Happy 4th of July.

Happy 4th of July.

Whether on a personal or a project level, the calendar is the most important measuring stick used to gauge progress because it is the measure everyone understands and can follow.  We mark significant milestones with a celebration. For example, birthdays are always a milestone and every country, person or project has a birthday (whether they celebrate them or not is another story). Whether the celebration is annually or monthly (anyone with a newborn has celebrated birthdays monthly), isn’t as material as using the calendar milestone to create space for celebration and reflection.  At milestones like birthdays we should remember and reflect on where we started, the path that we have taken and our goals.

In Agile projects we build in time for reflection called retrospectives. While in classic waterfall projects we have post-implementation reviews.  Regardless of which project management camp you find yourself in, introspection and the process adjustments generated from those changes are valuable. What is rarer is personal reflection. Sure we create resolutions on New Year’s Day, but how often do we review our progress against those goals? Milestones represent chance not only to celebrate, but, as importantly, a chance to step back and take time for introspection. For example, the team at the Software Process and Measurement Podcast and blog (yes there is a team) spent a bit of time during a recent retreat reflecting on a number of stalled projects and how we were going to get them going.

Milestone evoke celebration and introspection. Celebration is the easy part, what is typically harder is to reflect on how we met our goals. In some cases to we accept accomplishment with asking whether means justify the ends.  Early in my career I saw projects that, even though they delivered great outcomes, left project teams in shambles, or some cases, used creative accounting to hide budget overages.  In the short run the celebration was exciting, however in the long run was cost worth the benefit?  I think not. Tellingly, I do not know anyone from that stage of my career that is still in the business. A better approach is when the  markers that show that time is passing are a signal to celebrate and find time to reflect and renew.  In projects, those milestones include sprint reviews, demonstrations, sprint planning or classic phase gates. Each of those milestones generate feedback that helps teams and individuals change direction if needed. Feedback provides the impetus for change. It is usually very easy to mark those events by letting friends, family and stakeholders know what has been accomplished since the last milestone.

Everyone likes a celebration, whether it is because of fireworks, a piece of cake or the demonstration of some tasty bit of promised functionality.  After the celebration step back and reflect on the path that has been taken.  Seek out feedback, just like a retrospective and make changes where needed to ensure that when you reflect back at the next milestone that you do not have to think about what you should have done.