How to Hold a Project Retrospective



By Jeff Oltmann

Oregon, USA




Retrospective reviews help everyone in the organization benefit from the accumulated experience of many people.  Participants at a retrospective extract what they learned during the project, summarize it, and decide how to take action to improve future projects.  Retrospectives (also known as post-mortems and lessons learned reviews) can make a huge difference in improving the performance of an organization over a relatively short number of projects.

All projects should hold at least one retrospective, near the end of the project.  For a long project, you may also want to hold small retrospectives periodically during the life of the project, rather than waiting until the end when people have forgotten the details of what happened earlier.   Hold small retrospectives at the completion of key milestones or phases of work.  Everyone’s memory will be fresh, and the organization can start benefiting from the lessons immediately rather than waiting until the end of the project.

Every project is a little different, so fine tune each retrospective to fit the specific goals, needs, and team dynamics of the group that will participate in it.   Typical goals of a retrospective include one or more of the following:

  1. Capture data on how much effort was required to do the project
  2. Get the story out about what the project did or did not accomplish
  3. Improve upon the process, procedures, management, and culture
  4. Capture collective wisdom
  5. Repair damage to the team by recharging people and giving them closure
  6. Enjoy the accomplishment!


A good retrospective is a structured way to gather “lessons learned” from those who know best – people who worked directly on a project.  It looks backward at what happened in the past, and forward at what should be done to improve the future processes and skills of the organization…


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How to cite this article: Oltmann, J. (2020).  How to Hold a Project Retrospective, PM World Journal, Vol. IX, Issue X, October.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/pmwj98-Oct2020-Oltman-how-to-hold-a-project-retrospective.pdf



About the Author

Jeff Oltmann

Oregon, USA


Jeff Oltmann is principal consultant at Synergy Professional Services, LLC in Portland, Oregon (www.spspro.com).  He is also on the graduate faculty of the Division of Management at Oregon Health and Science University.  Jeff welcomes your questions and ideas.  You can contact him at jeff@spspro.com or read previous articles at spspro.com/article-library.