Post-Mortem Meeting

project team hosting a post mortem meeting

What is a post-mortem meeting?

A post-mortem meeting is held at the end of a project. The goal is to look at the project from start to finish to determine what went right and what can be improved. By the end of the meeting, you should have identified best practices and opportunities for improvement going forward. 

Why hold post-mortem meetings in project management?

It may be tempting to skip this step. After all, the project is complete, and your team is probably ready to move onto the next thing. A post-mortem meeting, however, can help save you time long term. 

Over the course of a project, countless decisions are made. In hindsight, many of those decisions will be determined as proper and sound, while others will not be. If documented correctly, these realizations can help direct future projects. But if you fail to capture key learnings, best practices, and changes to make, your next project runs the risk of either repeating the same mistakes or struggling to replicate your successes. 

Guide: Agile Marketing Cheat Sheet

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How to run a project post-mortem meeting

It’s best to schedule a post-mortem meeting as close to project completion as possible so that relevant details are still top of mind for your team. Also make sure to plan ahead, follow a repeatable structure, and stick to your agenda. Here are some additional tips:

Send out a post-mortem questionnaire or survey

Send out a project survey immediately after project completion, with plenty of time to collect and review the results before the in-person meeting. Consider making the survey anonymous, which often helps team members to be more candid. 

Select a meeting moderator

The project manager often acts as the moderator, but another team member or stakeholder could be appointed to run the post-mortem meeting instead. The moderator’s role is to send out the agenda, outline the meeting flow, recap the project at a high level, and keep the meeting on track. 

Set a meeting agenda

Even if your team is used to more informal meeting styles, it’s important to have an agenda for a post-mortem. Without one, it’s easy to lose control of the meeting and devolve into complaining and finger pointing. Make sure to follow the agenda and document the discussion so your insights can be applied to future projects. 

A solid post-mortem meeting agenda includes:

  • Purpose—At the beginning, focus your team on the goals to avoid it becoming a complaint session. This is also a good time to do a check in with team members and gauge morale. 

  • Recap—What did you and your team accomplish?

  • Outcomes—Did you accomplish what you needed to?

  • Improvements—What went well, and what didn’t?

Recap the project

After you’ve introduced the purpose of the meeting and everyone’s on the same page, recap the project at a high level. You’ll dive down into the weeds soon, but it’s helpful to start with a quick overview of what the team set out to accomplish and how you structured the project. 

Review the outcomes and results

When reviewing the results of a project, ask the team if the project accomplished the initial goals. Ask targeted questions of the team to help direct the conversation. Ask about the project timeline, the budget, staff time, and client satisfaction. A few post-mortem questions you can use to guide the conversation include:

  • What contributed to the project’s success?

  • What ran smoothly?

  • What did you enjoy about the project?

Identify what went well and what didn’t

Post-mortem meetings should include honest conversations about the process. Identify the decisions and actions that worked well and that your team feels proud of. Ask, too, for honest feedback about what needs to be done differently, where improvements could be made, and how time and resources could have been spent more efficiently. This is also a good time to look at other projects that may benefit from the lessons you and your team have learned. 

Here are a few questions to help guide your post-mortem analysis. You might ask:

  • What issues need to be addressed?

  • Do you feel you had the support and tools you needed?

  • Did you feel you had too much on your plate?

  • How can the project flow be improved?

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Post-mortem meeting best practices

In addition to having a solid agenda, you can do a few things to ensure a successful post-mortem meeting:

  • Set rules for the meeting—Make it clear that there will be no finger-pointing, that the goal is to focus on the parts of the process rather than the people, and that positive attitudes are a must. You may also want to set rules around distractions like phones, laptops, and other technology.

  • Assign one person to take notes—With only one person acting as scribe, everyone else can focus on the discussion. Consider rotating your assigned note-taker from meeting to meeting, so everyone gets a turn. 

  • Celebrate the wins—If you acknowledge the exceptional achievements and call out rock star team members up front, then discussing the things that didn’t go well will be easier. Also be willing to own your mistakes and missteps as the project manager and meeting moderator, which will set the stage for others to do the same.

  • End on a positive—Your team will be walking out of that room and into their next project, and if they leave feeling positive and motivated, they will have a greater chance at success going forward. 

Follow up after a project post-mortem

Even after the meeting has ended, there’s still work to be done. First, the note taker needs to clean up and complete the notes. Any tasks still needing completion should be assigned and noted so that the next steps are clear. If the team decides on process changes, those need to be included in the notes, with a timeline established that allows them to impact the next project. 

Holding a post-mortem review may seem redundant or unnecessary in the moment, since there’s always another project waiting in the wings, but this practice will help your team be more productive and successful in the long run. As you implement the steps outlined above, you’ll find your post-mortem meetings are smoother, more collaborative, and far more effective.

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