Post-mortem meetings are one of the greatest tools managers have to drive performance. Regardless of whether a project succeeded, failed, or somewhere in between, hosting an in-depth review of your results enables your team to learn from their actions and achieve better results on their next project.
Over time, hosting regular post-mortem meetings will inspire a culture of continuous improvement where everyone on your team is motivated to learn from failure and constantly strive to improve their skills.
Keep reading for tips on how to have an impactful meeting or jump straight to our post-mortem templates:
How to Run an Impactful Post-Mortem Meeting
Since post-mortems play a critical role in your team’s long-term success, you need to invest effort to ensure that you run the meetings effectively.
To help you, we’ve outlined the steps you need to take before, during, and after your post-mortem meeting to make it impactful.
Before the Meeting: Set It Up for Success
To set your post-mortem up for success, you need to ensure everyone is on the same page and prepared to have a productive discussion. Here’s how:
- Send out an agenda in advance so people know what information they should have available and they have time to reflect on the project a bit. If your team is new to post-mortems, you should also explain the purpose of the meeting so people know what they’re getting into.
- Send details about the project’s outcomes a few days in advance if everyone doesn’t already have access to that information.
- Assign a notetaker. Post-mortem meetings generate tons of powerful insights that your team needs to document and act upon. Ideally, choose someone who doesn’t have to play an active role in the discussion and can focus on note taking.
Ensuring that everyone is on the same page prior to the post-mortem prevents you from wasting time during the meeting explaining basic information.
During the Meeting: Keep Your Team Focused
To maximize your time, encourage your team to brainstorm as many insights as possible. Remember, the goal of post-mortem meetings is to uncover what went well, what went poorly, and how your team can improve moving forward. To fully cover all of these topics you need to keep the conversation moving and plan additional meetings to dive into specific topics.
Take these steps to have a productive meeting:
- Instruct your team to criticize ideas, not people. Discussing failure is never easy. Focusing on flawed reasoning instead of the people who acted on it prevents personal attacks that derail your meetings. If someone violates this rule immediately acknowledge that their behavior is inappropriate and refocus on your topic.
- Monitor the clock to make sure you have time to cover every part of your agenda. If a few members of your team want to dive deeper into a specific topic, encourage them to set up another meeting.
- If your team is giving vague and/or brief responses use the 5 Whys technique to foster deeper dialogue. This technique is simple: when someone gives an answer that lacks depth, keep asking them why the issue/success occurred until their answer addresses the root cause. Repeatedly asking why forces people to think deeper about their assumptions and realize that there is a lot more going on below the surface.
Keeping your meeting focused gives your team the insights to make significant improvements on their next project.
After the Meeting: Use the Insights to Drive Change
Post-mortem meetings are a waste of time unless your team uses the insights uncovered in the meeting to drive change. As a leader, you need to relentlessly follow-up with your employees to ensure they’re acting on what they learned, preventing the same mistakes from occurring again and approaching their next projects with greater focus and goal clarity.
Here’s how to use post-mortems to drive change:
- Create a list of action steps for your team to act on what they learned in the post-mortem. Follow-up with individual emails that remind each person what they’re responsible for.
- In your 1:1’s with employees, follow-up on their areas of improvement. For example, if their part missed the mark because they lacked certain skills, ensure they are taking actions to learn those skills.
- Encourage your team to use the lessons they learned as a springboard for new ideas and problem-solving approaches when they’re working on new projects. This boosts productivity by preventing people from reinventing the wheel.
Having frequent conversations about post-mortems keeps their insights top of mind so your team is focused on continuous improvement.
Post-Mortem Template for Metrics-Driven Projects
Teams working on metrics-driven projects often know if they succeeded or failed as soon as their project is complete. As a result, your post-mortem meetings should focus on understanding what factors contributed to their performance and how they can improve moving forward.
Here is a template to guide your meetings:
- Quickly review each of your metrics and determine if your team finished at, below, or above expectations.
- Dive into the metrics that they performed poorly on.
- Question: What prevented the team from achieving its goals?
- Question: What can the team do to prevent these issues from occurring again?
- Dive into the metrics that they met or exceeded.
- Question: What led to the team’s success?
- Question: What can the team do to ensure they’re also successful on future projects?
- Discuss what the team learned.
- Question: What were the biggest lessons learned?
- Question: What action steps does everyone need to take to improve moving forward.
By the end of your post-mortem meeting, your team should have a strong understanding of what they need to do to earn better results on their next project.
Post-Mortem Template for Subjective Projects
Post-mortem meetings for subjective projects follow a similar agenda as meetings for metrics-driven projects. The difference is that subjective projects lack metrics that definitively show if they’re successful or not, so you have to spend time at the beginning of your meeting evaluating the project’s performance.
Here’s a template to drive your post-mortem:
- Was the project successful?
- Follow-up: If the consensus is yes, you can quickly move on to the next agenda items.
- Follow-up: If there are mixed opinions about the project’s success, discuss them and strive to reach a consensus.
- What went well?
- Follow-up question: Why did X go well?
- Follow-up question: How do we ensure that the successful thing continues to happen?
- What went poorly?
- Follow-up question: Why did X go poorly?
- Follow-up question: How do we prevent X from happening again?
- What lessons did the team learn?
- Follow-up question: What action steps does the team need to take to improve moving forward?
Using the templates, you can host post-mortem meetings that drive your team to become increasingly effective. Struggling to make your team committed to continuous improvement?
These articles will help you become a stronger leader:
- 4 Strategies to Ignite a Culture of Continuous Improvement
- 5 Delegative Leadership Skills that Will Make You a Better Manager
- How to Motivate Employees to Engage in Continuous Learning
About the Author: Emily formerly led Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.