Overview: Premortem versus Postmortem
A decision postmortem looks back after the fact, to reflect on what worked and didn’t work as a way to enable future improvement.
A premortem is, in general terms, the opposite of a postmortem. It takes place at the beginning of a project, or decision. What makes a premortem powerful is the framing—you assume failure. With defeat solidly in mind, you take a hard look at what went wrong—and then develop strategies that could have prevented this outcome.
- Postmortems typically take place at the end of a project. However, conducting them during a project as well (monthly, quarterly, or annually) can enable course corrections and help teams avoid overlooking opportunities for improvement.
- Helps identify and promote best practices.
- Encourages collaboration. By including leadership, as well as stakeholders and clients, the team gets the full range of perspectives and agendas in real-time.
- Every voice is heard. The tone of postmortems is one of fact-finding and truth-seeking, not pointing fingers or finding a scapegoat.
How to Execute a Postmortem
- Timely Scheduling
Schedule a postmortem meeting within one week after the project ends, so that details remain fresh and engagement remains high.
- Meeting Preparation
Get ready for the postmortem by:
- Assigning a meeting moderator and separate note-taker.
- Sending out a survey to collect feedback from project team members. Collecting this in advance of the meeting helps ensure candid feedback. Once in a meeting, strong voices may overshadow others.
- Creating a meeting agenda and sharing it with attendees in advance.
- During the Meeting:
- Recap initial project objectives. Compare the expected results with the actual outcomes.
- Recap the project timeline, comparing the original plan with the actual experience.
- Use team feedback to lead a discussion about what worked well and what could have been planned better.
- Identify and assign actionable items to improve future projects.
- After the Meeting:
- Write a postmortem report with key takeaways and areas for improvement.
- Share the report with key stakeholders to ensure that what you learned from the project is applied to other projects moving forward.