Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.

This quote is what we know as the Retrospective Prime Directive. It comes from Norman L. Kerth’s “Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews” – one of the earliest books specifically on the subject of Retrospectives, written in 2001.*

I hold the Prime Directive to be true in every situation, even when the product is below standard, or it seems that team members are not contributing their best. I find it useful to remember that it’s the best given the resources available and the situation at hand. Retrospectives are the tool we have for surfacing underlying issues that stop us from producing the best of all possible work – from technical to budgetary to interpersonal.

By holding this principle to be true in all situations we get away from blaming and move quickly to searching for the source of problems. It’s also is a significant factor in building trust, and it’s only in a truly trustful environment (safe space) that team members are able to get to the real issues affecting project success – or indeed, feel comfortable sharing their ‘secrets of success’ to enable everyone else to achieve great results.

* Norm Kerth is often referred to as the Father of Retrospectives – his site is at