Expanding The Post-Mortem
What did the project post-mortem really tell us? The project has come to a close, with end user training underway as the final step. All of the project goals were met — but was the project successful?
Everyone has been so focused on completing their own tasks and executing to the plan, but were there key learnings along the way? Back from my years as a Technical Project Manager, one of my favorite learning tools was the project post-mortem. At the end of a project, this was an opportunity for all key stakeholders to gather and share their feedback from inception through delivery, and to specifically discuss what parts of the experience worked well (using the hallway whiteboard for daily scrums and priorities) and what did not work well (the hardware RFP process took too long and forced us to reduce some testing activities to maintain our timeline).
A formal project post-mortem feels more like a review of what we already know, with some anecdotal stories thrown in. But how else do we identify what was learned, and when it was being learned, so that knowledge is not lost in the shuffle?
Most projects have formal documentation, and your team held regular meetings and scrums to capture feedback, but very little of that feedback is ever put into context — much less reviewed as a whole to see where the project could have been improved, or where the team can improve the next time.
That’s a fundamental flaw in the post-mortem: it’s post the project. Is there a way to make the post-mortem less about the end of a cycle and more about an ongoing innovation activity?
Synthesizing your shared learning.
Over the course of any project, the real value is the knowledge and capability of your team — without them, the project simply wouldn’t move forward.
As deliverables are completed and progress unfolds, our knowledge is exercised like a muscle — sometimes that muscle flexes easily, other times it is stretched and, from that, we grow. We are constantly learning, but much of it can be lost if steps are not taken to capture and synthesize our shared learning.
Correlating various inputs can be difficult.
Capturing key artifacts, from documentation and statistics to personal experiences, is just one aspect of building collective knowledge. It needs to happen in the moment, as the learning happens, rather than at the end of a project when important details and connections are forgotten.
Even if you have done an effective job at capturing the learning, the hard part is identifying connections between artifacts and business opportunities.
Identifying important insights from project knowledge.
By incorporating post-mortem-esque reviews into the weekly project status meetings, you will be better able to capture team knowledge and experiences as they happen, correlating each update with past learning to identify important insights.
These artifacts and insights captured not only provide your team with the data and knowledge to improve future projects, but as they learn they are able to fold these insights back into the current project, improving the quality, efficiency, and effectiveness of the current project.
Capture the knowledge and learn from it before it is lost.
The most difficult measurement in business is to quantify the cost of lost opportunities. Most organizations can’t even begin to understand the value of what has been lost — it is simply viewed as a cost of doing business. By incorporating the post-mortem motion into your weekly activities, you will not only capture this otherwise lost knowledge, but it will help you to put a value on what is captured.