The post-mortem meeting: The name may sound grim, even spooky.
But when used well, this powerful meeting at the end of a project can breathe new life into team members and processes alike.
Whether you’re new to post-mortem meetings or looking for inspiration to improve your approach (especially with a remote team), we’ll walk you through best practices and give you practical action steps for running a successful post-mortem meeting.
Post-mortem meetings can deliver significant value, but getting the most out of them requires careful effort. It’s always important to set up meetings for success, so for maximum productivity in your post-mortem meeting, implement each of these elements before or during the post-mortem.
The meeting should start with presenting a post-mortem report, which requires some work ahead of time.
Writing the perfect post-mortem report may require trial and error, and exactly what needs to go in the report can vary depending on the project. Most reports should include at least a few common elements, though.
For starters, measure the project objectives and report on how well the project achieved each one. This will help focus the team on why the project exists in the first place.
If it’s possible to quantify project impact at this stage, include this information here.
You’ll also need to collect feedback from team members (using a pre-meeting questionnaire can help) and categorize that feedback into discussion points.
On especially long or complex projects, you might consider setting up a method for collecting this feedback over time: an issue that plagued the first three months of an 18-month project is important to resolve, but it's far from anyone’s mind by the end of the project.
Creating an agenda keeps everyone on task and on track, which is especially important in a meeting that’s sure to be full of free-flowing (and even spirited) discussion.
Remember, you’re specifically, intentionally discussing stuff that didn’t work or that really bothered certain team members. Conversations like that can get heated or fly wildly off track.
Creating and sharing an agenda helps all parties know what will be discussed, which can narrow the focus when needed and help avoid complaints being raised at the wrong time.
Building an agenda from scratch can feel daunting, but a good meeting template can help.
Every meeting needs a facilitator or someone to moderate the discussion, and everyone in attendance should know who has that role. Often the project manager takes this job, but not always.
The moderator should be at least moderately familiar with the project and fairly neutral on the “bad and the ugly” discussion points. (For example, if numerous team members complain about how the project was managed, you might not want the PM moderating that discussion.)
Set clear expectations on what is and isn’t okay in the post-mortem. If possible, include any meeting ground rules you’ve set in the agenda when you send it to the meeting attendees.
Here are a few suggestions for post-mortem ground rules:
Remote teams are a growing segment of the professional workforce, with projections as high as 40.7 million American workers going fully remote by 2026.
These teams may need additional rules or clarifications due to the limitations around body language and simultaneous discussion. The right set of online meeting tools can also help mitigate these challenges.
To learn from your post-mortem meeting, your team will need documentation of the discussion, its talking points, and resulting action items.
Sometimes the moderator can easily note these along the way, but in more complex or technical settings, the moderator may need to keep full attention on the discussion and agenda.
In these cases, a second person taking down meeting notes can streamline the process.
Last, make sure to celebrate the wins your team achieved during the project — and save at least some of this celebration for last.
This doesn’t directly drive productivity, but it achieves something subtle and extremely important.
You want your team members to view post-mortems as a good thing, not as a meeting where they’ll probably get lambasted and criticized. If the entire discussion feels negative, people won’t look forward to any future project post-mortems — and may not contribute as openly as you’d like.
So take plenty of time to celebrate the project’s success and recap the big wins from any part of the project.
Good post-mortem meetings deliver quite a few benefits to your team and your business.
No project runs perfectly. The post-mortem process helps teams isolate and identify issues with deliverables, milestones, the project plan, team collaboration, baselines, and more.
An effective post-mortem meeting contains plenty of honest feedback and team communication — but all in attendance should remember to share information that pushes toward improvement, not just assigning blame or complaining.
Teams generally don’t get better unless they talk about what’s working and what isn’t. And teams that aren’t getting better don’t tend to improve morale one bit. By creating space at the end of a project to discuss and follow up on what workflows did and didn’t work, you’ll improve those workflows and generate stronger teamwork and morale at the same time.
Sometimes, work can feel a bit like a hamster wheel, with workers endlessly spinning from project to project with no closure or time for reflection in between. A successful post-mortem analysis can provide that missing sense of closure at the end of the project lifecycle, praising everyone involved for their hard work and looking proactively at areas to improve.
Good post-mortem meetings can provide so much for your business: retrospective analysis, data on areas needing improvement, a much-needed morale boost after a job well done, and more.
Getting these meetings organized and keeping them on track can be a challenge — especially for remote teams — but tools like Range make the process so much easier.
With Range, you can:
A post-mortem meeting or retrospective meeting occurs after the conclusion of a project. It provides an opportunity to present and discuss the ups and downs of the project: what went right, what went wrong, and what changes could improve the next iteration or similar project. The post-mortem meeting discusses the good, the bad, and the ugly (in fact, some post-mortems are even organized around those three categories).
The post-mortem meeting is an ideal time to engage in process improvement (https://mitsloan.mit.edu/ideas-made-to-matter/8-step-guide-improving-workplace-processes). It can provide team members with helpful closure on a project that includes celebrating its successes and voicing persistent frustrations.
Project managers often lead post-mortem meetings for individual projects and are responsible for creating a report or presentation (or both) that will guide the meeting. Building this report could be an entirely separate blog post, but in short, you’ll need to pull project data connected to the project’s goals. You’ll usually also want to collect verbatim or survey data from project team members (to give context to the data on the good, bad, and ugly).
Teams of any size and scope benefit from post-mortem meetings, as does your broader organization. This is because post-mortem meetings are ideal for learning from past experiences, improving interpersonal communication and team morale, and celebrating success.
The team's size and the project's length and importance may influence how in-depth a post-mortem is warranted, but we’ve yet to come across a project where a post-mortem doesn’t make sense at all.