areas. My bigger role as an HR professional is to ensure competencies are clearly defined in the hiring process, employee roles and responsibilities are aligned with the agile process, workforce training and development focus on the skills required, and appropriate performance measures are put in place. Then I got to thinking about my smaller role in determining how to apply the principles of agile to the HR function. Of particular interest to me is the idea of conducting a retrospective, or a structured debrief at the end of a project to separate out what went well and what can be improved. It’s a way to capture information and knowledge to continuously improve the process for the next project.


While this concept of a retrospective is typically applied to a project, this can also be applied to a process that takes place over the course of time. This can aid in planning for the coming year by taking lessons learned and applying them to future plans. The new year is a great time to “look back” and assess the value the HR function brought to the organization the previous year. A typical retrospective requires that you clearly define the project or process and respond to the following series of questions:

1. What goals were we trying to achieve? Ideally, these goals would be stated in a SMART format, ensuring the ability to measure achievement. – Specific – Measurable – Achievable – Relevant – Timely

2. Who was involved in accomplishing these goals? Consider how others (not just HR team members) played a role in meeting goals. This can include senior management, line managers, and vendors.

3. What factors moved us forward? This might include skills, experience, abilities, relationships, and resources.

4. What barriers did we encounter? Consider how unforeseen internal and external factors created barriers to success.

5. What hurdles did we overcome? Identify the challenges and detail ways you and your team responded to these.

6. What did we learn? Identify key takeaways from your experience and apply that learning to the next iteration of the process.


There are several tools that are available to make the retrospective process fun and engaging. Both Mural and Miro offer whiteboard activities that help facilitate the retrospective meeting. GoRetro offers a variety of retrospective meeting templates and tools. These tools provide a visual experience that lends itself to more team engagement and creative thinking.

A key to the year-end retrospective is to have a treasure hunter’s mindset– to intentionally dig for the nuggets that, when applied to the new year, will have a positive impact on your team’s ability to meet objectives, navigate the unknown, overcome difficulties and pivot when necessary. Now we’re talking agile!

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