Agile Retrospectives vs. Project Post-Mortems – 5 Key Differences to be Aware Of

Agile Retrospectives versus Project Post-Mortem – 5 key differences to be aware of

Have you ever wondered why Agile teams hold the event called the “Retrospective”? Have you asked yourself how this event is different from the traditional project lessons-learned or “post-mortems”? Is “Retrospective” just a fancy name for the same old boring activity of rehashing project failures in a meeting room filled with team members who are eager to get started on their next project?

If you have ever thought about these questions, this article will help you gain insights into what a “Retrospective” is, how it works, and why it is a critical aspect of your Agile adoption. Having a solid understanding of this domain will enable you to help your organization and teams achieve greater levels of success. To keep things generic, I will use the term “iteration” as a general term for a fixed timebox.

Characteristic Agile Retrospective Project Post-Mortem
General Cadence / Timing Once per iteration Once per project phase, or per project
Entry Criteria Experience from previous iteration (typically 4 weeks or less) Successes and failures over several weeks/months of work
Focus of Discussion Reinforce positives, identify improvement opportunities Identify major failures, celebrate unique successes
Participation Core project team Management plus project team
Exit Criteria Action items for incremental improvement Document that is typically stored away and not leveraged