A project post mortem, colloquially referred to as a ‘project retrospective,’ may be defined as a “process that has been initiated for evaluating the success (or failure) of a project's ability to meet business goals.”
Such business related post mortems are typically conducted when the project has been concluded. They are useful tools for understanding the success (or lack of it thereof) of a project.
They may also be used at the conclusion of a specific stage of a multi-phase project. The actual term post mortem is a Latin derivative and in the literal sense means "after death." In the healthcare industry, this term is widely used to describe the examination of a cadaver so as to be able to determine the cause of death.
Following are some tips for deriving the most out of a single or a series of ‘project post mortem’ meetings:
Have a Post Mortem for Each and Every Individual Project Regardless of Size and Outcome
Project post mortems are a really great learning experience and serve as road side indicators to ensure that mistakes are not repeated. A great sage once stated that, ”Only a fool trips over the same stone twice.” This is where a project post mortem comes into its own.
Even with small projects, the odds are that there will be teeny tiny things that would help you increase your learning on how to do things when a bigger project is under consideration. Let us take the example of power outages.
In a small single day project, a few minutes of a power outage would merely mean little lost time. But in a bigger project, where a client is breathing down the neck and time is critical, it might make sense to have back up power supply available.
Another point to note is that a ‘Project post mortem” should be conducted even if the project was successful beyond the wildest dreams of the organizers. The key learning points might be used to make sure that they may be replicated in other projects as well.
Have a Pre-Planned Agenda Ready
As with all other types of meetings, a project post mortem meeting should also have a pre-defined agenda. This will help make sure that there is zero possibility of the discussion going off the tangent and thereby wasting the precious time of the participants of the meeting.
Have a Positive Mindset Beforehand
This is by far the most important tip on this list. The whole point of a project post mortem is not to degrade and humiliate team members based on what may have gone wrong, nor should a post mortem be conducted to play the ‘blame game’ and create scapegoats.
The point of the whole process is not to score or deduct points for subsequent performance appraisal of the various subordinates and team members, but rather to help seek out constructive lessons that would be useful for future projects and their successful conclusion.