Learning from successes and failures with a post mortem

You can’t always anticipate failures with pre-morterms. The problem space may be continually evolving as you iterate and learn. A post-mortem is an opportunity for the team to pause, reflect and learn from their recent successes and failures.

Overview – This activity consists of two parts:

  1. Review all project stages and discuss what happened as a team.
  2. Discuss what you learned from the project and what could be done differently next time.

Run time: 30 to 60 minutes

People: The whole team

Roles needed: Facilitator, notetaker

Before starting the post-mortem, there are a few things you need to prepare.

For remote teams, you will need a collaboration document. This document could be a Google spreadsheet or Trello board. It doesn’t matter what you use as long as you can collaborate.

For in-person teams, find a meeting room, grab a whiteboard or a large roll of paper, sticky notes and marker pens.

Remind the team to approach the issues to be discussed with a growth mindset.

Create a space where people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts.

Before the team starts brainstorming ideas, the facilitator needs to set the stage.

Start the post-mortem by asking the team to consider the following questions:

  • What went well with this project?
  • What went wrong with this project?
  • Where did we get lucky?

Give the team five minutes to silently write their thoughts on the collaboration document or sticky notes placed under each question.

Go around the team and get everyone to share their thoughts.

Merge similar thoughts and ideas into themes.

Discuss each theme, remembering to be considerate to those around you.

Ask lots of questions.

Part 2: What can we do differently next time? (30 minutes)Permalink to section titled Part 2: What can we do differently next time? (30 minutes)

Work together to document what you’ve learned and develop the next steps.

Use the following framework to document the issues and how you plan to address them:

  • Action name
  • Owner(s)
  • Priority (impact)
  • Deadline

Like your pre-mortem, don’t file the post-mortem away in a dusty cabinet! Instead, track the actions from the post-mortem and follow up occasionally to ensure you’re aware of any future risks and actively address them.

Updated on: 13 May 2021

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