Post-mortem meetings: How to review and learn from a finished business project
Interviews / Opinions

Post-mortem meetings: How to review and learn from a finished business project

Picture this: You’ve just finished an important project. Your team is taking a collective sigh of relief. If this has been several months in the making, you probably just want to sit back, take a beat, and have some chocolate.

And you should definitely do that, but afterward, you’ll want to revisit your project and see how well things went, and what changes you would make in the future.

What is a post-mortem meeting?

Simply put, a post-mortem meeting is a meeting in which you look at a project, or another event, after it’s completed in order to see how it went.

What went right, what difficulties or challenges did you encounter, and what would you do differently next time. It might sound like a pretty grim phrase, post-mortem, but another way to put it would be a debrief.

What are the benefits of a post-mortem meeting?

Debriefs give you the opportunity to bask in the outcomes of your hard work. They offer the chance to congratulate yourselves, boost morale, and also bond over the teamwork you accomplished.

They also help you to learn from the project, think about how to apply any lessons you learned to future projects, and find further business growth strategies. They’re not an excuse or a chance to pick apart the project or cast blame on anybody, that would be pretty bad for morale.

Instead, they’re a chance to positively assess how things could have gone even better with the benefit of hindsight, as well as appreciate the things that worked well that you would repeat in the future. This goes a long way towards fostering a learning culture at work.

So how should you go about your post-mortem meeting?

We have narrowed down your post-mortem meeting steps to 8. Let’s delve into these:

1. Reward yourselves for your hard work

The number one thing you want to do, after all that hard, painstaking effort, is to reward yourselves for all of your hard work. You want to take a moment to really appreciate all the effort that went into the project. Not only is this generally good for morale, but it also helps with employee retention.

So, the first step is to let your hair down, have some well-deserved (gluten-free or dairy-free or whatever-free) cake, and put your feet up. Don’t rush this part, have a second slice of cake. Add some whipped cream to it. You’ve earned it.

2. Let the dust settle

Have you ever been to the cinema to watch a movie that you found to be really fantastic, and you’re just basking in the afterglow of that movie and how it made you feel, when your friend starts to immediately analyze it, pulling it apart, asking you what your favorite scene was, and it kind of just… ruins the moment for you?

Perhaps you are this friend. Maybe you have a very analytical mind and you derive pleasure from pulling the movie apart at the seams, much to the chagrin of the people around you. Well, in that case, you need to hold your horses, because it’s important to let the dust settle. Let the project and the impact of your project take hold before you start analyzing what did and didn’t work.

Post-mortem meetings: What you can learn from finished business projects

3. Create a post-mortem plan

Before you jump to your calendar to set up an in-person or virtual meeting for everyone to attend, you will want to create a plan for your post-mortem meeting. You will want to curate a list of questions and considerations. You can do this in a number of ways, for example dividing the meeting up into sections covering different aspects of the finished project, or the different steps it took to get to the finished project.

Perhaps you want to focus on customer feedback first, then statistics, then how your colleagues felt about the project. Whatever makes sense to your project should be what you go for. But make sure it’s positive and constructive, with an emphasis on team cohesion and going forward together stronger and more informed than before.

4. Collect feedback from your colleagues

Before your meeting, you can ask your colleagues who weren’t involved in the project for some anonymous feedback. This is a chance to get some quick feedback from people who are aware of the project from the side of the company, but who aren’t necessarily the target audience. Being slightly removed from the project but still understanding broadly what went into the work could be a useful perspective to glimpse.

You could organize a large-scale virtual meeting with everyone, or simply ask them to fill out an anonymous survey.

5. Collect feedback from your customers

Your target audience may not be experts in your field, but they can offer very valuable insight into how the project has affected them, and what changes they would want to see from a user experience perspective. You may have had some amazing ideas and worked amazingly as a team, but it’s also important to consider how the end product feels to someone who wasn’t involved with the process, and who also uses the product.

The target audience is ultimately the main people you want to impress, and their opinion will have the greatest impact on the success (or lack thereof) of your product. Sometimes the target audience is other people within your organization, they aren’t always external customers. But whoever they are, make sure you know what they think.

6. Go through your initial stated project objectives and outline

It’s time to take a trip down memory lane. For your post-mortem meeting, you will want to revisit your initial goals and objectives for the project to see whether these were met, and if not, what happened. Were the goals adjusted as you went along? Did you find more appropriate goals with the benefit of experience?

How does the end product compare to what was initially planned? Is it better than what you expected? Perhaps as your project started to gather speed, you discovered some inconsistencies that needed to be addressed, or you received live feedback that allowed you to adjust your direction a little bit. This is all great fodder for discussion.

7. Write down lessons learned from the project

What did you learn about your area of expertise through this project? What are you proud of? Did someone manage to procure the best team communication software for less than the allocated budget? Did your team come together in a cohesive way and find solutions to unexpected challenges?

Did the project give you a chance to develop a new set of skills or strengthen a particular skill? If you could do the project over again, what would you change this time around? What advice would you give to another team doing a similar project? These are the sorts of questions you should be asking and finding answers to in your post-mortem meeting.

Make sure you have a note-taker to write down the ideas and thoughts that arise so that you can revisit the meeting notes in the future.

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8. Give constructive feedback to the team as a whole

It could be a nice idea for everyone, not just the manager, to give positive and constructive feedback to the group, highlighting the things everyone did well as individuals and as a team.

I thought Barry was really quick with setting up the audio conference call after half of the investors’ flight was canceled at the last minute”, and “Ravindra was really good at keeping everyone calm and focused” are examples of the sorts of things you could say.

The last thing you want to do is pick on anyone by highlighting something somebody did wrong. If it needs to be said, it can be said privately to them by their manager in an appropriate setting.

A good post-mortem has substantial benefits

From learning how to streamline processes, coming up with better plans for the future, rewarding and recognizing the contributions of your team, and opening up your work to make it fully transparent, a good post-mortem meeting is an integral part of any project.

Mistakes are very helpful if you can learn from them, especially if you can use them as a linchpin for fostering team collaboration and engagement. If you can positively and clearly communicate ideas within your team, a post-mortem can make you stronger and more efficient going forward.

Post-mortems also offer you great insight into how you work as an organization and give you some ideas about future directions and projects your team should take on. By dissecting the old, we create space for the new.

About the author:

Jessica Day is the Senior Director for Marketing Strategy at Dialpad Contact Center Solutions, a modern business communications platform that takes every kind of conversation to the next level—turning conversations into opportunities. Jessica is an expert in collaborating with multifunctional teams to execute and optimize marketing efforts, for both company and client campaigns. 

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