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Meaningful Project Feedback

by Gerald M. Weinberg

Adapted from Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. See below for copyright notice.

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.

To me, retrospectives are primarily about learning. Without information about past performance, there can be no learning. Though this essential role of feedback is a basic principle of psychology, it doesn’t yet seem widely understood or practiced in the software industry.

Feedback is built into many processes in life, especially those by which one attempts to manipulate the physical world. If I try to thread a needle, for example, I can tell immediately whether or not I have succeeded. Same with kicking a field goal or building a wall—but not so with software. We in the software industry are working with a more or less invisible product, yet this very invisibility only heightens our need for feedback. We aren’t going to get feedback implicitly, so we have to build it explicitly into our processes—hence, our need for retrospectives.

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.

Retrospectives, of course, are human cooperative processes—calling on qualities that are not typically the engineer’s strongest. One of the best features of Norm’s book is how it speaks to an engineering audience in engineering terms, teaching us how to transform what we know about software engineering into social engineering.

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 community, 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.

January 2001

Gerald M. Weinberg

Albuquerque, New Mexico

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COPYRIGHT NOTICE: This excerpt from Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews [ISBN: 0-932633-44-7] appears by permission of Dorset House Publishing. Copyright © 2001 by Norman L. Kerth. All rights reserved. See http://www.dorsethouse.com/books/pr.html. The material contained in this file may be shared for noncommercial purposes only, nonexclusively, provided that this Copyright Notice always appears with it. This material may not be combined with advertisements, online or in print, without explicit permission from Dorset House Publishing. For copies of the printed book or for permissions, contact Dorset House Publishing, 1-800-342-6657, 212-620-4053, http://www.dorsethouse.com, info@dorsethouse.com, New: 3143 Broadway, Suite 2B, New York, NY 10027 USA. Additional rights limitations apply, as presented in the Legal Disclaimer posted at http://www.dorsethouse.com/legal.html.



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