Project Post-Mortem Meeting and Report Template
If you’ve been a part of any project, you know things don’t always go as planned. Even if you finished on time and under budget, there’s a good chance you can always find better ways to run projects.
The post-pandemic world has made managing projects even harder. Team configurations constantly change—both internally and at client organizations—with new people in different seats. And with more communication happening virtually, no wonder it’s tough to build the strong connections you need to make projects succeed.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to carve out time and space to gather feedback from your team and figure out ways you can work better together.
The best way to assess your work is to conduct a project post-mortem meeting. Let’s take a closer look at what a post-mortem meeting is in project management.
What is a post-mortem meeting?
A post-mortem meeting brings all key project team members together at the end of a project to examine what went well and what can be improved upon to make the next project more successful.
This gives you an opportunity to celebrate both individual and team wins, while also reflecting on how you can improve project workflow, team collaboration, and client management.
As a project manager, your job is to facilitate a useful meeting and then take any feedback and, working alongside others, implement positive change. You also need to pass any accolades along to leadership and the larger team.
What is the purpose of a project post-mortem?
The core reason to conduct a post-mortem analysis is to continue getting better at project delivery. Taking time to talk about what didn’t work allows you to prioritize issues and brainstorm ideas for improving as both a team and individuals.
If you’re on the fence about whether you really need to do a project post-mortem, I get it. The budget is over at this point, and your team is moving on to other projects.
As a project manager, though, it’s up to you to educate your team and leaders about the importance of this meeting. Let’s take a look at some additional benefits of a post-mortem review.
Everyone wants to know their work is valued and appreciated by their team members, so don’t miss a chance to reflect on the work that’s been accomplished.
With difficult projects, it’s easy to forget everything you did successfully. Taking a moment to recognize all the awesome stuff you did together is a great way to boost morale as you head into the next project.
Post-mortem reviews help you learn how to collaborate better as a team, highlighting where you worked well together and where communication broke down.
Transparent and honest sharing builds mutual understanding and brings you closer together as a team. This is especially critical in workplaces that rely on virtual meetings and Slack relationships to get things done.
Sharing perspectives as a team creates opportunities to look at the project from other vantage points. Understanding how certain challenges affect team members differently enables you to work together to adjust and address issues you may not have been aware of before.
Sometimes it’s important to have space to simply get something off your chest. A good, open post-mortem discussion gives everyone the opportunity to say their peace and move on. This is especially critical for projects that go sideways.
What’s the difference between a retrospective and post-mortem meeting?
If you’ve ever heard of a retrospective in project management, you might be curious how it differs from a post-mortem.
All that being said, there is technically a difference between a project post-mortem and a retrospective. It basically comes down to the process and rituals you set for your project.
Here are the main differences:
- Timing and scope: Post-mortems occur at the end of a fully completed project while retrospectives occur at the end of each sprint or iteration. This means you’ll review the entire project at a post-mortem meeting vs just the most recent sprint.
- Attendees: Retrospectives include a smaller group which is just the project team on the current sprint. A post-mortem should span all project team members and management stakeholders across the entire project .
- Focus: Since post-mortems happen after project completion, they typically focus on what went wrong and fixing it for the next project. Retrospectives, on the other hand, focus on improving the quality and effectiveness for the next sprint.
How to prepare for a project post-mortem
Preparing for your project post-mortem is even more important than running a good post-mortem meeting. That’s because it sets the tone for the people you invite, signaling whether or not the meeting is going to be worth their time.
As a project manager, you likely know this moment all too well—the one where attendees decide if they are going to fully participate or check out of the process.
While the steps you take to prepare for the project post-mortem will vary based on your project approach, length, and team, these tips can help guide your preparation.
Schedule the meeting while the project is fresh
A project post-mortem should happen quickly after the project wraps so the details are fresh on everyone’s minds. It also enables you to strike while the iron is hot before folks move on to the next thing.
Book the meeting for 45-50 minutes. That should be plenty of time to get some real tangible next steps put together. If it’s too long, people will check out. Plus, making it shorter than an hour leaves room for overrun if an important topic needs closure. And who doesn’t appreciate a few extra moments between meetings?
Invite the right people
You’ll want to include all team members who were part of each different aspect of the project. Be sure to consider the following key groups:
- Players from early project phases: Team members involved in the initial project discovery often get left out of post-mortem discussions. Maybe it’s because their participation happened so long ago or they played a smaller role in the project. Either way, they’re just as important as other team members and can shed light on critical areas of improvement between early and later phases of project development.
- Contractors: As a contractor myself, I’m always surprised when I’m left out of post-mortems and retrospectives. I understand, at the end of the project, we have most likely gone over budget and don’t want to pay a contractor more. But if you plan to keep using that contractor, investing in how they work with the team now will provide efficiencies down the road.
- Your sales team: Issues with a project’s original scope and/or contract often pop up in post-mortem meetings. Inviting the people responsible for sales into the conversation gives them the opportunity to understand those concerns, while demonstrating how you work and building empathy between the teams.
Share your post-mortem meeting agenda ahead of time
Sending an agenda ahead of time ensures everyone knows what to expect from the project post-mortem and can adequately prepare for the meeting. Here are some details you may want to include in your post-mortem meeting agenda:
Let’s be honest, most folks ignore the invite list until 1 minute before the meeting. Listing out all the attendees in your agenda brings the scope of the meeting into focus. It not only shows how many people are investing time in the post-mortem analysis, but that you value the conversation and opportunity to change.
Make it clear why you’re getting everyone together to reflect on the project. It’s also helpful to outline the steps that will follow the meeting so everyone’s clear about what comes next.
Many people feel more comfortable knowing how a meeting will be structured—especially if this is their first time participating in a project post-mortem. Giving attendees a preview of the questions you’ll address together enables them to collect their thoughts ahead of time so the conversation can run more smoothly on meeting day.
Some attendees may not have worked on this project for months, while others might have a limited view of project activities or communication. A brief project recap brings everyone up to speed on the project goals and whether or not you met them.
Consider including details like these:
- Original project goals
- Budget recap
- Timeline recap
- Major scope changes
- New tools or processes tried
- Client feedback on what worked or didn’t
Ask your team to come prepared
You’ll make the most out of the meeting if attendees walk in prepared. The big question is: How do you motivate them to do it? Consider these 2 options:
Option 1: Survey attendees before the post-mortem meeting
Many folks recommend asking people to complete a questionnaire or pre-fill the retro board before the meeting.
The risk you run when using a post-mortem survey is that your team may be too busy to fill it out. So if you do go this route, be ready to follow up for responses. Or, better yet, make the post-mortem questionnaire short and simple.
Project post-mortem survey questions could be as simple as “what worked” and “what didn’t work.” Or you can go deeper by asking your team to rate overall team performance on a scale of 1-10, like we’ve done in this project post-mortem survey template.
Option 2: Book prep time on attendee calendars
I personally don’t survey attendees ahead of time—not because it’s not valuable. My experience has just shown few people actually do the pre-work, and it becomes another PM nag that sets the wrong tone. That’s why I suggest a low-effort approach.
Ask each person to throw 15 minutes on their calendar ahead of the meeting to think about the good and bad of the project, looking over the questions you’ll cover.
- If any attendees use a resource planning tool to schedule their days, go ahead and book that 15 minutes for them.
- For others, consider sending them a meeting invite to block out time on their calendar for thinking.
It may be a bit of extra work, but it’s effective. Feel free to list a few themes that have already been mentioned to get folks thinking.
How to run a successful post-mortem meeting
All of this prep work will go a long way toward helping your post-mortem review go smoothly on meeting day. Remember to keep this meeting focused by following these simple rules.
Assign a moderator and a notetaker
A good moderator drives the conversation and makes sure the post-mortem meeting stays on track. While the project manager often wears this hat, this role doesn’t have to default to you.
Look for someone who was actively involved in the project with up-close knowledge of the ins and outs of what happened. The right moderator should be able to:
- Get all attendees engaged in the discussion
- Keep the meeting moving at a steady pace
- De-escalate conflict and facilitate constructive conversation
If you do end up moderating the meeting, be sure to designate a separate notetaker. That way, you can focus on the big picture without missing key action items or lessons learned.
Review the ground rules
It’s important to outline what you expect from each attendee, so kick off the meeting with a few ground rules. Here are a few guidelines you might consider:
- Be ready to participate and be called upon, if needed.
- This is an inclusive space, and everyone’s voice matters.
- Be honest, yet positive. No passing blame or pointing fingers.
- Don’t interrupt—even if you have a different perspective.
- Turn your camera on (if the meeting is virtual).
- Put devices down, and keep notifications on mute.
Keep the structure simple
There are all kinds of formats for post-mortem meetings—some of which can get very lengthy and specific to the project. In my experience, simple is always better because it keeps people engaged in the process and leaves space for discussion to flow more freely.
Essentially, your goals are to uncover project wins and losses, lift up team celebrations or frustrations, and brainstorm solutions that ultimately lead to action.
Here’s a simple structure to follow:
- What worked well
- What didn’t work
- What needs improvement
- What happens next
Use an interactive board to collect and track feedback
Collaborative board apps enable you to visually process and organize comments as a team. It’s also an easy way to get people involved in the process by letting them add their own feedback and suggestions to the board.
Use an online whiteboard like Figjam or TeamGantt’s project boards to capture key points. Create columns that fit the format of your meeting, color-code notes by topic or type, and rearrange issues and ideas by priority.
Here’s a post-mortem review meeting board we built in TeamGantt.
In this example, we used custom labels to tag ideas by team and next steps by priority. You can also assign people and deadlines to action items for instant accountability and tracking.
Have an action plan that can be executed
You may be in charge of the post-mortem meeting, but that doesn’t mean you’re responsible for solving all the issues. Your job is to craft an action plan, then share it with the right people and ask them to execute it.
The point of capturing action items and owners in a plan is to spread the information and work around. Sure, there will be project management items you need to address, but you don’t have to fix it all—and shouldn’t.
That’s where a post-mortem report comes in. Let’s walk through what goes into a good project post-mortem report.
How to write a post-mortem report for your project
A post-mortem report enables you to document important findings and put issues and ideas into accountable action. Download our free post-mortem report template, then follow these simple steps for writing a post-mortem report for your projects.
1. Include general project and meeting information
Provide a brief recap of the basics so it’s easy to tie your report to the right project and people. These details should include the project name, post-mortem meeting date, and attendees. You may also want to add the project timeframe, budget, and team members.
2. List all the issues you discussed
Your post-mortem report should be framed around opportunities for improvement. Create a new line item for any issue identified in your post-mortem meeting.
3. Write down potential solutions for each issue
Log all the solutions proposed for the issues outlined in your report. Some ideas may not be the direction you want to head in, but keep them for reference, just in case.
4. Add action items for each solution.
Now you need to turn those ideas into action. Give every solution your team decides to pursue an actionable next step, and be sure to note what done looks like.
5. Assign each action item to an owner.
Clearly state who’s responsible for each action item. Otherwise, those well-intentioned next steps may not make it past the page.
6. Capture additional details or relevant context as notes.
Use the notes section to add any relevant project context or background information. For example, maybe your team tried Scrum for the first time or used a new communication tool to collaborate on the project.
7. Share your final report with attendees
It’s a group effort to roll out changes as you take on new projects. So find a way to share your project post-mortem report with others—especially if you work in a larger organization. The more you can socialize the changes, the better your whole organization will evolve its process and practices.
Turn project issues into trackable action with TeamGantt
TeamGantt makes it easy to smooth out process kinks and get your team in sync. Use an interactive board to capture feedback during your post-mortem meeting, and instantly turn action items into a collaborative plan that’s easy to schedule, track, and share.
You’ll have everything you need to ensure projects finish on time and budget—from drag and drop simplicity and team collaboration to customizable views and resource management. Best of all, it’s wrapped in a simple and intuitive interface your whole team will love. 😍
About the author: Lynn Winter
Lynn is a freelance Digital Strategist who combines 20+ years of experience in content strategy, user experience, and project management to bring a holistic approach to her work. She has spoken at numerous local and national conferences and hosts an annual conference for Digital Project Managers called Manage Digital (http://managedigital.io/). You can connect with her at lynnwintermn.com.