A decision or project postmortem is similar to a medical postmortem. Both processes are conducted after the fact, to look back on what worked and didn’t work as a way to enable improvement.
But unlike the medical profession, other fields don’t always take the time to look back on a completed project or a key decision. Often, it’s on to the next task. But, this limits our ability to learn and to improve for the next time.
- 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.