If your project retrospective does not include this, nothing’s going to change

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Program management 101 is to make a plan, do the thing, and reflect on what worked and what to do differently next time. But have you have noticed that the same problems keep coming up. Executives keep changing the project scope and timeline and unforeseen tech challenges keep happening. If you’re retrospectives only focus on what you should start, stop, and continue doing, you’re doing it wrong. Listen in this week and learn what to do instead to solve the issue at its root cause.

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Hey y’all, how’s it going? Okay, I wanted to give you a heads up. My calendar is quickly filling up for the rest of the year for my free coaching. I offer every week a few slots where I just want to help you kind of figure out what’s going on, help you figure out what’s the root cause of the problem, give you some options to get unstuck and feel better right away, and then also help kind of create a roadmap for you of things I would recommend you work on so that you’re able to have the career you want and the life outside of work you want as well. That you’re feeling motivated and excited and driven and you’re not frustrated with bad leadership and worried that you’re going to lose your job and stressed and working crazy ridiculous hours and continuing to tell yourself it’ll get better when this thing happens or when you get past this milestone. This is what we do on these coaching calls. It’s private, it’s just you and me, there’s zero obligation. All you have to do is go to lindsy liman coaching.com, chat, grab one of those spots. Again, they’re almost gone. I only offer a few of them every week. And you and I, we’re just going to get on a Zoom call and talk. That’s it. So do yourself a favor, go sign up for one right now. You deserve it, you’re amazing, and it’s a free resource. Why not?


The other day, I was talking to a client and we were kind of just doing a check-in, seeing how things were going. And they kept talking about how one of the things they want to work on is get better at kind of retrospectives or post-mortems or essentially after the thing happens, going back and reflecting on what worked and what didn’t work. And it’s kind of like project management 101 to basically do a retrospective. Um, you kind of plan your project, you do the thing, you evaluate it, and you rinse and repeat, right? Like very high level, that is project management. Sometimes they’re a challenge to actually do because we run fast and we don’t always have time to stop and reflect and think. But what I want to talk about in this episode is a little bit different than what you’ve probably been taught and what you’re doing. But if you’re not doing this in your retrospectives, I honestly kind of think they’re a waste of time. I don’t think they’re worth the effort of spending your time reflecting back on the past, figuring out what to do different, and going forward if you’re not doing this thing. And stick around to the end because I’m to tell you where you can get access to some additional help and insights.


So what I’m going to teach you, what I think you need to be doing in these retrospectives to have them actually be beneficial, to actually have them drive the change you know you need to have so that we don’t keep identifying the same problems over and over and over again. But one of the steps is where everyone kind of gets hung up on. So I’ve created this amazing resource for you that’s going to lay out the architecture, the framework. I’ve done all the hard work for you. All you have to do is go and download it. No strings attached. That’s it. So make sure you stick around to the end so that you can get that resource and start implementing it in your retrospectives today or give it to your leaders or share it with your team members. It’s yours to do with as you will.


So when we’re having our postmortem or retrospective meeting and we’re simply looking at what would we do differently, what worked, what how would we approach the problem different, this is great. But this isn’t in my head really a true effective retrospective. This is what I call hindsight, right? Hindsight is the understanding of a situation after it happens. Yes, look at these things, yes, learn and grow. But if you’re only having a retrospective looking at what would you start, stop, and continue, essentially that is like trying to reduce your stress by controlling more of the things around you that just aren’t possible to control. So again, it’s like logically we get that’s not helpful, logically we understand. If you’re trying to reduce your stress, you know you can’t control other people, you can’t control the weather, you can’t control if your company does layoffs or not, you can’t control when they’re going to do a reorg. There’s so many things outside of our control. But we feel like the only way we can manage our stress is to try to get control. It’s the same with trying to change things so they’re more efficient, they’re more effective, they’re more fun, they’re less intense, they’re less crazy. Doing a retrospective simply looking at what can we control differently next time doesn’t actually solve the problem. And I want to tell you why. And then I’m going to tell you what I think we should be doing instead in these retrospectives.


Do what you can to control what you can, okay? 100% learn from our mistakes, but we’re missing the bigger point. So I’ll give you kind of an example. So I know a lot of my friends that are in AWS at Amazon, this is their peak busy season, right? ReInvent is happening. Um, as I’m recording this, ReInvent is essentially their big cloud computing conference where they go and talk about all the fun cool new things that they’ve launched or working on. So let’s say, for example, you have launched a new product or service through ReInvent. You’ve had a big idea, idea. It took lots of teams working together. Most likely there was some scope creep that happened. I’m guessing you had some tech issues you didn’t foresee. Chances are pretty high there was probably another team that you were dependent on in able to launch your service that you didn’t necessarily see from the beginning. There were roadmap and priority challenges amongst leaders because leaders don’t always agree and align on things. I’m sure there was some last-minute pressure and push to make it happen. I know in talking with some friends initially the plan for ReInvent was to have a demo version of their service up and running and then a couple weeks before the leaders came back and said just kidding, we want this to be ready to give to clients, right? So there’s a lot of stress and pressure and anxiety and intense things that go on in these types of situations. So let’s say that is the example that we’re looking at. Okay, we’re going to pretend it’s post-ReInvent and here we are doing our postmortem, doing our retrospective, looking at hindsight.


Okay, hindsight. We should have seen how other teams were going to connect to what we were trying to launch. Okay, hindsight. We should have stopped leaders from having the scope creep. Hindsight. We should have planned around key holidays as many of my friends were working ridiculous hours. It was Diwali and a lot, a lot of them were working on Diwali, which is sad. That’s like asking many people in the United States to work on Christmas. It’s a big international holiday. So if we’re just trying to stop leaders from scope creep, if we’re trying to figure out how do we effectively communicate with other teams better so that we understand how their work impacts our work, great. But that’s kind of just putting a Band-Aid on the problem because we know we can look at all the history, no matter how much we try to manage those executive leaders, they’re going to come back and change the ask, they’re going to want more, they’re going to want some different feature added or removed last minute. Again, I’m not saying we just give up and throw our hands in the air, but if all we’re doing in these retrospectives is trying to control things, we’re missing the point.


What I would encourage you to really focus on in your post-mortems is what were the leaders and every single person involved in this process, as if you’re sitting down as a team to do this retrospective, what were every single one of you thinking and feeling? Now, I hear you, you’re like, “Oh, okay, really? Come on.” But let me tell you why. As we’ve talked about in 160 plus episodes, what you feel 100% impacts what you go and do. So when emotion is high, your intelligence is low. So if we’re looking at things in hindsight, yeah, we should have gone and connected with that other team earlier on. But if your emotion is high, if you’re freaking out because some senior executive wants an update, you’re not looking around corners, you’re not thinking big, you’re not seeing things through a different perspective, you are freaking out. I have seen countless like brilliant people walk into meetings with senior executives and just sound ridiculous. I’ve watched them and myself included, I throw myself in there, you forget words, you ramble on and on and forget what was even the point you were trying to make. You’re not direct in telling the leader what is and is not possible. Why? Because you are thinking this person is important, I can’t screw this up, they’re not going to take no for an answer. And when that’s what you’re thinking, you feel freaked out. And no matter how hard you try to outsmart your way from that physical freak out, your brain’s not going to give you those good ideas. It’s not going to help you articulate what you want to say and find a way to effectively communicate with that leader to come to a realistic place and maybe take on some scope creep but drop some other things to come up with the real plan because you are freaked out, you are in protection mode, you are in fight or flight. When your emotion is high, your intelligence is low. Literally, your brain is operating from a different place when you don’t emotionally feel safe.


As we’re looking at retrospectives, the problem isn’t we don’t know what to do. The problem isn’t we’re not learning and getting smarter every time. The problem, the root cause of the problem was that the team was feeling freaked out. I’ve seen this happen not just in a bad negative way of like if you’re scared and nervous and anxious and freaking out over needing to present to some senior executives. I’ve seen this happen in a positive way. When emotion is high, intelligence is low. In one of my previous lives, I worked in advertising for quite a few years, and I had the chance to work with a handful of famous people, and it was fascinating to watch. This one time in particular stands out as I was helping with a photo shoot, and there happened to be some pretty well-known NBA players that were at the shoot. And they’re great, they were like nice guys, they’re people just like us, right? They get dressed in the morning, they like to have coffee in the morning, they go to the bathroom, like they’re just normal people. But it was so funny to watch these other people that were there on set with us that day during the shoot. These people would come up, I was there helping kind of manage the client, so I was hanging out with my client and the NBA players, and these other people would come up, and you could just feel their nervousness. Like they were so excited and they wanted to get a selfie and they wanted to sound cool and look awesome, and they would just look ridiculous and act weird and say things that you could see on their face when they said it, they were like, “I’m so embarrassed, why did I just say this?” And the these NBA players, they were like super great nice guys, and they would try to make him feel comfortable, you know, and joke around with them, but it didn’t really work because the people coming up to talk to these famous NBA players, they were thinking like how cool and amazing and important these people are, and that was heightening their emotion in a positive way.


But when emotion is high, intelligence is low. Me, they were great nice people, I have just throughout many things worked with a handful of famous people that like yes, I get nervous sometimes, but for whatever reason, I was just like, “All right, these guys are cool, but they’re just normal people, like them,” and I would like give them crap, and I would joke with them, and I would treat them just like a normal person because my emotion wasn’t high. And what happened is they would want to come hang out and chat because I was normal, I wasn’t weird, I wasn’t freaked out, I was feeling calm because what I truly believe in my core is this. Us Magazine says stars are just like us, they’re just human, right? Go listen to my podcast episode on the Tuesday effect, but they have Tuesday days just like you and I do. I’ve also seen people in these highly emotional states, let’s say you’re feeling resentful because you’re thinking how your leaders don’t respect you as a person and are making you work during Diwali. Like, you’re not going to be as effective when you’re feeling that resentment and that anger and that frustration. You’re going to be distracted, you’re not focused, it’s probably harder for you to get started, you’re not thinking bigger, you ‘re not looking around corners because you feel resentful, and you’re allowed to. I’m not here to tell you not to be resentful. I would be, I would be ticked off. I was mad for my friends who had people on their team that were impacted this way. I didn’t even know the people, and I was feeling resentful, and I want to, because I like people, but you’ve got to acknowledge when emotion is high, intelligence is low. If your retrospectives are not looking and really understanding how people were feeling and what they were thinking that was creating those feelings, you’re just putting Band-Aids on problems that will continue to show up over and over and over again.


Okay, so one reason it’s important to focus on what you’re thinking and feeling is when emotion is high, intelligence is low. The other reason is because how you feel impacts what you do. Right? Right. So when that emotion is high, you’re intellectually not able to think clearly, to articulate yourself, to push back, to have clear communication. What you feel impacts what you do and don’t do. If you’re feeling exhausted and tired, if you’re not sleeping, if you’re working long hours and you’re getting paged in the middle of the night, if you’re feeling the stress and pressure and panic, you’re not thinking about how your work may impact other teams or other teams’ work might impact yours. You’re not coming up with creative ways to solve the problems you’ve run into. You’re not telling executives what is possible. You’re just taking orders and freaking out. And if you’re a leader, you’re passing that freak-out down to the rest of your team.


So if you want to actually change what you do and don’t do next time, you’ve got to change how you and your team are thinking and feeling. As a leader, do everything you can to protect your team’s brains and thoughts and beliefs to keep them in a clear, focused, healthy, supported, open, driven, motivated space. How do you do that? Don’t overshare things they don’t need to know. Don’t tell them when a leader or an executive has been rude and is barking demands. Don’t name-drop executives to add pressure to get them to understand how big of a deal this is. Don’t put those thoughts into their brain. You’re just making it harder for your team to have to manage their brain to get to that calm emotional space where their brilliance comes through and they’re able to work and be effective as a team member.


You’ve got to learn to manage your brain. Your default brain is going to tell you the sky is falling, this is a big deal, this is a big problem. This is essentially what I do with my clients all day, every day, is I help them learn how to manage your brain in real-life scenarios and what’s really going on with you right now. Here’s a few of my go-to thoughts I love. Feel free to steal them if they work. I used to tell my team all the time, I’m like, “Guys, we don’t save lives. We ship things to people super fast.” Okay? Like, we do not save lives. Let’s keep a little perspective. Sometimes in the moment, that can help your nervous system calm down. Sometimes it doesn’t. Thoughts are like clothes. You’ve got to try on different ones. Another one of my favorite go-to thoughts to help calm me when I would feel that stress and panic and overwhelm, I do things one at a time. Another thought, my goal is to like who I am while I do my best. That’s an interesting thought because for me, when I think it, it’s not like exciting and driven and motivated, it’s just calming. It’s like, yes, I want to hit the goal. Yes, I want to be able to deliver this thing in time. Like, who doesn’t? But I tell myself, I win if I like who I am at the end and I showed up and I did my best. Another thought is, it’s okay for others to feel stressed and disappointed. It really is okay for those executives and leaders to be freaking out and feeling stress and pressure. It’s okay. That doesn’t mean you need to as well. Another thought you’ve heard me say a lot is, we’re all just making this up. We really are. Someone out there made up reinvent, and some leader went and made up what they wanted to launch at reinvent, and then they changed their mind because they’re making it up. And they said, “No, I don’t just want to launch a demo. I want to launch the live product.” Why? Because we’re all just making it up.


Another thought that’s very powerful because most of us that are insecure overachievers tend to just work crazy hours and power through and stay late and get up early. My thought is, I can’t help if I don’t have enough sleep. Your body and your brain will literally start to shut down. I just tell myself, I can’t help if I don’t sleep, and I give myself permission to sleep.


So if you’re doing your retrospective, here’s the three things you need to do, and I’m going to tell you the third step is usually where people struggle, and this is where I’ve got kind of a cheat sheet for you that you’re definitely going to want. So walk into the retrospective, yes, get all those action items of what we should start, stop, continue. Sure, okay, let’s do that and let’s control what we can control. But let’s also acknowledge 90% of the problems we can’t control. So what I would offer is everyone in that room needs to write down what were they feeling in those weeks, days, hours leading up to the launch. Okay, and a feeling is a one-word emotion. I’m going to caution you, here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to ask people to write down what they’re feeling. They don’t have to share it, right? If they don’t want to, they can. But people are going to give you thoughts. If you said, “Okay, tell me how were you feeling at the beginning when we had the project kickoff,” you’re going to get a lot of thoughts. It’s going to be things like, “I was feeling good, like we had a plan, this was all going to work out.” Those are thoughts. Feelings are one-word emotions. “I was feeling focused, driven, excited, calm, peaceful, neutral,” whatever it is. Okay, you want to ask people what were they feeling, one-word emotions. They were feeling a lot of things. Have them write down all the feelings they had through the process.


Second, have them write down why. Why were you feeling calm? Why were you feeling panic? Why were you feeling stress? Why were you feeling resentful? Why were you feeling frustrated? Whatever the emotion is, these are the thoughts driving those emotions. Okay, so again, step one and two, we can usually manage and do, and you can do this independently. We, again, we don’t have to share this, and people can throw it away when they’re done if they don’t want to share. But write down what were you feeling and why.


The third part, then, is for every single one of those feelings and those thoughts as to why they were feeling that, have them come up with what do they want to practice thinking next time. If our thoughts are generating how we feel and how we feel is impacting what we do and don’t do, we’ve got to start at the top of the chain and manage our brain. Okay, what do you want to practice thinking next time? Instead, this is where people struggle because our brains tend to be all-or-nothing, black-or-white.


So let’s say you were feeling really resentful because you were having to work on a very important holiday for you and your family. Where some of my clients push back and they’re like, “What, so I’m just supposed to feel good and be excited and tell myself it’s fine?” I’m like, “No, not at all. I would never tell you that. This is trying to think positively about something we believe is negative. I don’t think that’s actually going to help. What we want is to get our brain to a place where we feel more calm, more neutral.” So instead of being resentful, and angry, and working all day, and doing the things, and having it take us three times as long, and kind of not doing our best work, and being sloppy with it, and complaining the whole way through, if we’re just bugged and annoyed because we’ve managed our brain to a thought like, “I don’t want to be in the same spot next year, I’m going to figure this out,” then yeah, maybe we’re going to work, but we’re only going to work for a couple of hours, and going to log off and be like, “That’s all you get. I did my best. I’m walking away,” right? Because you’re feeling calm. Or you’re going to work, but it’s going to take you less time because your cognitive, prefrontal, executive functioning brake is online, not that reptilian, deeper brain that’s online when you’re in that fight or flight mode.


So you want to practice thinking on purpose, manage your brain. What do you want to think next time? Again, I mentioned this is where people really struggle, so I’ve created a cheat sheet to help you with this. These are the top 10 frameworks to help you reframe your thoughts to what you want to think next time or what you want to start practicing thinking today in a way that does actually make you feel better. Right? We’re not just putting positive thoughts out there. We’ve got to acknowledge some of this you’re not going to feel good about, and that’s okay. But how do you get yourself emotionally to a place where you’re calmer so that you’re thinking more clearly and able to find a way to support yourself and get yourself to where you want to be?


So there’s a link in the show notes or go to lindsyliemancoaching.com/retrospective, and you can get this cheat sheet that has 10 ways to reframe your thoughts that are keeping you stuck. These 10 key architecture frameworks to reframing your thoughts are going to help not just with your retrospective, but in so many other ways. So go and grab a copy of it for yourself, go have your team download it and grab a copy for them, use it in your next retrospective, and let me know how it goes. But if all you’re doing in your post-mortems and your retrospectives is talking about what you should start, stop, and continue doing, you are going to continue to repeat the same meeting and identify the same problems and not solve them at their root cause.


What we need to focus on is how you are feeling so that you can be using the most efficient, effective, brilliant parts of your brain because all the answers sit within you and in that brain right now.


Alright, y’all. I hope Reinvent went well for you. You all launched some really cool, exciting things. It’s fun to watch the news and to know some of the faces and people behind it. I’m proud of you. You’re amazing. Remember, you don’t need to change a single thing about who you are. You are 100% amazing today, exactly as you are. You got this. We’ll talk soon.


If what you’re learning from this podcast is helping, this is just the beginning. Each week, I offer a limited number of coffee chats so that you and I can connect one-on-one and talk specifically about what’s going on for you. You’ll leave this call feeling more hopeful and motivated, but I’m also going to teach you a few things to try right away to get unstuck. Space is very limited, and these are free, so grab your spot before they’re gone. Click the link in the show notes or go to lindsyliemancoaching.com/chat and sign up today. You got this!

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Hey, I’m Lindsay Lyman

I spent the last ~12 years growing my career at Amazon. I’ve built teams, launched new products, and created my own jobs. As a certified coach, I teach people how to manage the noise in their head to feel motivated and valued at work again.

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