Post-mortem analyses review projects from start to finish to determine process improvements and ensure that inefficiencies are not repeated in the future. In the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK), this process is referred to as “lessons learned”.
Understanding a post-mortem analysis
Post-mortem analyses tend to be performed at the end of a project, but larger or more complex projects may necessitate that they be held on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis.
More frequent meetings enable the team to course correct and avoid important issues being overlooked.
Some teams skip this process because of time or resource constraints or an incorrect assumption that a post-mortem analysis does not contribute to the company’s bottom line.
When done correctly, however, post-mortem analyses are critical to the development of process improvements and best practices that can be used to repeat successes in the future.
Instead of rushing from one project to the next to generate more revenue, the company must take the time to examine all aspects of the project lifecycle.
Each member of the project team – including stakeholders and clients – should also feel free to note any issues or problems in a collaborative environment.
How to conduct a post-mortem analysis
The most effective post-mortem analyses are also the most organized and occur while the details of the project are still fresh in the mind of participants.
Step 1 – Create the agenda
The agenda only needs to be created once and can be tweaked for any future analysis. It should detail:
- What went well (the wins).
- What did not work well (the losses).
- Whether the project accomplished what it set out to do (the outcomes).
- Suggestions for improvement, and
- Wrap up.
The business can also send a questionnaire to those involved to better understand what worked and what didn’t.
The questionnaire can be sent before the analysis starts to save time and its anonymous nature increases the quality of the feedback.
Step 2 – Select a moderator and notetaker
The moderator is often the project manager, but a meeting facilitator can be selected if the business desires more neutrality.
In any case, the moderator’s primary role is to keep the meeting on topic, set out the agenda, and provide a recap of the project.
Notetakers are especially important for recording details if tech such as smartphones or laptops are banned from the post-mortem analysis.
Step 3 – Establish rules
The moderator then establishes some basic ground rules that help the team avoid straying off-topic. Examples include:
- Tech that could distract the meeting is not permitted.
- Keep the discussion objective and free from blame.
- Maintain a polite and positive atmosphere.
- Each person shall be given a set amount of time to speak uninterrupted, and
- Feedback should be specific, actionable, and constructive.
Step 4 – Host the meeting
The meeting then proceeds according to the agenda. In the context of project management, questions usually relate to:
- Planning – was any aspect of the plan too vague? Were budgets, personnel, and tools allocated correctly?
- Execution – where did the workflow fail or where was it not adequately documented? Did any project team member have trouble meeting timelines set in the plan?
- Results – did the project meet its primary objective? Was the client happy with the results? Would the team otherwise consider the project a success?
- Communication – was the project manager able to communicate with the team effectively? Could the meetings have been more effective? Were there too many meetings or too few?
Step 5 – Celebrate wins and conclude
To conclude, the moderator should make time to move around the room and attribute wins to each individual. The moderator should be specific and thank the team member for their contribution to help them feel valued.
Once the meeting is over, a copy of the main takeaways should be sent to the team. There may also be action items or clarification on what the team can expect when it comes time to work on the next project.
- In business, a post-mortem analysis identifies the causes of an event to understand why it occurred and better prepare for future projects.
- Some teams skip the post-mortem analysis because of time or resource constraints or a belief that it does not contribute to the company’s bottom line. However, these analyses are essential to improve processes and develop repeatable best practices.
- The five steps of conducting a post-mortem analysis include creating the agenda, selecting the moderator and notetaker, establishing rules, hosting the meeting, and concluding by celebrating wins.
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