Postmortem the other end of the story

Postmortem road sign

So last time I raved about the greatness of PreMortems. This post I cover the running of the dreaded Postmortem. Postmortems or project wrap-ups are probably everyone’s least favourite meetings. They are siblings for the Premortem and cousin to Agile’s Retrospective.

Why are Postmortems so hard

So far, I’m not selling them very well. No one wants to sit in a room with a bunch of people who they are no longer talking to. Revisiting decisions made months and sometimes years ago. The project team are keen to move onto the next project if they haven’t already.

Depending on the size and length of the project getting the right mix of people at the meeting can be a problem. There isn’t enough in the budget. People have moved on and left.

These are excuses that may well be valid though not helpful for future project success. How can we expect to learn from mistakes if we don’t know what they are? How can we be successful if we don’t understand what we did to be successful?

A productive Postmortem will raise the knowledge and the intuition of the participants. Feeding into improved procedures, planning and Premortems (see here to learn about premortems)

How to run a Postmortem

Step 1: Preparation

Compile a post-project document consisting of

  • metrics used to measure the success of the project
  • significant changes that happened during the project
  • overview of the original goals and objectives

Circulate it to all the participants in advance. Inform participants why their attendance at the postmortem is important. Establish a safe environment and a communication protocol. Emphasising that it is a blame-free environment.

Step 2: Generate reasons

Ask the group to write down the reasons for success and failure. You can do this in the meeting or by questionnaire beforehand. There is a variety of techniques to use. For instance reflective questioning, the five why’s, ‘Mad, Sad and Glad’, 4Ls and Story Rumble. Carry out this step individually to prevent bias within the group.

Step 3: Consolidate

Share everyone’s reasons. Grouping similar comments together in logical themes.

Step 4: Workshop

Workshop each theme looking at

  • why or why not
  • what was tried
  • what worked and didn’t
  • possible solutions for the future

Step 5: Document

Document the learnings from the meeting. Identify the actions, resources and implementation in an action plan. Knowing how and why something doesn’t work is as important as something that does work.

Step 6: Implementation

Commit to the action plan. Update procedures. Share the outcomes for use in Premortems, planning meetings and status meetings for other projects. Great ideas not actioned won’t change anything. Track the changes and their impacts on other projects.


There is a lot of emphasis on failing fast and moving on but as the quote says.

‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.’ – Jane Fulton in ‘Sudden Death’ by Rita Mae Brown (not Einstein)

So without learning from the past how can you expect to get different outcomes.

More Information

There is a lot of information out there. Here are a couple of good overviews

Think you would like someone to facilitate a Postmortem for you

Get in contact to discuss the best option for your team and project.