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4 Frameworks for Reflecting on Your Work and Running Better Projects

   

Once you’ve wrapped up a project or finished a difficult task it’s easy to want to move on and never look back— especially if the project was challenging. However, it’s important to take time to reflect on high and low points in order to make smart next steps and run better projects in the future.

In today’s article, we’re going to share four activities to conduct during reflection meetings. Some of the methods introduced in this article can be used not only for team discussions, but also as a way to reflect independently on the results of the day (or week) and make regular improvements and adjustments.

The main purpose of a reflection meeting is for team members and individuals to discuss the results of development with each other using a systematic process and from an objective point of view to stimulate better action plans. These tools can also help us avoid more formal but indirect and unproductive project wrap-ups, which often end with a vague conclusion, like “things didn’t go well this time, so we’ll be more diligent next time,” or “let’s do all of our projects this well in the future.”

1. KPT(A)

The KPT(A) or “Keep Problem Try (Action)” method is a simple way to review a project and brainstorm suitable next steps by visualizing the high points and issues you’ve faced thus far. It was invented by American computer scientists and initiator of the agile software development movement, Alistair Cockburn, and has since become very popular among Japanese product teams.

  • Keep: What went well, what you want to continue doing or do next time
  • Problem: Issues, things that went wrong
  • Try: Next steps, solutions for problems
  • Action: Make your “try” into a concrete to-do list

Directions

  1. Write down your “Keep” points on sticky notes individually and then share with the group
  2. Write down “Problem” points individually and then share with the group
  3. If there is something you want to discuss after viewing everyone’s “Keep” and “Problem” points, take time out to talk about it now. If a lot of unrelated issues come up, hold a quick vote/poll to identify the issues that members think are important, and discuss.
  4. Write down “Try” points individually and then share with the group
  5. If there is something that you want to share more deeply or discuss, schedule a time to talk about it. It is best to have at least one “Try” for every “Problem.”
  6. Take action on the “Try” points you want to work on you want to work on. Decide on the person in charge and set deadlines.

The important thing is to make your “Try’s” into concrete actions

In the “Try” section of the KPT, it is important to write down specific actions as well as a general description of what you will do next. The point is not to simply write “increase sales,” but to make the action clear. For example— “increase customer visits by 20 times per month.”

It is also important to note that the KPT method entails iteration. The key is to test the “Try” you decide on in an iterative flow. Most of the time, it is difficult to identify a single best solution, so if you find things worth trying and keeping, these “tries” can be saved for the next KPT reflection session. Likewise, if new doubts arise after testing your “try”, they will enter the “Problem” section in the next KPT.

Why use the KPT method?

There are several characteristics of the KPT method that we can learn from. The first feature is that it does not ask about strengths and weaknesses. In reflection sessions, people often get lost in the discussion of pros and cons, tending to hide the bad and bring out the good, or fall into self-denial, forgetting that the pros and cons this time are not as important as determining what to do next time.

The KPT recording method effectively clarifies oneself and establishes structure quickly, allowing one to accumulate those parts of one’s competencies that are worth maintaining on the one hand, and to focus on improving them on the other.

2. Starfish

The Starfish Retrospective was created by global tech leader and consultant Patrick Kua, to encourage thinking beyond a “good” and “bad” action dichotomy while doing reflection activities, and develop a mutual understanding about how different actions are valued within a team.

  • Keep Doing: Things you’re glad you tried and want to continue to do
  • More of: Things you are already doing but would like to do more of because they are effective
  • Less of: Actions that you want to reduce because they take a lot of effort to implement but have no significant effect
  • Stop Doing: Things that do not benefit the team
  • Start Doing: What you want to start or what you want to do next

Directions

  1. Write down answers individually for all categories.
  2. Share with everyone.
  3. Vote on what you topics you want to talk about.
  4. Discuss and decide on specific actions for the items with the most votes. Repeat for as long as time allows.

It’s all about approaching the biggest issue in front of you and improving it.

While KPT is extremely simple, the Starfish is exercise makes it easier to organize information because it is broken down step by step. For example: Less of and Stop Doing are in a sense similar to the Problem in KPT.

Another difference is that in point 4 of the process, instead of discussing all elements, you have to choose to focus in on the most important ones and solve them. The main characteristic of Starfish exercise is to approach the biggest issue in front of you and improve it.

3. World Cafe

The World Cafe allows participants to hear a wide variety of opinions and gain inspiration from one another in a short amount of time by getting into groups and having brief discussions.

Directions

  1. List up topics you are interested in talking about individually.
  2. While grouping similar topics together, share with everyone.
  3. Group participants randomly according to the number of people. (You should have at least three people per group)
  4. In your group, discuss which out of the topics that were shared you’d like to discuss.
  5. During a set time frame (anywhere from 5-15 minutes), discuss the topic you’ve picked together.
  6. In the second round (idea exchange), everyone should change to a new group. After briefly explaining the topics of the previous groups, continue the discussion on the same topic.
  7. In the third round (integration of insights and discoveries), members who have been dispersed to other tables return to the first table to share what they have heard and what insights they gained at other tables.
  8. One representative of the group will share any interesting insights they had with the room.

Best for use in situations where there is a large number of participants and topics.

It is preferable to use World Cafe in situations where there are many participants and many topics to discuss. If it is a large project, with as many as 15 participants, it may be desirable to randomly divide each group into smaller groups to discuss different topics, and to promote different points of view by rotating group members.

4. Timeline

The “Timeline” activity is quite like it sounds— roughly laying out your actions in chronological order. Viewing actions chronologically and across departments, even roughly, can help you reflect on the relationships between stakeholders and offers a chance to discover points for improvement.

timeline

Directions

  1. Have everyone identify things that happened along the timeline, including positive points and negative points, KPT elements, etc. for a set time frame
  2. Vote on which points on the timeline seem interesting to you (we suggest sticker dot voting)
  3. Have a discussion about whichever area or post-it has the most votes.

Since it is our human tendency to associate clues with information, reviewing timelines stimulates associations and memories and helps us gather more information.

For example, if a team is reviewing a project on a monthly basis, by the time the team reviews it, they may have forgotten what happened a month ago.

Summary

We hope that the five ways of conducting a reflection sessions introduced here will be helpful to product development teams when they conduct their weekly or monthly reviews. Depending on the size of the project, the timing of the review, and the attributes of the team members, sessions will vary greatly, so we recommend that you try them out and find the best method for your team.

The most important objective here is to identify problems and think of ways to improve them, rather than focusing on the methods themselves. These methods can also be used in your own work, by recording your day-to-day tasks work, identifying problems, and prescribing appropriate remedies.

We also have Design Sprint Reflection Worksheet, so please check it out if you are looking to have a reflection session or follow-up a Design Sprint!