No one expects the Gorilla Retrospective

Jake was pinned to his seat by the spotlight’s intense beam. “Where were you when the code check-in introduced four P1 bugs?”
“I, uh, what?” Jake stammered.
I spun the spotlight and speared Bob with its white light. “The requirements document failed to take into account the Fergusson account. Why?”
Bob shifted in his seat. “It was Jane’s fault, she didn’t file a sales report for Fergusson!”
Jane’s mouth dropped open and she reached for her cellphone. Somehow I didn’t think she planned to text Bob with it. Not from the way she was holding it over her head.
Now I was getting somewhere. This post-mortem was finally getting to the bottom of things.
But before I could turn the spotlight towards Jane, a figure leaped onto the table and blocked my view. Jumping back, I looked up at the strange visage before me. Yards of red satin swirled about, all but obscuring the figure beneath it. A red galero covered the figure’s head, its deep crimson so dark it nearly blended with the black hair that lay beneath it. The darkness of satin and hair offset the brilliant white teeth of my interloper, making him suddenly recognizable.
Hogarth struck a preposterous pose and declared, “No one expects the Gorilla Retrospective!”
The Post-Mortem:
If you have ever sat through a grueling multi-hour project post-mortem, you probably wished for the inquisition to sweep in and put you out of your misery. The very term means “after death.” What a delightfully pleasant term for this meeting. Let us examine the corpse of the project and see what killed it. Let’s not trouble ourselves with the fact that the project actually shipped and is a success. No, that would be pointless.
The purpose of the meeting is to tear apart the project and find everything that went wrong. As the project manager, you will assemble a mammoth document that goes into sickening detail. Even if you tell people “we aren’t here to blame anyone”, blame will be assigned and buses will be thrown on top of people (or something like that).
And when it’s all over, the report is dutifully filed in some file cabinet (real or virtual) and promptly forgotten. No one goes back and reviews it. No one wants to remember the painful experience of exhuming a successful project for failures.
A rose by any other name:
Okay so we won’t call it a post mortem. How about lessons learned or a retrospective? Yeah, that’s the ticket. Now who’s fault was it that we shipped with no user documentation?
You can slap lipstick on the pig and it will still be a pig. Changing the name of something, but not how you go about doing it, is just going to make folks dislike the new name as much as the old.
So many companies look back on their projects to find what went wrong and fail to try and do better the next time.
Break off that rear view mirror:
I’ve met no small amount of people who think the George Santanya quote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” means we have to live in that history. Relive every mistake and wrong to determine exactly why it happened.
Not so. The horses are already out of the barn. Grilling the ranch hand on why he left the door open isn’t going to do much. It doesn’t get the horses back and it doesn’t really do anything about the future. Manager Tools recently did a podcast called “There is no why in feedback.” The Feedback Model is a manager tool for communicating about both the good and not so good things your directs do. The big key to it is that it doesn’t focus at all on the past behavior. It just focus on the future.
 An example:
“Don, can I give you some feedback? <wait for answer> “When you are late to the meeting, we start late and can’t finish the agenda. This means not everyone gets a chance to be heard. Do you think you could change that next time?
Read the last sentence again. “Next time.” The manager doesn’t dwell on the previous issue, instead he dwells on it not happening again.
And that’s the secret to a great retrospective. Focus on the future. Don’t assign blame. Don’t dissect every problem. Don’t get lost in the spilt milk. Focus on doing better the next time.
Forward looking:
When I do a retrospective I pull out another tool from my Manager Tools bag. On the left side of the white board I write “What Went Well.” On the right side I write “Things to Look At.”
The latter is important and I always stress it. TLA isn’t about blame, it isn’t about why, it isn’t even about negative. It is simply things we want to look at for the future. This can mean you end up with things people would generally refer to a “positive” on the Things to Look At side. After a good retrospective, I often have lines drawn from items on the WWW side to the TLA side. Things that were not part of the normal process, that had a good impact and the team wants to do it again.
The next step is to lay down the brain storming rules. When using the brain storming rules there is no “No”, “But”, or “I don’t agree.” Brain storming is a safe zone where anyone can throw out anything and there will be no discussion, no argument and anything goes. If someone yells out “Pepperoni Pizza,” my only response is “Is that a ‘Went Well’ or a ‘Things to Look At’?”
When you’re done collecting your WWW-TLA you then give everyone something to vote with. Small teams can use markers, larger teams work well with stickers or even post its. Let everyone vote two or three times on the TLA side. Then you tally up the votes and you’ve got your top things to look at changing for the next time. Short, sweet, to the point and very effective.
Don’t make your retrospectives a full court trial. Don’t dwell on the past. Do make it safe for people to reflect. Do focus on the future.
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Project Manager
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

It’s 3:30, do you know where your gorilla is?

We were really cranking through the PowerPoint. I was so energized. We were finally making some honest to goodness progress on the project plan and I had some glimmer of hope that we’d make the next milestone.
All of a sudden Jake looks down at his phone. His face soured for a second and then he quickly shut his computer. “I’ve got to go to another meeting.”
Another meeting? I started to panic, but we were making so much headway! We had a great agenda and we were plowing through it. And besides, I’d scheduled this meeting weeks in advance and everyone knew just how important it was. Why was he leaving early?
Then Bob glanced at his phone, tapped a couple of keys and stood up. “Yeah, I’m late for a client meeting. Gotta run.”
Sigh… I was used to Bob texting in the meeting, but again this was scheduled! He knew it was scheduled.
Sue and Carlos started packing up their gear as well. No…
What was happening?
Hogarth leaned forward. His large size meant he could easily sit in a chair on the wall and still whisper into my ear. “Maybe you should check the time?” he offered.
The time? Wait, what? I looked down in the right corner of my computer screen… dang, in PowerPoint slide mode you can’t see your task bar, no clock. I looked up on the wall. Oh, right. The clock in this room was missing. Finally I dug into my back pocket to dredge out my iPhone.
3:05! Five minutes over? How did we get to be five minutes over? I had an agenda!!
Hogarth was there to offer his “helpful” advice. “Maybe a watch would help?”
I looked down at my bare wrist… “A watch? How 20th century, I’ve got an iPhone and a computer.”
He began to casually peal a banana, “How’s that working out for you?”
A Wrist Watch? A Wall Clock? Really?
It’s the digital age. I’ve got a clock in my car, a clock on my computer, a clock in my iPhone, a clock on the desk phone. There are clocks in almost every piece of technology out there. So why then do we need wrist watches and wall clocks anymore?
Why indeed…
Perception and Effectiveness
I have talked about Effectiveness many times, you can read an entire blog on it here. And Perception is really just another aspect of effectiveness. If perception is off, then you can’t be fully effective.  So it can be said that perception is effectiveness.
So why isn’t my iPhone effective? It does everything I need!
Efficiency is not always effective. The iPhone (or any other smart phone) is a wonderful tool and it is not unlike my own mantra of a $200 tool box over a $1000 dollar screwdriver. And while the iPhone can do everything, it is sometimes like trying to use a Swiss Army knife the size of a loaf of bread to screw together a set of eyeglasses, big and cumbersome. Or in the iPhone’s case, it is the perception that is an issue. The toolbox is better than the platinum screwdriver, but you have to take tools out of the toolbox to be effective.
Look from the outside. You see someone pulls their phone from their pocket. They do something with it, and then they put it back. What did they just do? There in lies the problem. When you can do any of a thousand things, people may well assume he’s doing something other than checking the time. “Did he just get a text message from Bob? I knew Bob didn’t like me.” Much like in the “I can see you Gorilla”, people typically will assume you are doing something not productive when you are fiddling with your phone. This  isn’t just about being in meetings. A wrist watch may be a single tasker device and thus not “efficient”, but it is a highly effective device. When you look at it, people know exactly what you are doing. It is incredibly easy to use as well. Sure, your cell phone is on the table and you just have to push a button. Your watch is on your wrist, just roll your arm two inches and look down, simple.
An analog wall clocks serves an equal value, especially in meetings. If you run an effective meeting, you have a time boxed agenda. Each item starts at a specific time. That wall clock makes it easy for everyone to know what time it is. Post the agenda right next to it and people can see exactly where the meeting is.
Everyone has a computer, they all know what time it is!
 In an ideal world, only the presenter would have a laptop. Of course we don’t live in an ideal world and most folks will have their own laptop, so why not just have everyone use the clock on the screen? Is their computer’s time correct? Can they see the clock with the stuff on their screen? Do they look at the clock? Manager Tools also pointed out that a digital clock can lead to a disassociation with time passage. You look at the clock and it say 1:30. That’s a single snapshot in time. You look at a wall clock and you can see a visual representation of how much time is left, is passing, has passed.
My advice
Wear a watch: It’s a highly effective tool. People know exactly what you are doing when you look at it. An added bonus is the watch can help to improve your overall appearance and looking professional is effective.
Own a wall clock: I have my own clock. I take it with me to any meeting where I’m not 100% sure the wall clock works and is easily visible (If the clock is on one wall and the projection screen on the opposite wall, people have to turn around to see the time). Fashion up a little stand for it and place it at the end of the table.
Keep you phone in your pocket: Put it on stun and leave it in your pocket. Remove the temptation to check it .
No computers in the meeting: I already referred to the “I can see you Gorilla”, but it bears repeating. Recently it was reported that the head of Google declared no more laptops in his meetings. If the uber technology head of Google sees the value of leaving the laptop home, maybe there is something to this thing…
Stay on time, stay effective:
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Project Manager
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP