For most start-ups, success and risk go hand in hand. If you are unable to take risks, it is very difficult to take the quantum leaps necessary to survive, much less thrive. By holding a postmortem after every project, you build learning into your process. This will hopefully decrease the odds that you will make the same mistake twice.
Take notes during the process. Don't use the postmortem as the only occasion to be reflective about the project process. Throughout the project, stop to take notes about what is working and where the team is struggling. These notes will come in handy for the postmortem.
You may also find it useful to do a mid-project check-in with the group. There is no reason to wait for the project to be over before you think about how you can improve the process. If you can fix problems during the process, the project is more likely to be successful.
Send an outline. Make sure your team is prepared for the postmortem meeting. Send out an email prior to the meeting with the key questions that you want to cover. To encourage participation, you might find it helpful to require team members to send you responses to the questions prior to the meeting.
Document the results. Be sure to take detailed minutes during the meeting and include them in a postmortem report. The report should be sent to the members of the team for their approval, then distributed to management and any additional individuals who were involved in the project.
Aggregate learning. Regularly gather a cross-functional team to review the postmortem reports on projects throughout the organization. This is a great opportunity to share learning with other teams and identify systemic problems across the organization that need to be addressed.
Have a clear agenda. Follow a clear map in your discussion to get the most out of the postmortem meeting.
Here are items you might want to include on your postmortem meeting agenda.
Project Planning and Process
Look at how successfully the team developed a project plan, identified risks, and kept on schedule.
Examine how well team members communicated with each other and with people outside the core team.
Explore how well roles were defined in the product team.
The postmortem meeting won't prove to have been useful if you are not able to define some core action items for the team. These action items should address the key lessons from the project. For each action item, be sure to clearly define an owner and timeline for completion.
Holding a postmortem will only be successful if you are prepared, follow a clear agenda, and execute on the most important action items resulting from the meeting.
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March 19, 2014