Hosting Post-Mortem Meetings 101

By Caroline Molloy • August 27, 2015

While post-mortem meetings may sound horrifying thanks to their name, they are vital when it comes to continuously improving your team and process. The main goal of a post-mortem meeting is to analyze the successes and failures of a particular project, and more importantly, to come up with actionable items to insert into the team’s process to ensure future projects run more smoothly. For our team there are a few key steps in ensuring a post-mortem meeting is successful.

Step 1: Create and distribute pre-meeting survey

Even prior to holding a post-mortem meeting, it is recommended that you allow the team to reflect on the project and gather its thoughts. This can be done in a variety of ways, but I like to send out a short survey asking some basic questions which can be answered using a 10 point scale (1 = I strongly agree / 10 = I strongly disagree).

Some of these questions include:

Questionnaire for prior to post-mortem meeting

I also ensure that there is an open question at the end where a team member can leave any opinions in his/her own words — be it positive or negative. Giving everyone the space to document their experience helps gather insightful feedback.

After collecting all of the questionnaire responses, I synthesize the information to help shape the agenda for the meeting. It is important that each team member feels that his/her voice has been heard, so constructing the agenda around the thoughts of the team has proved most productive for me.

Step 2: Prepare meeting agenda

Through the analysis of the team questionnaires, I create a meeting agenda. I have learned that it is vital to have an agenda at every meeting no matter how formal or informal that meeting should be. As a lean team, we try to keep meetings short and productive, and a concrete agenda allows us to move through line items quickly and efficiently without sacrificing meaningful conversation.

Agenda fo Post-Mortem Meeting

Step 3: Ensure meeting is held in welcoming and comfortable environment

Entering a meeting in which you know that discussions of failures and pain points will take center stage can be a bit stressful. You want to make sure the team feels comfortable and not defensive when the meeting begins. I find there are a number of ways to make sure that the environment is one that promotes open discussion:

  • Find an environment that is comfortable — be it a lounge or a conference room with great chairs. People should be able to feel somewhat relaxed.
  • Make sure everyone has water and has used the bathroom. Seems odd, but honestly if people are physically feeling great they tend to be more willing to participate. Participation is key in this type of meeting.
  • Send the calendar invite for 10 minute prior to when you plan on officially starting the meeting. This allows people to roll in a bit more casually and allows team members to discuss non-work related topics before jumping into the “serious” stuff. That being said, as soon as that official start time rolls around be sure to get started promptly and keep the conversation moving.
  • Cookies! They make everything better.

Step 4: Walk through meeting agenda — be sure to promote constructive critiques only!

Constructive is the key word here! To preface each post-mortem meeting, I make sure to remind team members that everything said in the meeting should be done with the intention to better the other team members. Luckily I have a very kind-hearted team, but it is easy to see how one of these meetings could spiral out of control into some catty/mean-girl behavaior. As the Senior Producer, I tend to serve as moderator in these meetings, so if there is any topic that seems to be moving in the wrong direction, I try to refocus everyone.

post-mortem-meeting-whiteboard

As we walk through the meeting agenda, there are lots of comments made, so it is important to take detailed notes. Often times I will scribble general notes on a white board, but will recruit another team member to take more specific notes that I type up and send to the team following the meeting.

Step 5: Call out actionable items and detail how these will be incorporated into current team process

One of the most important aspects of these meetings is to leave with a list of to-do’s that can be implemented instantly to improve the overall project lifecycle. This can be something small such as, “update strategy documents to include page numbers,” or a more overarching concept such as, “ensure developers sign off on strategy prior to sending to client for final approval.”

Either way each task should be assigned to one or more team members, so they can be held accountable at the next post-mortem.

Step 6: Celebrate the completion of the project!

At the close of each post-mortem meeting people should leave feeling accomplished. While there may have been bumps in the road, completing a project is something to be celebrated. Make sure to congratulate the team for the many successes and to motivate them to continue to get better at their individual job functions, and as a cohesive unit.

Each project is a learning experience and taking the time to reflect on that experience is not only important for the growth of the company, but also for each individual. Go forth and host some great post-mortem’s!

Caroline Molloy

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