Transformation

10 August 2021

5 min.

The secrets of a successful project postmortem

You’ve just put the finishing touches on a major project, and the whole team is breathing a sigh of relief: Finally finished! Let’s move on!

Except…

As you can imagine, there is still one final and precious step, even if some consider it with little enthusiasm: the project postmortem.

What if we gave you the secrets of a successful postmortem? That instead of a necessary evil, it became a powerful lever of transformation for you and your team?

Why do a project postmortem?

After all the effort invested in a project, the debriefing stage can seem like a chore that we could do without. However, rather than thinking of it that way, we have everything to gain by setting up a well-thought-out postmortem process that will allow us to draw the right lessons from what we have just experienced, both individually and as a team.

More specifically, it opens the door to:

  • Learn together from past experiences (we know that collective learning is valuable!)
  • Strengthen the collaboration within our team and with external collaborators
  • Enhance future experiences in order to better direct our efforts

Learning together

As the old saying goes: If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together. When it comes to learning, taking the time to learn with others has tangible benefits. Chances are, the lessons you learned are different from those of your colleagues — we all learn a little differently!

By choosing collective learning, you not only have the opportunity to share the lessons you have learned, but you are also able to benefit from the insights of those who collaborate with you.

Strengthening collaboration

Speaking of collaborators, the project postmortem is an excellent opportunity to take stock of the collaboration modes that worked well, and those that deserve to be revisited in light of what was experienced.

Indeed, even if you took the time to establish the modes of collaboration at the beginning of the project, you may have realized along the way that even the best intentions did not necessarily lead to fruitful exchanges.

All the more reason to take the time to review your procedures so that everyone benefits!

Enhancing future experiences

The value of experience lies in improving the way things are done! Who has never had the unfortunate feeling of having to reinvent the wheel (again!) when undertaking a new project?

By setting up a postmortem within our project process, we give ourselves the chance to take advantage of our past experiences to enhance future ones with all the lessons and discoveries that have marked our journey, rather than having to start from scratch every time.

The toolbox

How to conduct a project postmortem?

Discover our guide

Postmortem: Pitfalls to avoid

Why is it sometimes so difficult to get excited about the prospect of a project postmortem? Usually, it’s because we’ve had negative experiences with the process that may have led us to believe that it had no real value.

While the postmortem is a valuable tool, it also has some important pitfalls that can derail the process. The good news? By knowing about them ahead of time, you can avoid them and still have plenty of time for a successful meeting!

Pitfall #1: The witch hunt

The purpose of a postmortem is to both highlight what went well and what needs to be done differently next time. With this in mind, sometimes team members’ dissatisfactions emerge, and people start railing against the person who caused them.

Understand this: the idea of the postmortem is not to organize a witch hunt or to place blame on anyone. It is not group therapy or an opportunity to make accusations. It is an exercise in identifying, as a team, the areas of improvement needed to achieve better results, together, by sharing facts and building on accomplishments.

Pitfall #2: False consensus

In most work teams, there is one or a few people who speak up more spontaneously, and who state opinions that seem to be the consensus. But is this really the case?

While these opinions may seem to be shared by all team members, it’s important to allow everyone to speak up in order to get a more accurate and nuanced picture of each person’s experience.

The toolbox

How to clarify a project from the get-go

Discover our guide

When is the right time to do a project postmortem?

While many would automatically start the postmortem once the project is completed, there are several options available to you.

Option #1: At the end of the project

This is the more “classic” version of the postmortem, the one that is most frequently expected. One of the keys to success is to consider the exercise as an integral part of the project.

Why? By including the postmortem in the project itself, we avoid putting it off until later and thus depriving ourselves of the opportunity to not only make the most of the insights gained but also to celebrate the accomplishments made along the way. After all, recognition is an important motivator!

Option #2: In the course of the project

Why wait until the end of a project to take stock? It can certainly be useful earlier in the process, especially when the project is not going as planned or the associated risk level is high.

Giving yourself the opportunity to review the steps you’ve taken, collect what you’ve learned along the way, and identify areas where you need to make adjustments will give you the chance to be more successful in the rest of the project, despite unforeseen circumstances!

Do you need a helping hand in project management?

Whether you need to adopt best practices, boost cohesion among your team members or face transformations in your workplace, we have many turnkey solutions at your disposal!