A Personal Retrospective

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This year was like living through a 500-year storm.   COVID has infected 1 in 20 Americans, and 1 in 1,000 have died of the disease.  Nearly 15 million people are still out of workThirty-three million have been remote for 9-months and are not likely to return soon.  Racial and social justice issues are at the forefront of the national conversation. 

It is a good time for us to reflect and refocus.  Like the agile team retrospective, a personal retrospective is a ceremony to review and evaluate the past and identify future opportunities.  What have we experienced?  How did events impact us?  And most importantly, how do we transform this knowledge into tangible, positive actions?

The Process

A personal retrospective is a self-facilitated event.  The process parallels a problem-solving workshop.   We will examine our experiences, identify themes, formulate a plan, and create goals for the future.

The ceremony should be time-boxed to an hour.  Use the following as a guide to conduct your retrospective.  Approximate durations are recommended for each step. 

  1. Create the space.  Schedule a meeting with yourself.  Block an hour when you will not be interrupted or distracted.  Find a quiet room where you can concentrate.  To stay focused, leave your electronic devices at the door.  Gather your supplies: Post-It Notes, markers, a flip chart, or a large sketch pad are all you need.    
  2. Brainstorm. Read through the powerful questions (below).  If they inspire a response, write your thoughts on a Post-It Note with one idea per card.  If not, then move on to the next question.  If these questions are not relevant to you, then create your own.  Place the notes randomly on the flip chat sheet or stack them in the corner.  (15 minutes)
  3. Organize.  After recording your thoughts on the cards, organize them.  Start grouping similar ideas.  Then create larger groups. Arrange ideas into clumps rather than rows and columns to activate your creative brain.  Organizing your thoughts will be an iterative process, feel free to move cards from one pile to another. (5 minutes)
  4. Label.  After organizing your ideas, review the groups, and label them.  What is the dominant theme? Create a new card (in a different color) that summarizes the group.  (5 minutes)
  5. Synthesize.  Now we turn on our logical brains.  Review the cards.  What patterns do we see?  What has been revealed?  There are several ways to synthesize the information: (10 minutes)
    1. Draw lines to connect related themes;
    1. Use colored markers to show similarities;
    1. Doodle or draw a picture that represents your thoughts or feelings; or
    1. Create a mind map or fishbone diagram to investigate an area.
  6. Prioritize.  Review your board.  What have you learned?  What is important to you?  What do you want to do in 2021? Write a new card for each priority.  Place these cards in rank order on another flip-chart sheet.  (5 minutes)
  7. Plan.  Identify no more than 3-things to work on.  Then create a plan to achieve that outcome.  The plan can use the standard SMART goal format: (20 minutes)
    1. Specific.  The desired outcome is clear and well-understood;
    1. Measurable.  Progress can be measured;
    1. Achievable.  The goal is realistic and can be achieved;
    1. Relevant.  The goal is relevant and important to you; and
    1. Timebound.  Establish a timeframe to complete the goal.
  8. Review.  Once a month, take 15-30 minutes to review your progress.  Have you achieved your goals?  Are they still relevant?  Do you need to conduct another retrospective?

The Powerful Questions

Powerful questions should provoke a response or reaction.  These questions are intended to help you probe and consider how events of the past year affected you.  This list is not exhaustive.  Feel free to add your own questions to the brainstorming process.

Have I lost someone important to me?

Many people have died from COVID and our normal grieving processes have been disrupted.  Also, with layoffs, social distancing, and reduced travel, we may have lost regular contact with someone important or close to us. 

Question(s) to ponder:

  • Have you lost someone this year?
  • What memories do you have?
  • How did/does this person affect your life?
  • What do you miss the most?

Actions to consider:

  • Honoring that persons’ memory.
  • Creating a way to preserve your memories of them.
  • Sharing their memory with others.
  • Creating a plan to remain in contact with that person.

Has my job or career been affected?

People have lost jobs due to COVID.  Many people are working remotely.  Many industries and companies have had their entire business model disrupted.

Question(s) to ponder:

  • How has my job been directly or indirectly affected?
  • How do I feel about these changes?
  • How do I feel about my job or career?
  • Do I want to make a change?

Actions to consider:

  • Evaluate how you feel. 
  • Understand what has worked and not worked for you.
  • Analyze the prospects for your industry, profession, or company.
  • Assess your career goals and ambitions.
  • Create a plan to transition into something different.

How do I feel about the societal events?

Our social and societal fabric is being challenged from many directions  Important questions about justice and rights are being asked.

Question(s) to ponder:

  • What issues provoke a response (positive or negative) for me?
  • How do I feel about these issues?
  • Do my beliefs reflect how I behave?

Actions to consider:

  • Assess the alignment of your values and actions.
  • Engage in constructive dialogue with people holding different perspectives.
  • Consider the changes you want to make.
  • Get involved with an issue that is important to you.

What do I value?

Values are deep, intrinsic beliefs.  Our values are at the core of who we are.  Sometimes we lose connection to our values. 

Question(s) to ponder:

  • What is important to me?
  • Who is important to me?
  • What brings me joy?
  • What makes me uncomfortable?

Actions to consider:

  • Clarify your values and the things that are important to you.
  • Create a list of people and friendships that you value. 
  • Review how you spend your time.
  • Make specific plans to align how you spend your time to your values.

What have I learned?

We are regularly exposed to events, information, and ideas.  Take a moment and consider what you have learned this year.

Question(s) to ponder:

  • What good things have happened?
  • What bad things have happened?
  • What have I learned?
  • What has worked for me?  What has not?

Actions to consider:

  • Identify the things—good and bad—that have happened this year.
  • Find trends or patterns. 
  • Consider how these patterns can help you create opportunities or avoid threats in the coming year.

This personal retrospective is a way to help make sense of the past year.  As with our team retrospectives, we want to translate this knowledge into positive action.  Good luck, and I wish you a happy new year!

© 2021, Alan Zucker; Project Management Essentials, LLC

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