Project Management

Here is the Ultimate Template for the Best Project Post Mortem Meeting

I’m sure by now you’ve caught wind of how effective project post mortem meetings can be for digital agencies.

(After all, over 90 percent of businesses conduct some sort of retrospective at the close of big projects.)

And that’s because a well-run project post mortem meeting gives your team the opportunity to reflect on lessons learned from that project in a relaxed, judgement-free environment.

But a truly effective meeting takes a lot more than just getting your team together to share their thoughts on what went right (and wrong) during a recent project.

And so that’s why I’ve put together this project post mortem template:

To show you exactly how to run a post mortem retrospective that helps you and your team uncover valuable project management lessons for the future.

Ready? Then let’s dive in.

First, Why Bother Running a Project Post Mortem Meeting?

I’ll admit, the name sounds a bit…morbid.

But the truth is, you should be running post mortem meetings after every single project.

Big projects, small projects, successful and…

…not so much.

If you want your team to get better, running these meetings needs to be a top-priority as soon as a project wraps up.

Why?

Because it’s the only way to make sure the entire team benefits from the lessons learned from your successes and failures.

And there’s no better time to reflect on those lessons than when the project is still fresh in the minds of everyone involved.

Sure, it might be a little painful at times to comb through a recent project failure (even though some studies show you actually learn more from your failures than successes).

But as Simon Heaton writes over on the Shopify blog, the benefits of a great post mortem meeting should outweigh any of those hesitations (emphasis is mine):

“By allocating time to reflect on the outcomes of your recent projects, you’ll be in a better position to ensure that issues or inefficiencies are not repeated in the future. When done well, post mortems act as a way to stimulate your team to seek out ways to continuously improve their daily work.

So as you can see, it’s not just about getting together to place blame and complain about project management inefficiencies.

Instead, a great post mortem meeting gives your team actionable takeaways to help them do their jobs better.

But I’m sure you’re wondering how to structure your project debrief to actually get those actionable takeaways.

And so that’s exactly what I’ll show you now.

Use This Project Post Mortem Template to Run an Effective and Efficient Meeting

If you really want to run a meeting that unlocks important lessons for your team, it’s important to look at what you need to do across three stages:

Before the Meeting

I’m sure you’d agree that there’s nothing worse than a meeting without a clear agenda.

And it’s no secret why:

An agenda defines a clear purpose for the meeting and helps your team stay on track toward predetermined goals.

In the case of a post mortem meeting, the goal is simple.

Whether the project you’re reviewing was a huge success or a massive failure, you’re trying to accomplish the same thing:

Figure out how the team can do better on the next project.

And so, you need to put together an agenda that supports that goal.

Here’s a look at an example post mortem agenda from FPT:

(image source)

Pretty simple agenda, right?

But it’s also a great framework for an effective post mortem meeting.

Be sure to include these key aspects in yours:

  1. Introduction (5 minutes).

It’s important you kick-off the meeting by explaining the agenda, goals for the meeting, and ground rules.

Kyle Eliason explains the importance of a solid introduction over on the Portent blog:

“[The introduction] is possibly the most critical, pivotal 5 minutes of the meeting. It’s where you remind the group that this post-mortem is all about constructive analysis. It’s your chance to guide the mindset of the group and hopefully get them to relax and feel safe enough for a truly productive session.”

That feeling of safety is a key part of your meeting’s success – without it, your team will be afraid to voice their true thoughts and opinions.

And so take the time to properly kick things off before diving into this next section:

  • Recap of the project and outcome (5 minutes).

Much like the introduction, you’ll want to keep the recap short and to the point.

(After all, if you’re conducting the post mortem directly following the conclusion of the project, it should be fairly fresh for everyone.)

But reviewing the timeline of the project and the final results helps set the stage for the main chunk of the meeting:

  • Team discussion (30-40 minutes).

Here’s where you’ll want to spend the majority of your time during the post mortem meeting.

Why?

Because it’s the section that actually uncovers the biggest lessons you can learn from your recently completed project.

So what should the discussion actually look like?

I’ll walk you through it:

During the Meeting

Planning for the meeting ahead of time is an important step, but ultimately the time you need to be your best is during the meeting itself.

That’s because without a leader to set the tone and help guide the discussion, chances are your post mortem meeting will be a big waste of everyone’s time.

Here’s everything you need to do during the meeting to make sure your team gets the maximum value from the time:

  • Elect a moderator.

You might be thinking:

Didn’t you just say I am the leader responsible for setting the tone and guiding the discussion?

And that’s true.

But leading a post mortem meeting and moderating one aren’t the same thing.

As a leader, your job is to make sure the conversation helps your team get better. A moderator’s job is to make sure the conversation stays on track.

Ask a member of the team to keep an eye on the clock and ensure you and the team stick to the agenda.

  • Keep laptops closed.

I’ll admit, not every post mortem meeting has this requirement.

But for some, keeping technology out of meetings actually increases attentiveness and helps the team engage more in the conversation.

(You’ll likely find that the team appreciates the break from their emails, too.)  

  • Come prepared with leading questions.

Look, you might get lucky and have a team that’s will to dive right into conversation without a single prompt from you.

And if that’s the case, just sit back and take it all in.

But more often than not, the team will need you to offer some leading questions that get the discussion flowing.

Here are a few examples:

  • Did we deliver the best work possible? Does the client agree with us?
  • Did we consistently hit deadlines?
  • What was successful/unsuccessful about this particular project?
  • Do you think the project exceeded the resources (time and money) budgeted? Why?
  • Knowing what you know now, how would you approach this project if you had to do it a second time?
  • Would you want to work on a similar project again? Why or why not?

These questions help kick start the right dialogue about the project, but make sure your moderator helps you keep the team on topic and on time.

Then, once you complete the meeting, it’s time for the last stage:

After the Meeting

The last step in any successful post mortem meeting is a simple one:

Send a recap of the meeting to the team that thanks them for their time and shares the actionable takeaways that came from the meeting.

Here’s an example of what your email might look like:

And Don’t Forget…

This is just the start.

You should run project post mortems after each and every project completed.

But now that you have the framework for running a successful discussion, hopefully the task seems less daunting and more like an incredible opportunity to learn valuable lessons from the work you complete.  

 

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