Reviewing your project results. Illustrated with a magnifying glass enlarging project results

On autopsy after the end of a project (gold mining)

A stepchild in project management

The start of many projects receives much attention. It is celebrated, installed, kicked-off, etc.

In this article, I want to write a few tips about a stepchild in project management and that is the retrospective after the end of a project. The art & science of reflection is often an unpracticed area of management. That is a real shame because there is often so much gold to be found in terms of lessons for the future.


Setting up a retrospective

AAR: After Action Review is a simple concept that can be used for this retrospective based on 3 questions.

  • What did we expect to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • What is the explanation for the difference?


For a project review it could look like this:

Organize a defined moment with the key figures in the implementation of the project (just do it yourself and certainly don’t involve any external people like me!)


Together, formulate answers to the following 3 questions:

  • What should the returns/outcome have been (scope, project goal, resources, timeframe)?
  • What is the actual returns/outcome?
  • What is the explanation of the difference (even if it is more returns or less exhaustion of resources)?


Harvest the insights, lessons that come to light. Describe these and use them in the organization of subsequent projects.


What does this reflection yield?

With this form of reflection, you organize a building block for learning in your organization and projects are actually delivered, completed and assessed. That is nice for all involved and also vitalizing.

Consequently, this way of looking back, conducting an – autopsy – also means that you avoid projects floating in the air like balloons until no one thinks about them anymore.


The Bill Gates method

Bill Gates’ legendary Think Week was also a form of this AAR. Bill retired to a small farm somewhere on the edge of a lake twice a year for a week. He reflected on the past, present and future of his company, of technology and of his industry. He did that, among other things, on the basis of a few hundred (!) white papers prepared by key figures from his company. He provided these white papers with handwritten comments. During long walks he connected all the ideas and added his brilliant ones. He thought about his own performance. He analyzed disappointments and successes. He reflected and learned!

The additional principle ‘Everything is and will always remain Beta’ means that everything will always remain a draft in a certain sense while awaiting something better. A principle like this keeps the organization reflective, learning and vital. A thorough autopsy as completion of a project can help well in this.


Ad van der Hulst

“Most busy people just do what they do with emails, calendar management and meetings. I help them with directly applicable productivity in cheerful, clear language so that they have less chores and more results and therefore time for the fun and important things in life again”.


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