This post was originally published on June 5, 2019, and updated most recently on June 25, 2020.
The end of a project is a wonderful time. But before you start popping corks, there’s one more important piece of work to be done: your project’s post-mortem analysis.
It doesn’t matter if you aced your latest project or barely made it, assessing your project in a post-mortem (also known as a debrief or retrospective meeting) will help you do things better next time. It’s always important to understand what’s working (and why), what’s not, and where opportunities lie. These insights will help you streamline workflow, innovate processes, and improve team collaboration.
Whether you’re already using them or this is a whole new concept to you, read on to discover how to get the most out of these meetings.
What are the benefits of a post-mortem meeting?
The post-mortem is a forum for you, your team, your stakeholders, and your clients to analyze all aspects of a project after it’s finished.
Post-mortems are often overlooked or treated as a luxury. After all, they do add time and budget to a project. And, depending on whether things have gone smoothly or not, it could be a difficult buy-in. Managers may also opt-out of post-mortems or run them inconsistently if they don’t know how to get the most value out of them. Without a clear goal, it’s hard to justify holding the meeting in the first place.
But the fact remains: Post-mortem meetings are a crucial part of the project’s life-cycle, and skipping them could mean you miss out on some big payoffs for what is usually a very small investment of your team’s time.
An effective post-mortem can help you:
- Improve efficiency: Reviewing your work post-project will help you identify areas for improvement and find a better way to approach tasks next time.
- Boost team communication: By talking and listening to each other, you’ll help bring your team closer together and improve everyone’s awareness of what everyone else is up to.
- Learn from mistakes: Reviewing your project will help you work out what went wrong and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
- Get closure: Holding a meeting is a collaborative way to officially end a project and give everyone a final chance to have a final say.
- Share information: Sharing the meeting outcome with the rest of your team and the wider business will help everyone else understand why your project went well (or why not). Being transparent with the rest of the company also plays a vital part in improving organizational communication.
- Improve morale: Celebrating your successes will fire up your team for the next project. Similarly, talking out project problems together will give everyone the opportunity to discuss concerns and iron out any resentments.
How to prepare for your post-mortem meeting
As with everything in the workplace, good organization is the key to success. So when it comes to hosting a productive post-mortem meeting, approach it the same way you would any other important meeting: prepare, stay focused, and follow up.
Work out your talking points
Write out your key talking points beforehand, so you have a sense of direction and an agenda. Your post-mortem should address the following questions:
- What went right during the project that we can repeat in the future?
- What went wrong, and how can we avoid it in the future?
- What should we do differently next time?
Hold a pre-meeting standup
If you have no idea where to start, hold an informal pre-meeting meeting with your team about the three questions mentioned above. The goal is to gather a list of discussion points, rather than to have that in-depth discussion now.
Send out a survey
Another option is to send out a survey. This allows you to quickly gather everyone’s talking points without investing extra time organizing a meeting. The only downside here is chasing people’s responses. To increase your chances of getting a response, make your survey short and clear with a range of questioning techniques to help you get full answers. And prepare a follow-up email to reign in the stragglers.
Use baselines to work out successes and problems
A baseline is a point of reference. When it comes to project management, there are usually three baselines: schedule, cost, and scope. Setting a baseline before your project kick-off means you can review your progress at any given time and track individual tasks against this original benchmark.
How to keep your post-mortem meeting on track
People will air out their issues and concerns, so rule number one: keep the atmosphere positive. There are several ways to make sure your meeting doesn’t turn into a big moan session and end with your team feeling encouraged and inspired.
1. Bring in a moderator
It’s not easy being neutral when it’s your team or project. One way to ensure neutrality is to bring in a moderator. Ideally, this should be someone who hasn’t had any involvement with the project whatsoever.
2. Keep it fun
Even if the project didn’t go as planned, there will still be successes to celebrate. Start and end with these.
3. Be constructive
Make sure you identify a solution to every issue raised. This helps keep things positive and gives your team something to work toward, rather than something to ruminate over.
4. Don’t let it get personal
Make sure people don’t attack one specific person. Even if an issue did arise due to an individual’s performance, keep the discussion high-level. Then, if necessary, discuss issues with that team member separately. Remember: the meeting should be a safe space where everyone can share their opinion.
5. Let everyone have their say
Give every team member the opportunity to have their say. Naturally, some people will be more vocal than others, so be mindful and ask quieter people to share their opinions.
6. Follow the agenda, and take minutes
You should have an agenda in place to keep the meeting on track. Assign someone the task of taking minutes, so you can review and act on the points discussed after the meeting.
7. Follow up on the meeting
Assign people to specific action points raised, so individuals have a sense of ownership and direction.
If you work in a larger organization, then make sure you have a process in place that allows you to easily share the results with everyone else. This could be a company-wide follow-up meeting either in-person or via videoconferencing software, or you could hold a meeting with all the other managers and let them relay the information back to their teams.
Use a post-mortem template
Take these tips to the next level by creating a post-mortem meeting template to keep your analyses easy to track and compare from one project to the next. Of course, you can customize your plan to whatever fits your team and your project best. But here’s a good place to start:
- Choose a day that the whole team is present with clear schedules. All sit down around a table or in a room by yourselves where everyone can be clearly seen and heard.
- Go around the room allowing every member to give high-level thoughts of how the project went or what could be improved in the future. Have your moderator conduct this thought experiment and give everyone a chance to talk.
- Present and discuss any analytics collected. Depending on the project, you may have data collected from during and after the project, like impressions, deadlines met, budget-following, etc.
- Set goals together for the next project. Take what the team has learned while working on this project and discuss what you can do moving forward to apply new findings to make the next project even more successful.
- Follow up on the meeting. Share the meeting minutes with everyone involved and make sure to express gratitude for all of the team’s hard work.
Running a post-mortem meeting is a great way to fine-tune your team’s processes and boost collaboration by encouraging a culture of open discussion. Another way to improve your project’s chance of success is to invest in a project management tool that helps you track project progress and communicate with your team in real-time. This not only improves transparency, but it also means the next time you run a post-mortem meeting, you’ll have all the information and stats handy – without having to dig through endless email chains.