What is a Post Mortem Meeting?
A Post Mortem Meeting is a procedure that is implemented at the end of a project to help both the employer and employees determine all aspects of a project and see which went well and what parts did not. These meetings are put in place to ensure that the company is able to continue successfully in future projects by tackling suggested improvements and seeking what ways this can be done properly. The idea of a post mortem meeting is to analyze the different elements of the work created, going through the complete lifecycle of the project and depicting aspects to discuss. The main intent is that all individuals involved are able to take something away from the situation to further improve. It is done after the project is completed and closed so that everyone can review the experience as a whole. There are a couple of ways that this type of meeting can be done, but the main goal must always be the focus – seeking more successful ways in working collaboratively!
Post Mortem Meetings are also referred to as being called a Project Post Mortem (or if hearing the words post mortem makes the hairs on the back of your neck stick up), it can also be named as a Retrospective Meeting. More on these alternative names can be found here.
In order for there to be a successful analysis, the meeting must have no timeframe; all people involved must allocate time in order for the analysis and feedback to be detailed and comprehensive enough for everyone.
So that this can be done, it is very important for the manager or the head of the company to plan beforehand. It would be suggested by Elise Keith that these four questions are the main basis of the meeting:
- What were the aims of the project?
- What actually happened during the project?
- Why did this happen?
- What are the improvement plans for next time?
These are very simple questions and should be the frame for other questions and inputs and these are a good starting point to get you thinking about anything else you may want to add or bring up in the meeting.
Planning and Executing a Post Mortem Meeting
Preparation for the Meeting
The preparation beforehand, as mentioned, must be done so that everyone benefits. Every project completed should definitely have a post mortem meeting. Whether it is a big or small project, there is always room for improvement, and all individuals will be able to learn something for future projects that may come in handy. No matter how successful the project was, the company should ALWAYS take the time to reflect on it. It is not necessarily always about what was unsuccessful – the strengths and weaknesses should be discussed so that it is clear what is working well and what is not.
Personally, I have never had a piece of work or a project that was created smoothly, there are always obstacles and issues that have to be solved along the way, so there is always something to take from a situation and things to work on in the future. It is important for individuals’ self-reflection too – it gets everybody thinking about their input and how they feel about the work they have produced and put forward.
When should I schedule the meeting?
In terms of when this should happen, the post mortem meeting ought to take place as soon as possible after the project is completed and sent off. This ensures that details of the project are still ‘fresh’ in everybody’s mind, and so everyone will be able to successfully discuss all elements. This also allows for quick responses to any issues in new and upcoming projects, which means that they can be tackled swiftly. These meetings should ideally be scheduled and arranged before the project begins so that all participants know the timing, deadline, and significance of a project post mortem.
The Mindset of the Meeting
Fixating the mindset of the meeting is also a crucial part of planning for a post mortem meeting. It is important to remember that this meeting is not just about discussing what went wrong and what was unsuccessful; this can be very disheartening for employees and can make them feel reluctant and less confident when working on future projects. Additionally, you should not pinpoint individual employees’ execution and behavior. The whole idea of this meeting is to come together and analyze the project as a group and how the team worked together. By doing this, it gives everyone a sense of personal touch, and everyone is included.
Be constructive! We are taught all the way through school to give good and bad feedback on a piece of work – the rules still apply here too. Note what went well in all elements and give constructive criticism on what parts were perhaps not as successful. By going into this yourself with this mindset, you are laying down the mindset for everybody involved. Always begin the meeting and topical conversation with success – this will ensure that employees will be able to understand and deal with criticism that may follow.
Agenda. Agenda. Agenda.
This is such a significant part of a post mortem meeting. Every meeting needs one, regardless of whether it is a small, big, informal, or formal meeting. This ensures that the experience is organized and that the time is being used effectively. Especially with the importance of this meeting, it should be carefully planned out, noting down everything that should be talked about and analyzed, making sure every element of the product life-cycle is covered.
Having an agenda makes for successful planning – “failing to prepare is preparing to fail” as they say. Before going into the meeting, you need to ensure that the major points are categorized so that the time spent there is amplified. Also, add questions or topics that are relevant to the topic as well. This discussion will ensure that all members will want to participate and have their say.
Elise Keith from LucidMeetings, states that resolving points of discussion can be done by ‘assigning the next step’. This can be in the form of a new discussion or a different template suggestion for future projects. Every individual should also take notes too so that they all have something to discuss in other meetings.
Questionnaire for Employees
Everyone loves a questionnaire. This is a good way to gauge an idea of what employees are thinking. By conducting and sending out a questionnaire prior, everyone involved will have an idea of what will be discussed in the meeting and therefore come prepared with topics they may personally want to bring up. By doing this, there will be no vacant answers or awkward moments – participants will know what to expect.
As you can see from this image taken from TeamGantt, a handful of questions like this in a questionnaire handed to your employees can make the biggest difference in employee participation. Questionnaires are beneficial for multiple purposes. Being put on the spot in a meeting is tough going, but when you are made aware of what you may be asked to talk about, you are able to think in advance for an answer or response. Employees are way more likely to give better and more in-depth answers to questions or topics you will bring up if they understand what aspects are expected to be brought up. Additionally, it gives your team the feeling that they have a voice and are entitled to contribute to group decisions and thoughts. By asking them what they feel or think about a collaborative project (anonymously is always good – just a heads up), they are so much more likely to give you truthful and complex answers. This should be done way before the meeting too, so there are no last-minute rushes and employees have time to think about their answers and reflect in-depth.
Who is in Charge?
The person that set the agenda and organized the post mortem meeting should also be the person in charge of the meeting. For example, this is the person that is generally responsible and acts as a ‘middle man’. Having someone like this in the meeting, allows the conversation to bounce off each person and direct the topic of discussion when each element is covered. It also ensures that each member will have the ability to talk and say what they want without worrying others may interrupt or disregard their views. The person doing this, whether it is yourself or not, should ensure that each topic has the right amount of discussion and that everyone involved has a say. They should have the ability to know when it is time to reel the conversation in. Every member should take notes but it is crucial that the moderator does this.
Setting the Scene
Earlier, I spoke about creating the mindset for the meeting. This is applicable here too – the post mortem meeting should be a chilled and calm setting to discuss the product lifecycle and not a strict and overly formal environment. This almost blocks the minds of the employees and loosens their confidence, suggesting that they have to say the right thing or they’ll be in trouble. There is no room for creativity when in a heightened and fearful setting, so the meeting should be somewhat enjoyable and useful for everyone.
Usually, you are talking about things that make people feel uneasy and awkward, so go out of your way to encourage a chilled-out setting to employees.
Not every human being is able to put themselves forward in situations like this, meaning some people need an extra push for participation. The whole point of this meeting is to discuss and analyze the project as a team. Every learning curve is done as a team. Ensuring everyone is involved and participating, makes it more accessible for quieter individuals to discuss their thoughts, as well as reveal any other issues that have not been brought up to the group. Small issues add up and create big issues, so it is important that everything is talked about – a problem shared is a problem halved!
If you notice that some employees are remaining silent or are not getting involved, make sure you ask them questions and attempt to bring them into the conversation. Usually, once someone has spoken once, they are likely to speak again and feel more comfortable in doing so.
Everyone in the meeting should leave their laptop and mobile before stepping into the meeting or the room. Encourage people to write notes on pen and paper, as this gets them thinking more about what they’re actually noting down. Also, this means they are less likely to get distracted as there are no other interferences or disruptions. Take it from me, I would definitely recommend implementing this one.
Taking away Useful Advice
As mentioned earlier, one of the main goals is for everyone to take away something that is beneficial to them and that they can actively work on it. A post mortem meeting is not really worth it unless every single member has ‘actionable’ improvements. Everyone must have something to improve that is actually specified and feasible to do in the next project.
These also help you to further encourage the expectations you have for the company and ensure that employees know what is expected of them. It would also be good for these improvements to be relevant to the next project being worked on so that everyone has something to immediately work on and feel as if they are being productive in this area.
Focusing on Certain Areas
When beginning post-mortem meetings for the first time and implementing them, you may discover that certain areas of improvement keep recurring. After the first few meetings, if these themes are still being acknowledged with little or no sign of improvement, be sure to highlight these as you continue through projects.
During meetings, dedicate a time slot to the issue and create conversation amongst everyone involved so that it is engraved in everyone that this is important. People will actively try and resolve these issues as it will begin to bother them that this is an ongoing improvement. Discuss the issue as a whole and then go on to talk about specific aspects that should be focused on by certain parts of the team if applicable. Everyone should take note of this if points keep getting brought up and should be at the top of everyone’s improvements list.
The idea of this meeting is not about pinpointing individuals, so make sure any challenges and issues are resolved within a team setting so that the meeting remains professional. If you or any of the team have problems with a certain member then this should be dealt with behind the scenes with the necessary individuals.
3 Step Process to a Post Mortem Meeting
The actual process of a post mortem meeting seems quite daunting, doesn’t it?
Luckily, I have broken it down into 3 easy steps to follow so that it’s not quite as scary! This process has been outlined so that you have the best outcome for your post mortem meeting. It should be thoroughly planned to make sure every member of the team is benefitting from it.
Issues and improvements are highlighted but successful aspects will also have been noted too. The meeting should have a clear focus and outcome goal – remember that!
Overall Review of the Project
This involves reviewing the project as a whole, discussing the product life cycle, events that took place during the project, the main goals for the project and the outcome, the timeline, and the results. All members involved need to have a clear understanding of the project and the other elements that they may not have personally worked on. This helps later on with discussion in terms of improvements for the project altogether.
If the whole team is looking and reflecting on the project, you are opening up to more views and different varieties of ideas. By doing a group review, everyone is aware of multiple elements and is able to provide good ideas and knowledge once knowing the project as a whole. This should always be done no matter the size or importance of the project.
The Successful and Unsuccessful Elements
This step is the main part of the post mortem meeting, in which you should spend a lot of time on this. Here, you open up the discussion on what everybody thinks about the project, for example, what they found difficult, easy, time-consuming, etc. Additionally, everyone should take the time to reflect on what they personally feel went well and what didn’t.
Ensure everyone says what they feel and so that no one is skipped. This is the most interesting and difficult part of the meeting, in which the moderator must be able to negotiate and move the conversation along comprehensively. Everyone should take notes about their own personal improvements and successes, as well as group improvements that should be completed collaboratively. Ensure that you always make time to recognize those who have worked extra hard or done above and beyond for the project – it will benefit you too trust me! Recognition is important to a lot of people so this will definitely help the confidence of people who need it most.
Additionally, during a post mortem meeting, discussing each individuals’ thoughts and feelings becomes very helpful when reviewing projects or this particular project in the future as an extra reflection on how people are feeling about certain tasks or improvements later on.
Improvements for Future Projects
This aspect of the meeting is where you discuss the problems that were highlighted previously, and the ways in which these can be tackled in the next projects. Go in-depth about what needs to be done by each individual but also the team as a whole, so that every person is aware and knows how they can go about making adjustments. It would be a good idea to perhaps create a small or brief plan of action for how to address the next steps forward. You could even schedule another meeting to see how everyone is dealing with their tasks.
Benefits of Post Mortem Meetings
The benefits of post mortem meetings are endless, they really are such a good form of reflection. Here are a few listed which are beneficial universally:
If people know exactly what they need to work on, their work is most likely to be of better quality as they are focusing primarily on things that specifically need to. This also opens up new and more informed ways of working on projects.
Bringing everyone together for intimate meetings like this makes everyone feel more comfortable in each other’s presence, therefore creating a more relaxing and happy working environment. The team is likely to be more receptive to constructive criticism from each other in the future if this is the case. They will feel better about working together and seeking how they all function differently.
Easy to Mend Mistakes
no matter how well a project may have gone, there is always room for improvement. As these meetings become more of a habit, you will find more ways to go about improving different elements.
This a good way to end a project and close the doors on it ready to move on.
How do Post Mortem Meetings Help?
- A post mortem meeting is a meeting that takes place in the workplace after a project has ended. It helps to reflect on how the project went, discussing personal and group successes and failures, aiming for constructive improvements to be given for future projects. It also helps to analyze what is benefitting the projects and what is not
- A post mortem meeting should be done as quickly as possible after a project is completed so that everyone benefits whilst the details are still fresh in everyone’s mind
- Each post mortem meeting should be at least 2 hours to allow for time to discuss every aspect in depth
- The meeting involves reviewing all aspects of the group project, from the project lifecycle to individual tasks
- Preparation is your best friend – outline a detailed agenda so that everything is covered and nothing is missed. Make sure you send out a questionnaire to all employees with enough time beforehand, so that they understand what will be discussed in advance
- Go into the meeting with a positive mindset, this will relax everyone in there and allow them to open up more
- Begin with what went well – congratulate the team and individuals, this will make them more receptive to dealing with any criticism after. Always allow time for this!
- After the meeting, turn all ideas into action plans so that everyone has a clear understanding of how they are going to tackle their problems in future projects
- Adapt each meeting to suit you and your area of work – discover what works well for you and your employees and adjust to it
- Always remember the main goals for the meetings so that these are at the forefront of your mind and you can discuss accordingly with the group. The idea of post mortem meetings is to extensively discover the successes and failures of the project to work on.