How to Hold an Effective Project Postmortem

MicroscopeThe end of every project calls for a postmortem session where the team can review the project itself. Among other things, these can be called “Lessons Learned,” or “Retrospectives” in the Agile world.

Whatever you call them, the objectives are similar: Pull the core team together, talk about what worked, what didn’t and how to improve things next time.

To make a retrospective succeed, it’s essential to assemble both team members who were involved with the project, as well as those impacted by it. Their insights into the process, flow of the project and other topics will be valuable as you plot out project plans in the future.

How to Prep

Below are some things that I do in order to prepare for these sessions.

  1. Start planning early. During the project, take notes of things that might be significant and start forming discussion topics.
  2. Ensure you have participation, also by planning early. This will help you gather the people you need to have on hand while the discussion is underway. If you can’t get good participation, you may end up with an incomplete picture.
  3. Leverage any standard documentation from your organization. Some have methodologies they subscribe to and often have templates to help guide the discussion.
  4. Create a safe space for the meeting and soliciting feedback. These sessions are designed to uncover both positive and negative experiences — and not to be a stage for personal attacks. Stay objective and remember that a number of people won’t speak honestly, for fear of a backlash. Do your best to create an environment that protects them. Find ways to actually draw ideas while keeping the environment professional.
  5. Capture all ideas. Make sure that you spend enough time on both sides of the line. It’s important not just to find out the good, but also reveal the bad and the ugly. Projects aren’t perfect. There’s always room for improvement. From what you learn here, determine key items that are reasonable or worth fighting for going forward.
  6. Provide your conclusions to others. The objective of these exercises is to find ways to improve across organizations. Identifying ways to leverage the positive is just as important as uncovering negative items in order to prevent mistakes or bad practices. The win is when you pass this data onto others in order to help them become more successful at the project level. It’s also essential at a global and corporate level, because it helps the wider organization improve, as well.

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