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Project Retrospectives:
A Handbook for Team Reviews

by Norman L. Kerth
foreword by Gerald M. Weinberg

ISBN: 978-0-932633-44-6  
©2001  288 pages   softcover  
$33.95 (plus shipping)

Subject(s): Computer Consulting, Software Project Reviews

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About the Book

With detailed scenarios, imaginative illustrations, and step-by-step instructions, consultant and speaker Norman L. Kerth guides readers through productive, empowering retrospectives of project performance.

Whether your shop calls them postmortems or postpartums or something else, project retrospectives offer organizations a formal method for preserving the valuable lessons learned from the successes and failures of every project. These lessons and the changes identified by the community will foster stronger teams and savings on subsequent efforts.

For a retrospective to be effective and successful, though, it needs to be safe. Kerth shows facilitators and participants how to defeat the fear of retribution and establish an air of mutual trust. One tool is Kerth's Prime Directive:

Regardless of what we discover, we must understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job he or she could, given what was known at the time, his or her skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.

Applying years of experience as a project retrospective facilitator for software organizations, Kerth reveals his secrets for managing the sensitive, often emotionally charged issues that arise as teams relive and learn from each project.

Don't move on to your next project without consulting and using this readable, practical handbook. Each member of your team will be better prepared for the next deadline.


"Case studies, preparing for a retrospective, leading a postmortem, and the skills for best learning and sharing knowledge gained from past ventures fill the pages of this down-to-earth and highly accessible guide which is especially recommended to those charged with the responsibility of improving corporate departmental and project team performances."

The Midwest Book Review

"Here is a handbook on how to create an atmosphere of mutual trust in teamwork."

Business Horizons

"While this book has the detail one needs to understand and apply the specific exercises and facilitation, it also has the breadth to address a wide range of topics. . . . This book does an excellent job of discussing the people issue involved in retrospectives and provides many useful suggestions on how to deal with those issues. . . .

"I found this book insightful, interesting, and easy to read. But most important, it is full of ideas and techniques that I intend to put to use."

—Linda Westfall
Software Quality Professional

"This is a book to read cover to cover and then use as a resource, project by project. It is a book for every process improvement coordinator, project leader, software manager, and consultant wishing to improve their organization's performance in learning from experience."

—Carol A. Long
IEEE Software

"In reading this book, I most enjoyed the retrospective exercises. . . . Two of the most powerful exercises for participants are the 'Develop a Time Line' and 'Emotions Seismograph' exercises. . . .

"The book is well-written, easy to read, and accessible, especially if you're skimming the table of contents or index to investigate the next step for your retrospective planning. Use this book, and your retrospectives will return significant information and save you time on your next project."

—Johanna Rothman

"On the cover of Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews there is a quote from Gerald Weinberg: 'This book belongs in the library of every project manager, for any kind of project, everywhere.' After having read this excellent 'how to' book, I not only agree with this statement, but I would expand it to include every software quality engineer as well.

"While this book has the detail one needs to understand and apply specific exercises and facilitation skills, it also has the breadth to address a wide range of topics, including how to prepare for a retrospective, how to sell a retrospective, handling retrospectives in the light of legal issues, collecting project data, where to hold retrospectives, and creating a community. This book does an excellent job of discussing the people issue involved in retrospectives and provides many useful suggestions on how to deal with those issues.

"I found this book insightful, interesting, and easy to read. But most important, it is full of ideas and techniques that I intend to put to use."

—Linda Westfall
Software Quality Professional

"I recommend this book to anyone who has to shoulder the project manager role—plus anyone who might like to build a career as a facilitator. The insights into how people work and interact provided in this book are invaluable for anyone in a supervisory role who's trying to build a succesful team (that will, in turn, build a successful product). Project Retrospectives is the kind of book that can be read cover to cover—and I'd recommend doing that—but it's also a very useful handbook that most readers will want to reference whenever a review (even if it isn't a formal rerospective) is coming up.

"Kerth's writing is very easy to read and provides excellent insight into understanding how people interact with each other when they have different working styles and bringing them together for success."

—Diane Brockman
SQL Server Professional

"Storytelling has certainly been around as long as there have been programmers to gather round the watercooler and brag about their latest feat. So it seems logical that we might be able to learn some things if we plan and formalize our storytelling process. Consultant and experienced facilitator Wayne Strider described it to me as 'getting the return you deserve for the investment you made.' As he points out, you've already paid for the project, including whatever lessons it has for you. You've spent the money whether you reflect upon and learn those lessons or not and whatever lessons you don't learn this time around may continue to cost you money in future projects.

"The storytelling process is known variously as a postpartum, postmortem or retrospective. Whatever you call it, it's very powerful when well done, and because of the paucity of storytelling literature, Norman L. Kerth's book, Project Retrospectives, a Handbook for Team Reviews (Dorset House, 2001), is extremely valuable."

—Sue Petersen
Software Development Magazine

"Norm Kerth has given us a wise and practical book on project retrospectives. It is destined to be a classic in our software engineering and project management literature.

"If you are curious, courageous, care about yourself and your teammates, and you are interested in personal and professional growth, read this book.

"Beginning with his 'prime directive,' you will learn why and how to conduct project retrospectives. Norm makes a compelling case for the ritual of retrospectives, openly and honestly presenting the opportunities and dangers. There are many engaging features in this book: fables that make a point, a detailed description of an example retrospective, numerous true stories from real retrospectives that grab your interest, cartoons to illustrate the text, and recipes which provide facilitators with the structure, group processes and rationale for conduct successful retrospectives activities.

"Who should read this wonderful book? The book's voice addresses the retrospective facilitator ('must' readers) along with anyone else who wants to learn about retrospectives. This audience includes project managers and their managers, along with team members.

"Why these readers? Because software project success is all about people, not technology. How we interrelate, use technology, communicate, and are affected by project history impacts our work. And if we don't learn from our successes and mistakes, we can't grow, do better and have our work bring value to our organizations and ourselves. Project retrospectives are an essential tool toward that end. Norm Kerth's book helps us use this wonderful tool."

—Ellen Gottesdiener
EBG Consulting, Inc.

"If properly done, a retrospective can be uplifting, as the people in the development team can learn what went wrong, alter their approach and increase their chances for success in the future.

"It takes a deft hand to perform such an act and Norman Kerth has two of them. His advice on how to politic your way through a successful retrospective demonstrates that he understands the egos, stubborness, jealousy, passion, intelligence, and occasional idiocy of development teams. . . .

"The experience and understanding that Kerth puts forward in this book is priceless and should be a roadmap for what to do after every project is considered done. Using this map to mine your experience for the points of success and failure will pay dividends of many different forms. . . .

"If development teams were to begin having quality retrospectives using Kerth's criteria, then even the most atrocious failure could generate a favorable return on investment. I consider it to be one of the top ten books of the year."

Charles Ashbacher
Charles Ashbacher Technologies
posted on Amazon.com

"Kerth, a consultant to software organizations, guides facilitators and participants through the process of the project retrospective using scenarios and detailed, cartoon-illustrated instructions. The retrospective is a formal method for preserving the lessons learned from the successes and failures of projects. Kerth shows how to conduct one in an atmosphere of mutual trust and without fear of retribution. The goal is for the lessons and changes identified by the community to foster stronger teams and savings on subsequent efforts."

—Jane Erskine
Book News, Inc.

"This is one of the best written, best edited, most nicely presented, and most useful software books I've ever read.

"As someone who has facilitated several retrospectives in the past, I realize how much better I could do the next time with the help of Norm's wisdom and suggestions. The many personal experiences, perceptions, and learnings he shares gives the book a powerful vibrancy. Norm has clearly practiced what he preaches and is passionate about his subject. His sensitivity to the complex interpersonal issues surrounding project retrospectives will help any facilitator, participant, or manager get the most out of these important learning activities."

Karl Wiegers
Process Impact

"I've been looking forward to Norm Kerth's book since I first learned he was writing it. I need it for my consulting practice. My clients need it for their process improvement programs. The software industry needs it in order to become truly professional. And nobody in the world knows more about project retrospectives than Norm. . . .

"Feedback on software projects—meaningful feedback, at least—is not easy to come by. Projects often outlive the accuracy of our memories. Even when our memories are excellent, people leave during the project and take their memories away with them. So, in order to capture project learnings, we need to plan, prepare, and practice. And that's what Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews gives us—plans, preparations, and practice. . . .

"Another strong feature is the book's attention to issues that are sometimes considered peripheral to the retrospective itself—activities such as selling the idea of retrospectives, qualifying the potential customer, obtaining and maintaining support, creating a communty, coping with legal issues, thinking in advance about the what and how of data capture, and even considering such details as what kind of food to serve during the retrospective, and when. . . .

"Project Retrospectives is a strong book, full of strong features that will make it the classic work in this area. In my opinion, though, the very strongest feature of the book is its many well-designed exercises—exercises that will elevate your chance of success—whether you are a new or experienced facilitator of retrospectives.

"As I wrote at the outset, I've been looking forward to this book. It was worth the wait."

 —Gerald M. Weinberg
Principal of Weinberg and Weinberg
Adapted from the foreword

Table of Contents
Excerpt: "Meaningful Project Feedback"

Dorset House Catalog
This Book's Flyer

Also Recommended

Creating a Software Engineering Culture, by Karl E. Wiegers

Dr. Peeling's Principles of Management, by Nic Peeling

Handbook of Walkthroughs, Inspections, and Technical Reviews, by Daniel P. Freedman and Gerald M. Weinberg

More Secrets of Consulting: The Consultant's Tool Kit, by Gerald M. Weinberg

The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully, by Gerald M. Weinberg

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