Productivity Hack of the Week: Do a Project Post Mortem

project post mortem

Treat your dearly departed projects with the respect they deserve, and they’ll help guide you in your future endeavors. Don’t, and they’ll haunt you.

Are you under-utilizing one of your firm’s greatest assets? If you’re not reviewing projects after you complete them, you just might be.

In sales and marketing, one of the most valuable processes teams go through is the win-loss analysis. Oftentimes, it’s the lost deals that return the most feedback. Which of our competitors won? Why did they win? What could we have done differently? These post mortem analyses often turn up both tactical improvements and strategic opportunities, like product or pricing adjustments.

The same is true anytime a project wraps up. Knowledge is golden in any business, and a lot of times it’s not the really complicated, sexy insights that are the difference between success and failure – it’s the little changes that help teams communicate better, deliver effectively and distill concepts to practice.

To bring those to the surface, take a little time at the end of any project and review how it went. What went well? What could have gone better? Are there basic things you can do differently that will help projects run smoothly each and every time?

As with anything, you have to be intentional about how this process runs. There are some specific things you need to do to get useful feedback:

1. Involve the whole team.
Almost any business relies on the efforts of multiple people, and how those people work together has the single biggest bearing on the outcome that team produces. If you involve the entire team, you’re helping everyone develop a common vocabulary and a common way of thinking. You’re also making clear that everyone has a stake in what happens.

2. Create an environment where honesty is the single biggest virtue.
You have to set some ground rules from the beginning. One is to make clear that the post mortem is not about finding fault in the prior project – it’s about making all future projects go as well as they possibly can. Set a constructive and positive tone – this is the carrot in the proverbial carrot and the stick. The second is to make it clear that the most important thing is contributing to the process. The instinctive reaction in a process like this is for people to protect their own position and either make themselves look good or avoid looking bad. While you don’t want to promise your team immunity (if it comes out that someone made a stupid, careless mistake during the project, being honest about that doesn’t mean their spot on the team is safe), you can make it clear that commitment to the project and the success of future projects is a basic requirement. In other words, hold back in this process and your position on the team might not be safe anyway – you won’t settle for less than full participation! That’s the stick to your earlier carrot. Once you’ve got the carrot and the stick out on the table, there are no sacred cows, and you can get down to the business of really digging in to how things went.

3. Hold each other accountable.
The other reason to involve the entire team is to create a self-accountable unit. If an exercise like this is top-down, it’s easy for the lessons to be identified, maybe even written down, but not followed, because it’s all on the shoulders of one person – one person who is no doubt very busy. If everyone is part of identifying those lessons and buying in, it creates multiple opportunities in the next project for someone to recognize when a practice that may have caused challenges in the last project is being repeated in the current project.

4. Keep good records during the project.
Having documentation of the project and what transpired as it moved forward is incredibly valuable when you go through a process like this. If you or anyone else are unclear as to what happened when, you have something to refer back to to understand the flow of communication, the discovery of requirements or other key stages your team went through in completing the project. In this regard, more than half the battle is having a system your team will use consistently – as long as it centralizes communication, you’ll have something to refer back to later. The most sophisticated project management system in the world is useless if it doesn’t get populated throughout the course of the project.

If you can do these things, you’ll get the absolute most out of your projects and your team. Over time, it will become a competitive advantage in and of itself.

As always, we wish you good fortune and successful collaboration!

by Paul Kriloff

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