Agile retrospectives aren’t just for teams or organizations. Individuals (like you and me) also use them as a way of taking stock and choosing how to move forward—reflecting, inspecting, and adapting to the changing conditions in our lives. Chronological milestones serve as a great prompts for a personal retrospective (e.g., year’s-end, birthday, anniversary, solstice, etc.).
We find ourselves at the end of 2009, looking toward 2010 with eager anticipation and/or reluctant anxiety. What a great time to retrospect!
First, plan your retrospective.
Where will you focus? Choose a focus or theme for the retrospective that holds meaning for you and fits with what you value. Sample focus topics include: improving family interactions; setting & meeting goals; removing barriers to self-care; becoming a more effective leader; expanding appreciation & gratitude; or a general review. Define a focus that makes the time worthwhile for you.
When and where will you hold your personal retrospective? Maybe right now in your easy chair is the best time. Maybe early in the morning at your home office desk will work for you. Or maybe you want to begin a tradition of holding your personal retrospective on New Year’s Eve in a beach house in Maui. Choose a time when you won’t feel tempted to rush through it and a place that’s comfortable to work without distractions.
What will you need? Depending on your focus, gather together the artifacts and supplies to support your reflection and planning. Memory aids such as your calendar or day planner; tools including paper and pens or markers, flip chart and small sticky notes; and work cues like your favorite mug of tea or coffee, all help to create the right environment. You might want to invite a friend or members of your family to help you remember what happened during the year. (And promise to return the favor by helping them with their own personal retrospectives.)
Now that you have everything prepared, work through the agile retrospective framework to conduct your personal retrospective.
Set the Stage: Take a few deep breaths to center your thinking and oxygenate your brain. Review your focus. If you have other matters on your mind, clamoring for your immediate attention, write them down and set them aside in a safe place. They’ll still be there waiting when you’ve finished your retrospective.
Gather Data, Part 1: Think back over the year, month-by-month or major event-by-major event. You may want to refer to your calendar or other memory aids. If you’ve invited a friend, ask what they remember as standout moments in your year. Draw on sense memories: what did you see, hear, taste, smell or touch during the year? Give plenty of time to this part of the retrospective, as it will provide the foundation for what follows. Write the events as a timeline or a list. Leave room for annotating it later.
Gather Data, Part 2: As you reflect back over the events and memories of the year, notice how you responded to the events or people involved. When did you feel energized or excited? When did you feel discouraged or disappointed? When did you feel proudest and sorriest? What happened that you didn’t expect? What gave you joy? When did you experience anger (righteous or otherwise)? When did you shut down? What spurred you to action?
Generate Insights: Review the events and your responses. Refer to your retrospective focus and find relevant moments. Look for links between them. (e.g., “Here’s when I bought the gym membership. I enjoyed going when I played racketball with Pat. This happened and this happened. Here’s the last time I showed up there.”) Notice what else was going on that might influence your focus. Identify the highlights and lowlights. Look for conditions that supported the outcomes you want, and those that didn’t.
Optional: If it fits for you and your focus, choose one significant event (or a few related ones) and adapt a root cause analysis technique (e.g., 5 Why’s, Pareto, Current Reality Tree) to dive deeper into why something worked the way you wanted or didn’t. (It’s a little known fact that you can conduct root cause analysis on why thing go right as well as why they go wrong.)
Decide What to Do: Which conditions and ideas do you want to carry forward with you into the New Year to support your focus? Make a list. Which seem easy to implement? Which will take more effort? What first next steps can you take today or tomorrow? Which do you have the most interest in and energy for doing? Choose a few that energize you and begin.
Close the Retrospective: Make a visible chart (or other obvious reminder) of your intended actions and focus. Decide where you will post it. Do you want to save any notes or artifacts from the retrospective? Decide whether, which and how. Take a minute or two to reflect on your experience of this personal retrospective. What do you want to do the same or different next time? Take a few more deep breaths and pat yourself on the back for doing your very best all throughout the year – given the information you had at the time, your skills and abilities, your resources, and the situation at hand.
By the way, to get my year started well, I’ll hold my personal retrospective on 2009 on New Year’s Day 2010. I’ll focus on creating a year with balance between work and home. I have my artifacts and tools at hand. And, no doubt, it will involve several cups of tea.