Meetings are a necessary evil in any workplace. They can be long, tedious, and often unproductive. But post-mortem (PM) meetings are different. They are one of the most valuable meetings a service-oriented organization can have.
Post-mortem meetings are an essential part of any project manager's toolkit. They provide an opportunity to reflect on what went well and what could be improved upon in future projects.
When done correctly, these meetings can be a highly effective way of ensuring that lessons are learned and that future projects benefit from the collective wisdom of the team.
However, running an effective post-mortem meeting is not always easy. In this blog post, we will explore some key concepts, tips, and tricks for running an effective one. We will also provide some templates that you can use to make sure your own PM meeting is as productive as possible.
So, let's get started.
What is a post-mortem meeting?
A PM meeting is held at the end of a project (at the closure stage) to understand what worked and what didn’t, what added value, and what could be improved. They can also be held after major incidents or failed changes to look at lessons learned.
The output from the meeting is a list of what went well, so it can be made repeatable or templated, as well as a list of opportunities for improvement that can be tracked and managed in a continual improvement register.
PM meetings are sometimes treated as a box-ticking exercise, but they are much more. Used effectively, they can:
- Highlight improvement opportunities for future projects
- Make good working practices and deployment actions repeatable (and automated where possible)
- Aid effective communication
- Boost team morale
- Allow for stakeholders to obtain closure
How to prepare for a post-mortem meeting?
As with all project activities, being organized and well-prepared is the key to an effective meeting. Here are some suggestions for ensuring your PM meeting runs smoothly.
1. Create a supportive culture
Often, PM meetings become a source of blame avoidance as people scramble to avoid having the finger pointed at them following a demanding project. Instill a culture where PMs are a safe space and not a witch hunt. PMs should be treated as part of the project lifecycle and always be scheduled, so the project can be closed out properly.
Think of it like this: all you really want is to understand what went well and, if something went badly, what the root cause was, how it was fixed, and how to prevent it from happening again.
That’s it. Make the good repeatable and try to find ways to address the less than ideal, so people don’t keep making the same mistakes.
2. Identify key areas of interest
Collect information from any monitoring systems you have in place, as well as logs, documentation, and input from people who were involved in or affected by the incident. Once you have all the data, start identifying which parts of the process need to be examined more closely. This could include anything from the initial trigger to the steps taken to mitigate issues.
3. Use a questionnaire to shape the agenda
Send a survey or questionnaire before the PM meeting. This allows people to gather their thoughts before the PM and call out any key findings ahead of time. Consider making the survey anonymous, which often helps team members be more honest with their feedback.
4. Create clear terms of reference and an agenda
Make sure that they’re sent out well before the session so that teams have enough time to read and consider any notes. A well-thought-out plan will also ensure everyone knows what is expected of them.
5. Establish ground rules
With these ground rules in place, you're ready to start your post-mortem meeting:
- Make sure the project manager is present and that everyone knows who the PM is.
- Reiterate that the post-mortem meeting is a safe space for everyone to be heard.
- Make it clear that there will be no finger-pointing, and that the objective is to concentrate on the process rather than individuals.
- Explain what will happen during the meeting and what everyone's role is.
- You may also want to impose limitations on distractions such as phones, computers, and other technology.
How to run a postmortem meeting
The goal of the meeting is to constructively evaluate what the project team accomplished and if there are any areas for improvement. Here are six basic steps to consider when running the meeting. Plus, make sure you download our post-mortem checklist to have at hand!
1. Have a facilitator/moderator
Establish a facilitator or moderator before the meeting to ensure people stick to the agenda, and the discussions stay on track. The facilitator doesn’t have to be a senior leader or project manager, but they have to be comfortable facilitating the meeting and ensuring that the discussion is positive and outcome-focused.
When running the meeting, take a few moments to reiterate the purpose of it and the ground rules you’ve agreed to in the preparation stage. This will help ensure that everyone is on the same page and understands what is expected of them. Additionally, it will provide a reminder of why you’re all gathered together – to learn from past mistakes and improve future projects.
Once you’ve welcomed everyone and introduced the purpose of the meeting, recap the project highlights.
The rest of the meeting will look at the project in detail, but starting with a quick overview of what the team set out to accomplish (especially when colleagues are working on multiple projects) is always helpful.
Talk through the project performance against agreed metrics and objectives. This will focus the team on the goals to keep the tone constructive.
Walk through each project step and ask your team what went well and what could be improved next time. If something stands out as good practice, then brilliant! Add it to any project change models to automate, or make it easier to use next time.
If something hasn’t been successful, or worse, has broken something generating defects or incidents via your service desk, then look at what happened, figure out the root cause, and look at ways of preventing a recurrence.
Building on the previous section, take the positives and lessons learned and document them in meeting notes or an improvement register, so they can be prioritized, communicated, and acted on.
Tips and best practices
Even with all the world's planning, meetings sometimes need a little extra help to stay on track. Here are some of our suggestions:
Look after your people
Use the PM as an opportunity to check in with your team. The pandemic era has been particularly challenging for working and delivering projects, so first and foremost, check that your people are OK.
Set the tone
Remember that people are busy. If the project in question produced less than stellar results, your project team might feel stressed and under pressure, which isn’t the best environment for open and honest feedback. As the meeting chair, people will take their cue from you, so making people feel comfortable is essential. The tone you are looking to set is brisk, efficient, and kind.
Keep it pacey
Nothing is worse than a two-hour project meeting (especially on Monday mornings or Friday afternoons). We guarantee you that if you’re regularly putting your attendees through marathon meetings, people will run short of patience and goodwill. There’s also a genuine chance that someone may fall asleep. Keep things moving.
If someone has launched into a long-winded explanation, and you get the sense that it’s adding no value and making everyone in the room lose the will to live, then break in with a question to get things back on track.
Be considerate of people's time
Some members of the meeting will be needed for their opinions on every aspect; for example, project managers and technical architects, who will make up the core attendee list. Other attendees, such as technical teams and external suppliers, might only be needed to discuss a couple of aspects. If this is the case, then be kind. Move those agenda items to the beginning of the meeting so that these temporary or “flex” attendees can discuss the relevant actions and then leave.
Make sure everyone is heard
Give everyone a chance to contribute to the session. In any meeting situation, there will always be some colleagues who are more vocal or comfortable speaking out, so make a point of calling on anyone who hasn’t yet had a chance to contribute so that everyone can share their ideas and opinions.
Be honest with your feedback
It is essential to be honest with your feedback in a post-mortem meeting. This means that you should not sugarcoat anything or try to make excuses for any problems that occurred. Instead, you should be open and honest about the things you're pleased with, and the things that could have gone better.
Close the loop
The point of the PM isn’t just to have a meeting. It’s to look at service delivery in terms of customer outcomes. Use the output of the PM to add to a continual improvement register or project tracker outlining the key outcomes and actionable takeaways for future projects and deliverables.
Be sure to document the entire post-mortem process, from start to finish. This will not only be helpful for future reference, but it can also help to improve the process itself over time.
10 Post-mortem meeting questions to have at hand
Sometimes, the meeting will flow, but it’s good to have some set questions to add structure. Some good things for you to ask are:
- What do you think went well?
- What do you think could be improved on?
- If you could do one thing differently, what would it be?
- Did we have the tools and support needed?
- Did we meet all our project deadlines? Was anything missed?
- Did we achieve all our target deliverables?
- Did we deliver within the project budget? If there was an overspend, what caused it, and is there anything that could be done to avoid this next time?
- Did we work in a way that aligned with best practices?
- Was the client happy with our work and the project outcome?
- What could we do differently to improve CX next time?
The post-mortem meeting is an important part of closing a big project. Done well, it can promote best practices and formalize improvement plans. By scheduling a PM, you’re committing to improving future project performance and delivering better outcomes to your customers.
To prepare for a post-mortem meeting, there are a few key things you should do:
- Make sure you have a clear purpose for the meeting. What do you hope to accomplish?
- Gather data and feedback from all relevant parties. This includes team members, stakeholders, and customers.
- Be prepared to share your findings and proposed solutions with the group.
- Allow time for discussion and open dialogue. Be ready to listen to different perspectives and address concerns.
- Have a plan for follow-up and implementation. What steps will you take to implement your solutions?
- Finally, don’t forget to document the meeting! This will help you track progress and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
By following these simple tips, you can ensure that your post-mortem meeting is productive and successful.
Frequently Asked Questions
What's another name for a post-mortem meeting?
PM meetings are also called project review meetings, wrap meetings, or “wash-ups.” They are also known as post-incident reviews or post-event reviews.
What should be in a project post-mortem?
The following should be included:
- Areas for improvement
- New templates
How do you write a post-mortem meeting invitation email?
A good post-mortem invitation email communicates the agenda and sets the tone of the meeting. Here are some things to include:
- The project title and reference (to avoid any confusion)
- The meeting agenda
- List of attendees
- Logistical details like timings, any hard stops, the physical room number, or virtual link.
How do you start a post-mortem meeting?
In short, welcome people and thank them for their time. Remind people of the ground rules, give a brief project recap, and then work through your agenda and list of questions. Easy!