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How To Host Post-Mortem Meetings That Actually Add Value

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Have you ever wondered why a project didn’t turn out the way you had planned? Or why a task you delegated to an employee went sideways? If the answer is yes, and you want to turn those types of situations into learning opportunities going forward, then it’s time to consider hosting post-mortem meetings. To begin, let’s clarify what post-mortem meetings are exactly.

What Is a Post-Mortem Meeting?

Post-mortem meetings, which can also be referred to as retrospective meetings or project retrospectives, are a tool leaders and their teams can use to better understand why something happened the way it did. They typically take place in response to an event, such as the conclusion of a project/task or a mistake, and include either a group/team of people or one-on-one between two people, such as a leader and employee. During this dedicated and uninterrupted time, everyone considers a series of probing questions and partakes in an honest discussion about their successes and failures related to the specific event to ultimately determine what should be replicated or improved upon for next time.

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Should You Create and Share an Agenda for the Post-Mortem Meeting?

Absolutely. Before hosting a post-mortem meeting you should spend some time creating a meeting agenda that you will then share with the team at least 24 hours in advance. Each part of the agenda should have an amount of time associated with it so you can make the most of the time available. Once in the meeting, it is up to you as the leader to hold everyone to the timeline and “park” conversations for another time if necessary. 

To help you get an idea of what your post-mortem meeting agenda should look like, here is an example you can edit freely:

Post-Mortem Meeting Agenda (60 Minutes)

  1. Review the goal of the meeting and ground rules (5 Minutes)

  2. Recap the task/project/mistake (5 Minutes)

  3. Discuss what was done well and celebrate successes (10 Minutes)
    *Insert a short list of relevant questions

  4. Discuss what went wrong or could have been done better (15 Minutes)
    *Insert a short list of relevant questions

  5. Brainstorm solutions and ideas for improvement (20 Minutes)
    *Insert a short list of relevant questions

  6. Review next steps and assign accountabilities based on any decisions made in the meeting (5 Minutes)

 

What Questions Should You Ask During a Post-Mortem Meeting?

In order to give your post-mortem meeting structure and ensure the goal of the meeting is met, it is best to prepare a list of questions you want to ask beforehand. In fact, it is a best practice to provide your list of questions to the participants of the meeting at least 24 hours in advance. While this helps ensure everyone comes prepared with talking points, it is especially helpful to those who are introverted or introspective, as it will give them the time they need to collect their thoughts and prepare to speak in the meeting. 

To help you prepare a list of questions for your post-mortem meeting, here are a number of good ones to choose from or build off of:

  • Are you proud of the work that was completed?
  • Was the timeline realistic?
  • Was the goal and importance of the task clear?
  • Were the instructions clear?
  • Was there enough communication? If not, what were the barriers to transparent and consistent communication?
  • Was there enough collaboration among employees/stakeholders/clients?
  • What additional information could have been provided in the initial conversation or setup to make the process easier or smoother?
  • Did changes in the scope of the task arise that affected the timeline or outcome? Could these have been avoided?
  • Did you feel you had access to the resources, information and support you needed to do your best work?
  • What was the single most frustrating part of the project?
  • Did you feel like you had too much on your plate? At what point? Do you have any ideas about how this could have been resolved?

 

What Should the Ground Rules of the Post-Mortem Meeting Be?

If you want to have honest conversations that lead to tangible decisions and solutions in your post-mortem meetings, then ground rules are a must. By setting ground rules up front and getting everyone to agree to them, you are contributing to the creation of an inclusive and respectful environment where each participant feels they can contribute without fear. Therefore, some examples of good ground rules for post-mortem meetings are:

  • Check your ego at the door.
  • No throwing stones or airing dirty laundry.
  • No talking over or interrupting each other.
  • Mute your notifications on your phones and computers to minimize interruptions and distractions. 
  • Think before you speak. Ask yourself if what you have to say could hurt someone’s feelings. 
  • Assume positive intent. 
  • Don’t speak for others or cite hearsay. 
  • Attack the problem, not the person.

 

Conclusion

While people may not look forward to post-mortem meetings, they are essential if you and your team want to learn, grow, and perform better. Fortunately, there are things you can do as a leader, such as creating an agenda, sending out a list of discussion questions in advance, and setting ground rules, to make the experience as positive as possible and ensure they actually add value.

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