Another Alternative to the Retrospective “Prime Directive”

I was recently preparing to facilitate a retrospective with another team in my company and one of the things I like to start out with is setting a tone of “we’re here to learn, not to point fingers or feel bad about ourselves”. In the past, I’ve used the “Prime Directive” from Norm Kerth’s book on Project Retrospectives. However, I’ve never really felt that the language resonated with people, and also feel like it didn’t reflect the way I currently think about organizations and systems, so I went searching around for some better language.

After too much time going down the rabbit hole looking for other opinions on the subject, I decided that I’d simply write my own introduction to the retrospective and have everyone read and agree with the sentiment (a big thanks to Tobias Mayer, as I stole a phrase or two from his restatement, I hope he doesn’t mind!). It’s a little longer than Kerth’s, but it works for me. I also put the first part in first-person form so that when people read it, they’re reading about themselves in the hope that this increases the resonance. Here it is:

Some days are better than others. Some days I’m in the “flow” state, doing awesome work. Some days I come to the end of a day and realized I’ve wasted a lot of time, made mistakes that I should have foreseen, or wish I could have done something differently.

Regardless, those days have happened and our purpose here is to find out:

  • What can we learn from our past actions and thinking that will inform and guide our future actions and thinking so that we can do a little better?
  • How can we change our environment (“the system”) so that it’s easier for us to do awesome work and less likely for us for us to waste time and make mistakes?

I hereby put the above “Retrospective Introduction” in the Public Domain. Feel free to use it, attribute it to me (or not), change the words around, etc. It’s now yours — if you want it to be.

11 thoughts on “Another Alternative to the Retrospective “Prime Directive”

  1. Hi Ted

    I love it and I used it in my retro this afternoon. My team thought it was great too.


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