Post-Mortem Meetings - Docket

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Post-Mortem Meetings

Finishing a project is a great feeling. The deliverables are all in, and the client has been billed. You’re already looking forward to conquering the next challenge. But, there is still one more important piece to be completed before you can put the project behind you and really move on — the post-mortem meeting. Below is some helpful step-by-step advice on how to conduct a project post mortem meeting and perform a post mortem analysis. We’ll also discuss how to write a post mortem report and complete the other final tasks necessary to extract maximum value from the process of closing out your project.

It is the learning from the post-mortem process, the practical application of the learning, and the positive effects on the team from sharing that process that altogether make a project post mortem such a high-value part of project management. Reflecting on the project processes and outcomes better positions project leaders to optimize workflows, increase efficiencies, and reduce waste of resources in future endeavors.

A well-managed project post mortem meeting can inspire your staff to maintain greater focus on identifying ways to improve daily performance as individuals and as a team. That operational benefit really is enough on its own to make the post mortem process well worth the time it takes to include it as the final step of your projects. Use the following tips as your post mortem checklist, to help you prepare for your next meeting to close out a project.

What is a Project Post Mortem?

Post mortem (the opposite of pre mortem) meetings are wrap-up meetings held after the completion or launch of a project that discusses what went well in the process and what should be improved in future projects. Another name for post mortem meetings is retrospectives, or project debriefings, or debriefs. National and international enterprises use this meeting type as an essential step in the workflow of any project, small or large.

When managed well, a retrospective or post mortem process can provide insights and generate fresh ideas that lead teams to improve daily operations and increase client satisfaction rates with the processes and outcomes of projects in the future.

This form of post-mortem is similar to a “sprint retrospective” used in Agile Project Management. Just search “post mortem meeting agile,” “agile project post mortem,” or “agile post mortem template” for information on the post mortem equivalent for agile organizations. The main difference is that an agile retrospective is performed on a “sprint,” which is typically a short piece of a larger project. In contrast, a project post-mortem is done at the end of an entire project and covers all its subprocesses and sets of tasks within those.

If you’re in a leadership role and have searched “post mortem meeting meaning,” you’ve probably found a basic description of the concept that has already stimulated your imagination of the vast possibilities for the usefulness of post mortem meetings. The post mortem example plan below will help ensure that you most fully capture relevant information in these key categories of lessons to be taken from the process:

  • What parts of the process went well and should be repeated in other projects?
  • What parts of the process did not go well and should be improved or replaced in future processes?
  • What missed steps could have been taken to improve the client’s satisfaction with the project outcome?

Why are Project Post Mortem Meetings so Valuable?

Project post mortem meetings are excellent investments of the small amount of time spent on the group’s attendance, in exchange for clarifying, sharing, and applying key lessons learned post mortem. Post-mortems can be valuable and extremely insightful for every project you work on regardless of size.

To give your post mortem meaning and maximum positive effect on future operations, it’s important to recognize the broader benefits to be gained from reviewing issues that have arisen, perhaps repeatedly. Even in smaller projects, issues that may not have seemed significant individually may indicate systemic problems in your organization. As the most obvious example, the very fact of an ongoing issue’s repetitiveness is, in and of itself, of wider concern, at least in terms of continual tolerance for inefficiencies that may represent collectively significant waste of time and other fundamental resources.

The most successful companies recognize the fundamental importance of these meetings for:

  • Extracting maximum learning value from project successes and failures
  • Increasing workflow efficiencies
  • Increasing the quality of outcomes
  • Sharing information and building the organization’s knowledge base
  • Increasing client satisfaction, engagement, and retention
  • Improving the employee experience, increasing engagement, and reducing turnover
  • Developing a robust collective corporate memory
  • Generating initiatives for process improvement for similar future projects
  • Discovery of potential needs for systemic changes
  • Strategic planning modifications
  • Budget adjustments
  • Inspiring workplace cultural adaptations
  • Transparency
  • Creative, collaborative problem solving
  • Fostering team cohesiveness
  • Generating more effective internal communications practices

How is a Post Mortem Meeting Conducted?

After the launch of the project or campaign or the release of the product, the team will be brought together to discuss the highs and lows of the process and discuss suggestions for how the process can be improved for the next team project.

There are various formats for preparing for and conducting post mortem meetings. The sections below provide a useful project post mortem template for you to use as a framework to develop your own plan for your meeting and post mortem report.

You can complete your post mortem assignment efficiently and make the most of the event by using the information in the sections below as a streamlined set of instructions for planning and conducting your project retrospective meeting.

Designate someone as the official note-taker for your post mortem meeting to capture the essence of discussions about project management, process issues, successes, and follow-up action items and task assignments for those. These notes will serve as the formal record of the meeting for any stakeholders who may want to reference them.

Additionally, the notes can provide a reference for your team to use to implement suggested improvements in future projects. The post mortem meeting notes also serve to keep participants accountable for their input and commitments made during the meeting, to ensure everyone follows through on task assignments within agreed timeframes.

As for any internal meeting, you should prepare an agenda for your project post-mortem meeting to help everyone stay on track during the meeting. Email or otherwise distribute your agenda to all desired participants well enough in advance to give everyone sufficient time to prepare their comments.

A meeting agenda can be written quickly, as it is simply a list of topics you plan to discuss at the meeting and does not require detailed explanations of those.

Sample Post Mortem Meeting Agenda

Use the sample post mortem meeting agenda template below to build your own agenda. Send your post mortem meeting agenda to all required attendees attached to your email invitation, so people will have an opportunity to think about the agenda items in advance and arrive at the meeting prepared to provide their comments and ideas:

Sample Post Mortem Meeting Agenda

Project Summary (5 minutes)

Meeting Topics (approximately 30 minutes):

What was accomplished in the project?

What was not completed that still must be done?

What parts of the process went well?

What new methods were used that should be adopted for repeated use?

What did not go well during the process?

What changes can be made to improve the workflow in future projects?

What changes can be made to improve collaboration?

Open Discussion and Questionnaire Responses (30-45 minutes)

Identify and Agree on Action Items and Task Assignments (10 minutes)

Review Key Decisions (5 minutes)

Collect Post Mortem Questionnaires

Celebrate Successes and Project Completion (following the meeting)

NOTE: The time length for a post mortem meeting can be extended as necessary, based on the length of various processes in the project, the overall complexity and duration of the project, the number of complications that arose, and the number of participants who will be speaking at the meeting during the Open Discussion, etc. Typically, post mortem meetings run between one to three hours.

Sample Post Mortem Questionnaire

Along with your meeting agenda, send your invitees a project post mortem questionnaire, as an attachment to the email invite, along with the agenda. Include the instruction for everyone to complete their questionnaire before the meeting. Include an advisement in your invitation that attendees should bring their completed post mortem questionnaire to deliver it at the meeting. This will help ensure that all the participants arrive at the meeting prepared with their key points to share about the project.

Your questionnaire should prompt people to think about what specific methods and parts of processes they find worth noting for future project planning and execution. Here are some examples of questions you may want to include on your project post mortem questionnaire:

Project Management

Was the project brief sufficiently detailed and clear?

Was the workflow schedule realistic and clear?

Did all stakeholders clearly understand the goals and timelines for the project?

Were communications managed effectively?

Was information on changes communicated efficiently?

What project management improvements could be helpful in future projects?

Problem Resolution Management

What issues emerged that impacted the ability to meet timelines during the process?

Were changes and other unexpected challenges handled effectively?

What problem resolution management improvements could be helpful in future projects?

Post-Mortem Meeting Report

Create a project post mortem report based on the discussion in the meeting and on your post mortem analysis. A strong post mortem analysis example would include your insights gained from meeting participants’ inputs, your own final comprehensive assessment of the process and outcomes of the project, and other relevant project management factors, such as cost control.

Search online for an abundance of sample post mortem reports to help you get a clearer picture of how to write a post mortem report. You can also use this section as your post mortem report template for preparation of your information and presentation of your report to ensure you capture everything you need to produce a thorough report that is ordered in a simple, digestible way.

Your report includes the final numbers reflecting measures for the post mortem metrics you have chosen to track to help in your analysis and project reporting. Include a paragraph summarizing the key takeaways for each of these areas of reflection on the project. Base the content for these report entries on the project post mortem meeting, written responses on the questionnaires, and the final project analysis you have conducted.

Further, include other essential standard considerations in overall project management evaluation, such as missed deadlines, cost overages, wasted resources, exceeded scope, other issues, and, of course, all substantial positive points regarding the project execution and outcomes that have not been elsewhere acknowledged in the post mortem process or report.

Sample Post Mortem Report

Brief Project Summary

Post Mortem Metrics

What was accomplished in the project?

What was not completed that still must be done?

What parts of the process went well?

What new methods were used that should be adopted for repeated use?

What did not go well during the process?

What changes can be made to improve the workflow in future projects?

What changes can be made to improve collaboration?

Other learnings noted in written Project Post Mortem Questionnaire Responses or in the meeting

Key Decisions

Follow-Through Action Items and Task Assignments

Project Post Mortem Analysis and Conclusion

Your team can analyze and distribute the full report to other teams, to clients, and to upper management for review. This transparency can help teams throughout the organization perform more collaboratively and more cohesively in the future.

Managing Group Interactions During Your Post Mortem Meeting

Keep your meeting relaxed, and maintain a positive atmosphere. Encourage all attendees to participate. Project post mortem meetings can sometimes focus more on what was wrong, even when much more was right about the process and outcomes were excellent. This can lead to a meeting outcome in which attendees may have a more negative view of the project after the meeting than they did going in.

Start your meeting by listing the positive aspects of the processes and the project outcomes. Note expectations and objectives that were met, details of processes that went especially well, process timelines, budget management benchmarks, and other post mortem metrics met, clients’ satisfaction with outcomes, etc.

People can also be inclined to focus on who is to blame for things that went wrong in a project, so emphasize that the right approach is instead to identify what did not go well and why. Blaming can make people feel less comfortable publicly accepting responsibility for mistakes they’ve made. It can also cause feelings of defensiveness, which can lead to arguments that can derail a post mortem meeting.

Opening the post mortem discussion with positive points and keeping everyone focused on constructive points about improvement encourages participants to think positively in their personal perspective on the successful project and their contribution to it and its experience. Plus, it reminds employees and clients that the team is doing a good job and just that they have achieved an excellent outcome of their project together.

Tools for Optimal Value from Your Post Mortem Meeting

Using a simple, streamlined, step-by-step project post mortem template, such as the one laid out through all the sections above, can help ensure that you have all the information you need to perform a comprehensive post mortem of your project.

This powerful retrospective process can leave project stakeholders with the kinds and quality of insights and well-rounded collective historical recall of your past projects that helps strengthen working relationships, improve processes, and foster a workplace culture of greater commitment to industry best practices and more frequent and creative collaboration.

Additionally, to support the project post mortem meeting process, a simple but powerful digital meeting management platform can do all of the organizing and tracking for you, with just a few clicks. This basic business technology has become indispensable for busy project managers in growing companies.

Using a networked meeting management platform equips busy professionals with the same modern tools that the most successful project managers in the largest companies use. That provides them with the same advantages as their largest competitors to ensure that their organizations’ project management can perform at the same competitive efficiency level.

These streamlined, exceptionally easy-to-use meeting management software tools feature collaboration tools for building creating agendas, meeting notes, group distribution tools, meeting recap modules, decision documentation, task assignment tools, action item tracking, and follow-up functions.

Successful Post Mortem Meeting and Project Closure

The benefits to the team and the company from a well-managed project post mortem meeting can extend far beyond the next days and weeks of the meeting. They can contribute to collective insights over time that can ultimately generate emergent transformative change that ideally supports its mission.

Use the series of tips throughout the above sections as a post mortem checklist. Start with a brief review of the project’s highlights, including its goals and objectives, resources used, timeline, and outcomes. Expand on outcomes, providing a brief statement of the achievements and learnings obtained in the project. Discuss which, if any, expectations remained unmet at the end date of the project and what problems led to that outcome. Point out key plans, decisions, processes, tests, implementations, individual and joint tasks stand out as strong successes in their own right, regardless of the overall outcome of the project.

Ensure all stakeholders in attendance at your project post mortem meeting are afforded an opportunity to have their feedback acknowledged. Together as a group, create and agree on a list of feasible action items. Assign each action item to the appropriate individual or group. Agree on timelines for completion. Follow up with each responsible party at a reasonable future time to check progress.

Encourage participants to think more deeply to identify root causes of issues in the processes and the broader benefits of learning from the project, instead of seeing only the tangible effects in the deliverable. Often, solutions to problems in larger organizational systems or processes can be discovered through an individual project post mortem analysis informed by the valuable insights contributed by the meeting participants.

When managed well, the retrospective meeting and the resulting analysis and post mortem report can be powerful tools for improving systems and processes, productivity rates, team and individual skills and efficiencies, and the combined stakeholder relationships that are the lifeblood of the business.

Even if your project management begins by relying on only some of post mortem components suggested in the above outline, you can expect post-mortem processes to become a valuable part of your project management process and of the ongoing effort to build your organization’s knowledge base.

DOCKET

Docket is a leading provider of digital tools for increasing workplace productivity. We provide a state-of-the-art digital platform designed to manage meetings and capture a wealth of business intelligence through that process. Docket’s mission is to help busy people simplify the meeting management process before, during, and after their meetings.

“Docket has quickly become essential to doing our best work at Studio Science. Meetings are critically important to the services we provide clients, and having a platform dedicated to making meetings more effective, collaborative, and structured is game changing.”

Steve Pruden, CEO at Studio Science

“Docket helps us build better agendas, easily share notes, and follow up on action items. We have noticed our meetings have better preparation and follow through since partnering with Docket.”

Roger Deetz, VP of Engineering at Springbuk