After months of grueling hard work, late nights, and numerous meetings, the project is complete. You breathe a sigh of relief, thinking it’s over. However, it’s not quite over. All the important lessons you learned getting to this point and all the obstacles that could have been avoided will quickly be forgotten if you crack open the celebratory drinks too soon. That’s why you need to have one more meeting — the post-mortem meeting.
A post-mortem meeting is the process of analyzing and documenting the outcomes at the end of a project. So sit tight and prepare your team. Post-mortems are comprehensive but extremely valuable for teams to analyze a project’s success (or lack thereof) and create action items that will help prevent repeat mistakes and provide a framework for future projects.
Here’s what you need for an effective post-mortem meeting
Post-mortem meetings require pre-planning and some light preparation work, which are essential for a successful meeting. If done properly, you will gain insightful knowledge of your team and work processes.
Meeting notes: This is the backbone of your action items. Everything that is discussed in the meeting should be written down in real time. Start with a pre-designed meeting notes template.
Project metrics: What were your project metrics? These are used to determine the success of the project, as you will compare the actual outcomes against the metrics. This will help establish process improvements to be implemented for the next project. Typically, in project management, these are the most commonly used metrics, but depending on the nature and complexity of your project, you may have different ones.
Cost — What was the projected cost of the project?
Schedule — What was the agreed timeline?
Scope — What was the scope of the work and deliverables?
Ensure that your project metrics are recorded accurately in your post-mortem documentation, as these metrics will be used to categorize the outcomes. Refer to your project plan (if you have one) to cross-reference your metrics. Start with a project charter template and get your project metrics recorded accurately.
For a productive post-mortem, where you'll get the most insight, it's crucial that your team is well prepared. Post-mortems can also be tough because they require an honest appraisal of what worked and what didn't — and that can make people defensive. So here’s how you can create a forum for open, honest and thoughtful dialogue.
Set ground rules: set rules that encourage your project team to give open and honest feedback but also ensure each individual and their contribution are respected.
Prepare talking points: ask your team to prepare talking points, so there is a sense of direction and an agenda for the meeting.
Appoint a moderator: while most project managers can act as the moderator, it might be beneficial to appoint someone else, potentially a stakeholder who was not directly involved in the project, to eliminate any kind of bias or conflict that could come from team members or management.
Appoint a notetaker: assign this position to someone who was not part of the project. This ensures no one gets sidetracked and everyone can stay focused.
How to run a post-mortem meeting
The post-mortem process is a little different than other types of meetings simply because it requires preparation. However, this is what makes the meetings so worthwhile — you are deeply analyzing the successes and failures, which will enable you to create an action plan to replicate the successes or mitigate the challenges.
1. Set a time limit
It’s the end of the project, and everyone is ready to move on to the next challenge. Set a time limit that ensures that all areas of the post-mortem meeting are covered without further exhausting your team.
2. Create a timeline of project milestones
Recap the project lifecycle: This is what forms the basis of your timeline. Go through all the details of the project and give dates where possible; for example, design approval was March 9, 2021.
3. Ask your team to share their obstacles and achievements
Engage your team: ask your team to write their obstacles and achievements in line with the project milestones. For example, a common obstacle might be that design approval came too late, and an example of an achievement could be that even though the design review was done on time, the build was completed quicker than anticipated.
Categorize each obstacle and achievement: refer back to the project baselines discussed previously. Assign a category — these are your baselines, (cost, schedule and scope) for each obstacle and achievement. For example, the design approval coming in late would fall under “Schedule.”
Explore the obstacles and achievements in-depth: encourage your team to think deeply about how these roadblocks came up and how these wins contributed to the project’s success, and add these to the meeting notes. For example, the design approval came late as the client’s team was absent for two weeks. Delivering before the anticipated due date was achieved due to team members working in groups for the project.
4. List action items for each obstacle and achievement
Compile a list: with your team, brainstorm action items for each obstacle and achievement. These will become preventative measures and be implemented in future projects. Action items may include chasing up clients more closely to ensure deadlines are met and ensuring that teams work together for all complex parts of the project.
Split each action item into three categories: these categories are people, process, and project. Action items should be precise and straight to the point, for example, more team members working on the project, which falls under “people,” and creating a more open and transparent line of communication, which would fall under “process.”
5. Review your meeting notes
Recall the main points: go through the main points that were discussed, milestones, roadblocks, wins, and action items. Write down any additional takeaway points that your team comes up with.
6. Follow up with a post-mortem analysis
Prioritize action items for future projects: there's a well-known technique called the MOSCOW method that ranks the priority of the action item as “must,” “should,” etc.
Confirm with your team: project management requires team collaboration. Making sure your team agrees with the potential action items is important, as they are the people who will be working on the next project.
What are the benefits of a post-mortem meeting?
Post-mortem meetings provide a holistic view of projects, unlike other meetings in the project management world, such as sprint retrospective meetings, which only focus on one part of the project. Post-mortems enable product teams to gain insight into the whole process and allow for iteration.
Post-mortem meetings will:
Enhance efficiency: analyzing your work post-project enables you to identify areas that need improving. You can find solutions to problems that will help you become more agile and help your team's workflow.
Help your team learn from mistakes: identifying what went wrong can be a great stepping stone to tackling these challenges if they happen again.
Bolster team communication: discussing and dissecting the project in-depth will help bring your team closer together and can improve team communication and teamwork.
Improve organizational learning: sharing information will help everyone else learn from the success and failures, and other employees will be able to implement these successes and failures in their work.
Raise morale: celebrating wins openly will excite your team for the next project, and tackling roadblocks together will increase confidence in team members. Pushing your team members to achieving personal development is your first step to raising the team’s morale.
Successful post-mortems keep your team on track
Post-mortems are invaluable and provide key takeaways that can make the next project easier. Doing regular post-mortems after every project builds up institutional knowledge that can be codified to structured processes, so you're not just going from one project to the next but gaining skills and efficiencies every time.
Streamline future projects by conducting post-mortem meetings with this template, or take advantage of Notion’s sophisticated customization features to create your own.