No project is an unmitigated success or failure.
Even when it seems like a project couldn’t have possibly gone better (or worse), there are always lessons to be learned.
Thus, the project post-mortem.
A post-mortem meeting isn’t an investigation. It’s an inquiry to uncover all the lessons for the future – not a chance to assign blame or put people on the spot.
It’s the opportunity to ask: What exactly did we accomplish? And even more importantly: what could we do better next time?
To help your team get the most out of your project post-mortem meetings, we’ve shared some basic guidelines. Check them out below and make your next post-mortem your most productive one yet.
What is a project post mortem?
A project post-mortem is a meeting that typically happens at the end of a project to evaluate its successes and pitfalls. The goal is to discover insights that will allow you to implement better processes for future projects.
A productive post-mortem meeting is a chance to fully unpack a project’s trajectory and dig deeper into why things unfolded the way they did.
The core benefit is improved efficiency. If done right, you’ll identify bottlenecks in your processes and improve your workflows.
Beyond that, a post-mortem meeting will improve:
- Morale – Celebrating your wins in a post-mortem meeting can help bring your team together and create a sense of camaraderie.
- Communication – As you’re unpacking what went right and what went wrong, you’ll hopefully identify communication gaps that may be hindering the project.
- Transparency – A post-mortem meeting invites everyone to share their perspective on the project overall. This creates a transparent environment in which you can get to the core of the issues.
Post-Mortem Meeting Documentation
To prepare for your post-mortem meeting, there are three key pieces of documentation you’ll need:
- A pre-meeting questionnaire – A questionnaire gives your team time to assess the project as a whole. On your end, you’ll be able to review the questionnaire to identify patterns and talking points for the meeting. More on that .
- A meeting agenda – Having an agenda is vital to ensure your meeting runs smoothly. Without one, you may not have time to address your most important issues. For details on how to organize your agenda, jump to .
- A meeting worksheet – A worksheet will be helpful during the meeting to organize your team’s feedback into the right categories. For instance, your worksheet should include a section for successes, failures, obstacles, and solutions.
- A recap document – Once the meeting is over, draft a document that covers the main points discussed and actionable steps for the future. More on that .
How to Run a Productive Project Post-Mortem Meeting
1. Make post-mortems a standard part of your team’s process.
Post-mortem meetings should be an essential part of your team’s process – for the big projects and the smaller ones. Most teams run them for larger projects with definitive start and end dates, but they can be equally useful for smaller-scale or even ongoing projects.
Even though “post-mortem” quite literally means after death, your team doesn’t have to wait for the end of a huge, long-term project to get value from a retrospective evaluation.
As you’re fleshing out a project’s schedule during the kickoff phase, insert mini post-mortems at key milestones. These pulse-checks will give your team the chance to better understand how a project is progressing – and hopefully identify potential issues before they cause permanent damage.
Once the project has officially wrapped, don’t wait too long to schedule the final post-mortem, or people will have mentally moved on. In fact, you should schedule the post-mortem when you build out the full project plan, so everyone knows it’s an expected part of the project wrap-up.