Project Management: The power of a ‘Retrospective’


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I love trains, I love train travel, especially if I get a prized view of the surrey woods as well. The train spells motion, progress, signs of LIFE!

More than that, I love travelling in reverse, i.e. on a seat that gives me a reverse view; a hind sight; a look-back. It seems to give me power. Power over time, power over a forward looking lens and  power over the train’s speed. I feel I have more choice over the views and may linger on them a bit longer.

For a few moments, I’m reminded of the expanse of the universe, the futility of the BAU and the folly of a parochial view. If I am lucky, I might even have a moment of deep understanding or a flash of brilliant insight. The insights are what might save the rest of my day, help resolve a family / work issue or simply bring me a new idea.

In general, look-backs or look-back periods have a much bigger application. They allow us to re-think life insurance contracts, purchase agreements, success or failure of a venture or a project. if we wanted to, we COULD make use of it.

Looking back on a project

In the context of project management, practitioners have instituted ‘Retrospectives’. To some of us, it may seem like another meeting to go, another opportunity to sermonise and have tea. However there may be merit in following the ritual.

Pinnacle projects says that the activities of the retrospective are centred around the question – “How can we work together to improve now, so our next project is demonstrably better?”

It is an opportunity to delve into the performance of the project, understand what went well and what could be improved. Team members contribute their insights and point of view at the discussion.

How to conduct a Retrospective

Retrospectives should include the project teams, including SMEs and IT teams. Stakeholders may be included in some cases. Agendas should be set-up well in advance to allow for preparation. You may also like to circulate a questionnaire prior to the meeting, for improved data collection.

Discussions revolve around performance data/ metrics, timelines, individual perception of things that went well/ could be improved, lessons learnt, ideas to carry forward, what to change and how to improve future projects.

It is also good practice to have flip-charts, white boards, sticky notes, markers etc. in-order to make the discussion more interactive.

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The team should seek to identify tangible and viable improvement ideas. As per the Scrum experts Belinders, ‘One of the most valuable questions that I have experienced in retrospectives is asking why? ‘

  • Why did you do it like this?
  • Why did this (or didn’t this) work for you?
  • Why do you consider something to be important?
  • Why do you feel this way?
  • Why did you decide to work together on this?

For larger projects, it may also help to discuss each measure of project success. These may include: time, cost, value, applicability of solutions identified, end-products amongst others.

Why Retrospectives Are Important

Retrospectives lead to organisational learning, facilitate continuous improvement, lead to better project cost & time estimates, improve performance and team building.

And finally, it allows teams to accrue best practices over the longer-term, without the cost of re-learning from repeat failures.


© Anu Maakan 2016

(Disclaimer: all views published here are the personal views of the author and do not represent those of any organization).






Organisational Leadership: Joe’s success and your own!


Joe is now ‘CEO Joe’. He did not start out like that. From a simple, hardworking IT consultant to CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation, he has done well. Very well! In less than 10 years, he has chiselled out a reality bigger than he ever imagined. Surely, it wasn’t the few pats on the back and the somewhat bigger pay-check that did it all? Or did it?

My inner decoding machinery was humming. I had to know a few truths. There weren’t any dead give-aways, like an Ivy-League degree, a multi-million dollar package, or an evidently over-powering personality that could emblazon a pathway through hell.

What makes Joe

Joe is keenly interested in what he does and has been given the support and space to fashion a future for the company. He is well entrenched in the business, engaged with business partners and loves the products he builds. He has a team that shares a common vision, collaborates well and delivers. Together, they understand their markets and have the capability to execute. He also gives his team the same autonomy, sense of purpose and support that is available to him from the top. ‘I was allowed to operate as an intrapreneur, and the room to expand would appear when I needed it’, says Joe. He has also been well rewarded and recognised along the way.

If the formula for success is so plainly visible why are there so few Joe’s?

Motivation or theory?

Hundreds of motivational theories have evolved over the last 200 years. Motivators such as compensation, rewards and recognition, social interaction, job enrichment, empowerment have been in the public domain for a long time. There is plenty to choose from.

Is it that corporations do not understand these? Or have simply shied away from actually applying these? Does the approach to motivation remain a bit too impersonal and non-serious? I would think it does.

How many of us get a thank you for a job well done, a personalised Christmas gift, the freedom to choose some of the work we do? Not many… the clues are visible every day!

Motivators moved on – what inspires in the 21stcentury

The nature of jobs has also seen a change from the industrial era. Not many of us work in a coal mine any more, make railway coaches or produce steel pellets. A lot of us are knowledge workers. These may be more complex, often less structured, more creative and non-repetitive tasks, with no one single way of doing them. In such an environment, creativity, problem solving and intrinsic knowledge play a major role. Says Dan Pink, ‘the traditional carrot and stick reward system works for certain 20th century mechanistic tasks, but for many 21st century tasks, this approach does not work and often does harm.’

Teresa Amabile: Intrinsic motivators are more important than money or status

Harvard’s Teresa Amabilesays that ‘the single and most powerful progress is meaningful work.’ A central tenet of hercomponential theory is the intrinsic principle of creativity.

Some companies are beginning to experiment & introduce innovative work practices, most others are lagging behind. It does not appear that justice has been done to the expectant millions queuing-up to the workplace every day. All it takes is a better appreciation of the individual and a few directed efforts to convert the somber haze around your people to an electric buzz.

It is time for leaders to engage and empower in new ways.


© Anu Maakan 2016

(Disclaimer: all views published here are the personal views of the author and do not represent those of any organization).



Organisational Leadership: The badge of greatness


Michelle Obama is my role model….…. she went to Harvard, she is talented and always encourages young girls to reach for their dreams. I want to be like her’, said my daughter. Words of wisdom from the leading lady of America had made it past the glitz and glamour of several other goddesses. I felt reassured about the influences working on my daughter.

The conversation made me think. Do we all have role models? Consciously or unconsciously do we pick cues from those in our immediate environment? Who might these people be? Family members? Managers? Social activists? Thought leaders? Anyone with a success story to tell!  I think I have been and continue to be impacted by a large number of people. Starting from my successful older cousins who led me to an MBA degree, to my first boss who showed how to build & retain the trust of customers, to the manager who told me, ‘you need to define the job, make it your own…..’ which I never forgot, I have been and continue to be influenced by a large number of role models, more so than I realise. The benefit has been mine as much as that of the corporation.

Observing leaders go about their lives can influence how teams behave, perform their tasks and add value. It can lead to improved/ innovative business practices, more resilient, hi-performing teams, greater profitability and finally sustainable, profitable corporations.

However, the power to influence negatively is as great or more as the positive fallouts.

Here are a few items to look-out for:

  • Show interest in your people, genuine as far as possible.
  • Encourage ownership & creativity at an individual level.
  • Participate in team meetings & daily huddles. They are useful venues for problem solving.
  • Communicate clearly and unequivocally.
  • Operate from a plan, being reactive and appearing whimsical takes away employee confidence.
  • As far as possible, communicate key decisions widely.
  • Provide the background data and context to changes/ decisions made.
  • Avoid emotional outbursts. These can only have a negative impact.
  • Encourage collaboration.
  • Help teams understand performance objectives and provide regular feedback.
  • Define your expectations prior to a meeting. Negative outcomes from important meetings can hurt confidence and career progression.

Management needs to recognise the power they wield, the impact they have & the change that they can drive. ‘Leadership is example. Example is the way leaders create reasons for others to believe in their leadership’, says John Boldoni, an international leadership consultant. Leaders actions set benchmarks in behaviour. Being a good role-model drives trust and loyalty, greater buy-in for corporate objectives, thereby increasing chances for survival & success.

My experience in change management has consistently shown that leadership has a big role to play in the success of teams. Teams who perceived their leaders to be inaccessible, uninvolved, uncommunicative and ‘pure task masters’ had poorly motivated, low performing teams. Leaders should be seen as leading teams that are collectively creating a thriving, high-performing organisation. ‘When we make decisions, the employees should be part of the journey and should know they’re not just filling my pockets’ (1), says Lars Rebien Sorensen, CEO of Novo Nordisk, voted best performing CEO by Harvard Business Review in Nov. ’15.

As rightly put by Winston Churchill, ‘the price of greatness is responsibility’.

© Anu Maakan 2016

(Disclaimer: all views published here are the personal views of the author and do not represent those of any organization).

Senior Manager’s Regime: Calling on Atlas



Legend has it that in the war against the Olympians, Atlas and his brother Menoetius sided with the Titans. When the Titans were defeated, many of them were confined to Tartarus. Zeus condemned Atlas, the losing leader to stand at the western edge of Gaia (the Earth) and hold up The Heavens on his shoulders, as a punishment for losing.

In a similar ‘Ironie du sort’, the FCA and PRA have called on senior management within Banks, building societies, credit unions, insurance firms and PRA designated-investment firms to step-up and show more accountability (hold the earth, as it were!!). The Senior Management and Certification Regime has come into force on March 7th   2016 in the UK. The new framework has three components: Senior Manager Regime (SMR), Certification Regime, Rules of Conduct.

As an aftermath of numerous scams, market manipulations, subversive practices and regulatory fines in the financial markets, regulators are seeking to reinstate the trust between individuals and the Banks. And to contribute to evolution of improved CONDUCT.

Some highlights of the Senior Managers Regime

  • It focuses on individuals who hold key roles and responsibilities in relevant firms.
  • The SMR will require firms to allocate responsibilities to senior managers and to assess their fitness and propriety on a regular basis.
  • Between the FCA and PRA, 30 prescribed responsibilities are defined.
  • Senior Manager approval applications to the regulator will need to include a ‘Statement of  Responsibility’.
  • A ‘Manager Responsibility Map’ is to be created outlining key areas that need management attention.
  • The statute imposes conditions and time limits on approvals of senior managers.
  • Chairmen and non-executive directors will be included as “Senior Management Functions“. ‘They will be explicitly held to account for boardroom decisions, and deemed potentially culpable for poor decisions as executive directors’, as per the EY paper titled Senior Managers on the hook.
  • The roles classified as ‘Senior Managers’ would include the likes of Chairman of the Board, CEO, CFO, CRO, Heads of Business area, Head of Internal Audit, Chairmen of Risk and Audit committees, Chief of compliance,  amongst others.
  • Where a senior person is found to have committed misconduct, regulators may impose an unlimited fine or ban the person from certain types of functions.
  • The length of time that the regulator can take disciplinary action against a Senior Manager has been doubled from three to six years.
  • For instances of reckless misconduct, leading to insolvency of a bank a person guilty of offence is liable to an unlimited fine and/or upto seven years in prison.

In his evidence to the Treasury Select Committee in September 2013, the FCA’s chief executive Martin Wheatley observed that it was “hard to nail and individual against responsibility because matrix organisation structures and committee decision making means that individuals can always defuse responsibility.” Such a regulation is likely to impact across the rungs of the organisation, as ‘accountability’ is cascaded to the ‘next in chain’, once it is so identified.

As is evident, the rules cover a fairly large ground and seem to want to raise accountability and drive higher standards of personal conduct. The bar has definitely been raised.

It remains to be seen how long the identified Atlas’ will carry the weight of the Earth, i.e. the ‘assigned responsibility’. Would they soon become unwilling to take bold decisions and start to look for unsuspecting Hercules to pass on the load?


© Anu Maakan 2016

(Disclaimer: all views published here are the personal views of the author and do not represent those of any organization).

Satanic dances in the financial markets


Contrary to the beliefs of many, Satan is not the opposite of God.

According to the bible, Satan was a cherub created by god. However, some time before the creation of mankind, Satan rebelled against God and took one third of the angels with him into rebellion.

Rebelling angels

Regular rumblings in the financial press  indicate to me that some of the rebelling angels, a.k.a. Satan’s followers are still at large and flourishing in the power rooms of banks/ financial institutions.  Some recent headlines:

Deutsche Bank in record $2.5bn fine over interest rate manipulation
FCA fines Barclays £72m for poor handling of financial crime risks
Five global banks to pay $5.7 billion in fines over rate rigging
£20 billion British Money Laundering scam goes through Eastern Europe, Ends in HSBC, RBS, UBS and Citibank

Whether it is LIBOR manipulation, wrong selling/ indiscrete sales practices, subversion of market practices, poor monitoring of financial crime/ laundering ‘dirty’ money, or another exotic cocktail; it is clear that the situation in the financial markets is far from comfortable.

Conduct Risk and Organisational Culture

A plethora of rules, regulations and guidance have been issued by the regulators. Yet, the pro’s have found the loop holes, broken the rules and engendered instability in the financial markets.

In 2014 alone, the FCA brought in a record £1,471,431,800 in fines, more than twice the previous year. It is now clear that that purely focusing on the establishment of rules without focusing on outcome for the customer / stakeholder will not be effective.

‘Maybe it has always been the case but it appears that when the dust settles and the enquiry is over the causes of the failure boil down more often than ever to culture’, says Peter Richardson – paper on ‘Risk Culture’, Institute of Risk Management.

The importance of conduct risk has been raised by the financial crisis.  A few thousand regulators cannot assume the responsibility for the manipulative conduct for the millions employed in the sector. Individual conduct is sharply in focus.

Organisational Culture

The culture of the organisation significantly influences individual conduct. Senior executives and directors of the organisation have a key role in setting the tone.  There is good chance that their behaviour would influence that of the employees.

Culture is formed by the repeating behaviour patterns, although individuals may also perceive culture differently based on the practices and ethical standards of the division they work for. Organisational artifacts and symbols also impact organisational culture.

Remuneration and Conduct

Improper remuneration structures incentivise poor conduct and unnecessary risk-taking. It is fairly well known that for too long, banking staff have been paid for doing the wrong things. Rewards will need to be rationalised and balanced with penalties for failure, if the precedent is to change.

Cult following                                                                                                                                                     

Members of the LaVey’s church in California are said to invoke Satan not as a supernatural being, but as a symbol of man’s ego. They live by the Satanic statements and are focussed on the ‘self’ as the centre of their universe. All morals and values are seen as subjective human constructions.

Whether or not there is value in their beliefs, or a place for such a cult, whether or not it is really representative of the larger society; it is apparent that in the financial markets, the dangerous dance with Satan continues.

Will someone stop the music?

© Anu Maakan 2016

(Disclaimer: all views published here are the personal views of the author and do not represent those of any organization).