How do teams and project managers successfully reflect on the work they’re doing? Enter: post mortem meeting.
This type of meeting involves meticulous planning, prompt follow-through, and clear communication.
Without these elements, your post-mortem meeting doesn’t stand a chance.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how to run effective post mortem meetings without making it feel like a drag.
But First, What Is a Project Post Mortem Meeting?
If you’ve ever been in formal discussions that happen at the end of a project, you’ve been a part of a post mortem meeting.
In this meeting, key project leaders and team members come together at the end of a project to:
- Analyze what worked well for the project and what didn’t
- Gather insights on how to improve processes for the future
Post-mortem meeting should be conducted by teams of every type – be it remote, small-sized, enterprise-scale, and so on.
Why? Simply because a post-mortem meeting allows your team members to air their concerns and feel heard once the project is completed.
With the collective feedback and insights, the teams can course correct later on.
Other Names for Post Mortem Meeting
Post mortem meeting goes by many names – depending on what your organization calls it. Some examples include:
- Retrospective is used in agile project management for meetings that occur at the end of every sprint cycle
- After-Action Review or Critical Incident Review are used in IT or DevOps reviews
- Wrap-Up Meeting is commonly used by project managers once a project is completed to tie any loose ends (of the project)
- Project Debrief is used in the military for breaking down a mission and reviewing it
- Project Recap is used by project managers to capture the key points discussed in the meeting in the written format
- Lessons Learned Meeting is used by the Project Management Institute (PMI) to mark the end of a project
Postmortem vs. Premortem: A Comparison
|Post Mortem Meeting||Premortem Meeting|
|When it happens: It occurs once the project is completed.||When it happens: It occurs before a project begins.|
|End-goal: It is retrospective in nature and allows the team to reflect on things that worked, didn’t work, and things that can be done better in the future.||End-goal: The team goes into a proactive mode to predict what could go wrong and mitigate risk early on.|
|Focus: The main focus is on past performance and outcomes.||Focus: The main focus is on future potential issues and risks.|
|Participants: It includes team members involved in the project/task.||Participants: It includes team members, stakeholders, and experts who were involved in the planning phase.|
|Tone: The general tone of the meeting is reflective and analytical. You discuss past actions, decisions, and results.||Tone: The general tone of the meeting is imaginative and forward-thinking. You use creative thinking and scenario planning to envision the potential problems.|
|Questions to ask: What went well? What could have been done differently?||Questions to ask: What could go wrong? What might hinder success?|
|Final output: It includes action items and recommendations for future improvements.||Final output: It includes strategies and contingency plans to address potential issues.|
How to Prepare for a Post Mortem Meeting?
Preparing for a post mortem meeting starts from the moment your project begins.
If you add the post mortem meeting to your project schedule, you’ll be able to find the time to reflect on the project plan’s results.
Remember, the grunt work only happens once in the beginning, so make sure you get the basics right from the get-go.
Step 1: Choose a Neutral Moderator & Note Taker
Don’t underestimate the power of having a moderator and a note taker in your meeting.
You can ask the project manager to become the moderator and assign the note-taking to any team member.
Your note-taker should be able to polish the notes and send it to everyone. They must also highlight the next steps and demonstrate who is responsible for what exactly.
Pro tip: If you are having a virtual meeting, make sure to record it and share the link with the team so that they can come back to it at a later stage. Plus, keep rotating your note-taker and meeting moderator so that everyone gets a chance to participate.
Run your next post mortum meeting like a pro using Nifty!
Step 2: Determine Your Talking Points
The talking points you include in your agenda will determine the quality of your post mortem meeting.
Remember that as a project manager, your main job is to facilitate a useful meeting and implement a positive change to boost project success. This can only be possible if you are asking the right questions, prioritizing the right issues, analyzing relevant areas of improvement, and understanding how to get better with every project delivery.
Running a Post mortem meeting? Here’s a questionnaire to keep everything aligned.
Pro tip: Make your talking points as comprehensive as possible to ensure you’re covering every aspect of the project management process.
Step 3: Gather Feedback From the Team
Try as you may, but sometimes, meetings can go haywire. For instance, the conversation may become repetitive and boring.
In such a scenario, it is the moderator’s job to get the conversation going and gather real time feedback.
As a project manager, you must take out time to collect feedback from your team and work together.
One effective way to encourage participation is to ask open-ended questions such as:
- Did the team find it difficult to complete the project within the predefined timeline, and why?
- Was the team armed with useful resources and a knowledge base to get their queries answered at all times? Was the work distributed optimally and fairly?
- Will you want to work on this type of project again? If yes, why? And if no, why not?
- If you were given another chance to do this project, what would you do differently and why?
- What, according to you, makes this project successful? Please elaborate.
- Please pick one person who you’d like to say kudos to for the project and describe why.
These questions can unearth insights into how your team works, their biggest challenges and fears, and what can be done to improve the project process in the future.
Pro tip: Make the survey anonymous if you want honest and unbiased feedback from your team.
Step 4: Determine the Project Baselines for Cost, Schedule, and Scope
Post mortem meetings require you to plan ahead.
You need to create a repeatable structure that includes all important details, such as project scope, schedule, cost, and more.
When determining the project schedule and scope, follow these tips:
- Consider the project milestones from start to finish
- Include your team members, client, and key stakeholders in the brainstorming process
- Provide a leeway for alternate scenarios, particularly when it comes to project costing
Step 5: Create a Presentation
Once you have all the information, you need to think about how you’ll present it.
Your presentation should be visually appealing, data-driven, and project-centric.
Step 6: Create an Agenda and Send It Out Before the Meeting
A clear meeting agenda is essential to give your team a sort of heads-up about what to expect in the post-mortem meeting.
Here’s a sample meeting agenda that can help you to demonstrate how your actual meeting here will flow:
- Introducing the meeting and its purpose (revisit your project scope to get better clarity on the meeting’s purpose) – you don’t want the meeting to turn into a blame-game (2 minutes)
- Driving team shoutouts and celebrating the ‘wins’ (5 minutes)
- Discussing the successes of the project (10 minutes)
- Reviewing the blind spots and failures (10 minutes)
- Discussing suggestions for the next project (5 minutes)
- Wrap up/recap at a higher level (2 minutes)
Once your agenda is ready, you can send it out to the team members and give them some time to think about the discussion points.
Pro tip: If you tend to have team huddles or daily stand-up meetings, mention your post mortem meeting agenda at this time.
What Does a Post Mortem Meeting Template Look Like?
We have created this free post mortem meeting template that you can use to build an agenda for your meeting.
Before you use the template, make sure to create a post mortem pre-meeting questionnaire to get insights into what the team thought of the project that was just completed.
Here are some questions you can ask the team in this questionnaire:
- Name three things that were a success in this project.
- What did you enjoy the most about this project?
- Please elaborate on three things that you think did not go well in the project.
- What recommendations would you make to improve our next project?
- At any time, did you feel overwhelmed with the amount of work?
- Did you have all the support, resources, and tools to get the job done properly?
If the team echoes the same issues and sentiments, you can include the topic in your main post mortem meeting:
- How would you rate the team’s communication during this project?
- Did the project meet its timeline and budget expectations?
- Were there any communication breakdowns within the team or with stakeholders?
- How well did the team collaborate and coordinate their efforts?
- Was the scope of the project realistic and achievable?
Once you’ve summarized the discussion points, you can create your meeting agenda and send it to the team prior to the post mortem meeting date.
Coming back to the post mortem meeting template, you’ll find the following talking points in the version we’ve created:
- How the meeting will open the floor for discussions
- Project’s successes and road blocks
- How you can create and assign action items
- Pointers for meeting wrap-up
Define project scope, milestones, tasks, and more in one place.
Bonus: Tips to Remember When Creating a Post Mortem Meeting Template
- A Clear Objective is Half the Job Done: Begin by stating the purpose of the postmortem. Do you wish to learn from the project’s successes/failures or do you want to improve the process of future projects?
- Set a Realistic Date and Time: Define when the meeting will occur, allowing team members to schedule their availability.
- Select Relevant Participants: Specify who should attend the postmortem, and ensure representation from all relevant team members and stakeholders.
- List Your Agenda Items: List the main discussion points. Typically, these include what went well, what could have been done better, and action items for future projects.
- Think About Your Guiding Questions: Provide a set of questions to guide the discussion such as:
- What were the project’s primary goals and objectives?
- What were the major accomplishments and successes?
- What challenges did you face?
- How did you address these challenges, and what were the results?
- What recommendations do you have for future projects?
- What Data and Metrics Will You Include?: Include sections where you can present and analyze data, metrics, and key performance indicators (KPIs) related to the project.
- Create a Set of Action Items: Create a section for documenting specific action items, responsibilities, and deadlines resulting from the postmortem. If this is not the first postmortem for the project, include a section to review the progress made on action items from previous meetings.
- Focus on Successes and Areas for Improvement: Encourage the team to celebrate what went well and acknowledge key achievements. Thank members for their contribution with gratitude. You must also emphasize the importance of constructive criticism and encourage team members to learn from their mistakes.
- Conclusion and Next Steps: Summarize the key takeaways and outline the next steps after the meeting.
6 Best Practices for Post-Mortem Meetings
1. Set the Right Expectations
At the outset, it is important to let people know what to expect. Set clear rules about what the meeting will entail. Here are some basic ground rules that you can make your own:
- Ensure there is no finger-pointing; the primary focus of the meeting is to understand how to improve the process.
- People must enter the meeting with a positive mindset and with an intent to understand what they did well and what they could have done better.
- Demonstrate rules around using phones, laptops, or any other distraction that might disrupt the flow of the meeting.
- Take extra effort to ensure the meetings stays objective at all times.
2. Reinforce the ‘No Argument’ Policy During the Meeting
At the risk of sounding repetitive, it is important to reiterate that the meeting is not for discussing people but rather processes.
You want to understand which systems can be improved so that the project runs more smoothly in the future.
There’s no space or need for any kind of accusation, which can leave your team demotivated and unhappy.
3. Pause—or Stop—the Meeting if Things Get Out of Hand
A good moderator understands when the meeting is about to spiral.
It is important that you step in at the right time and course-correct to avoid getting bad blood between team members.
To ease off the tension, you can own up to your own mistakes as a project manager.
This will get the team to think together and make them more comfortable about discussing their own shortcomings.
No matter what happens, always end the meeting on a positive note.
Run your next post mortem meeting like a pro.
4. Give Everyone the Chance to Speak
No one likes to listen to one person talk endlessly. After all, attention spans are at an all-time low.
To make sure everyone is attentive, set the stage for every member and give them a chance to vent their concerns.
You must make the team feel safe about sharing their feedback with honesty and zero fear of judgment.
5. Each Person Should Have a Limited Time to Speak
Now, you want to open the floor for everyone but make sure that there’s a set time for each person to speak.
If the conversation starts going into another tangent, circle it back to the main point – it is one of the main jobs of a seasoned moderator.
6. All Feedback Should Be Constructive, Specific, and Actionable
Let’s face it. Teams are constantly burned out from endless projects with deadlines that were due ‘yesterday.’
In fact, once a project ends, teams barely get time off to sit and mull over what went right and what went wrong—a big mistake.
It may be tempting to skip these post mortem meetings altogether as they may seem redundant or unnecessary.
But as a project manager, the onus of educating your team about a project’s strengths and weaknesses lies with you.
So, if you want your team members to engage in active listening, make sure that the feedback you give is constructive, actionable, and specific.
Your team should clearly understand how they contributed to the project and offering them honest feedback is a sure shot way to get team member buy-in for post mortem review meetings.
Pro tip: Once the post mortem meeting is over, send a recap of the meeting including the action items, main takeaways, and what to expect in the next project.
Streamline Your Post-Mortem Meetings with Nifty
The thing about projects is that they don’t always go as planned. Plus, no matter how many successful projects you deliver, there’s always room for improvement.
This is why post mortem meetings have cemented a special place in project management.
Whether your team configuration is constantly changing or whether you have a globally dispersed hybrid team, you need a free project management tool like Nifty to drive remote discussions, brainstorm ideas, and keep the team connected:
You can also scribble down notes to prepare ahead of the project kickoff meeting:
Nifty is an all-round project management platform that can adapt to your team’s needs. You can monitor tasks, send across important documents, use the chat feature to enhance collaboration, and more. Plus, you can convert project issues into trackable actions with ease.
Empower your team with greater visibility into their workload, their project timeline and expectations, and key metrics that define project success. Try Nifty for free now!
What is the definition of a post-mortem meeting?
A post mortem meeting is a type of meeting that happens once a project is completed. The team comes together to reflect on the wins, the mistakes, and the best practices to embrace for the next project.
What’s the difference between a post-mortem and a retrospective meeting?
A post-mortem meeting occurs at the end of a project. The team reviews the project from different angles to see what went right and what could have gone better.
A retrospective too is a session where the team discusses the successes, failures, and areas of improvement that occurred in the past sprint.
Basically, a retrospective meeting happens at the end of a sprint cycle – meaning it happens more regularly than post mortem meetings. It provides project managers the chance to make improvements during an in-progress project.
What should be included in a post-mortem report?
You can include the following elements in a post-mortem report and formalize it:
- Generalized project and meeting information (such as start and end dates, deliverables expected, etc.)
- Project objectives and goals
- Issues/pain-points to discuss along with relevant solutions
- Action items for the solutions proposed
- Assignees for the action items outlined
- Additional notes for better project context (think: next steps)
- Feedback from team members, clients, and stakeholders
Who should attend project post-mortem meeting?
A project post mortem meeting should be attended by everyone who was involved in the project from start to finish. This includes clients, project stakeholders, project staff, and more.