5 Steps for Running a Post-Mortem Meeting

5 Steps for Running a Post-Mortem Meeting

Mar 14, 2024

Have you ever been in the middle of a project and thought, “We could do that differently next time”? Even if the project was successful, it’s always a good idea to check in with your team and identify key takeaways that you can apply to future projects.

A post-mortem meeting is your chance to sit down together and discuss what went well, what went wrong, and what you learned from the experience.

Here’s why you should run a post-mortem meeting after every project and how to turn your ideas into an action plan that you can apply to your next project.

What Is a Post-Mortem Meeting?

Post mortem meeting: zooming into space

A post-mortem meeting is a meeting that takes place after a project has concluded in order to identify your successes, challenges, and areas for improvement.

A post-mortem meeting is similar to a retrospective meeting. However, a retrospective usually takes place after a sprint in the agile project management framework, while a project post-mortem meeting takes place at the end of a project.

A post-mortem meeting can include everyone who was a part of the project, including clients, team members, and other stakeholders.

A post-mortem may also be referred to as a wrap-up, debrief, or recap, although these all have slightly different connotations. For example, a project recap may be a written report that sums up all of the topics you discussed at the post-mortem meeting.

Why Should You Run a Post-Mortem Meeting?

Post mortem meeting: woman saying, hindsight's 2020

If you’ve just completed a successful project, it may seem unnecessary to schedule a post-mortem meeting. Why not just move on to the next project? But regardless of a project’s success, a post-mortem analysis has several benefits for your team.

They’re good for morale

A successful post-mortem isn’t about pointing fingers, but about giving honest feedback and celebrating what you’ve accomplished together. Bringing the project team together one last time for a debrief is an opportunity to boost morale and foster teamwork.

Besides, especially in large organizations, individual team members don’t always get to see the results of their work. By highlighting key milestones and deliverables, you can make the case that all of their hard work was worth it.

Ultimately, a post-mortem meeting provides a sense of closure and allows teams to tie up any loose ends before moving on to the next project.

They help you pass on knowledge

Everyone on your project team has a different perspective on how things went. Some of your team members may have identified problems that others overlooked, while others may have found solutions to challenges that will be useful going forward. 

If you don’t take the time to document the lessons you’ve learned while they’re still fresh in everyone’s mind, you’ll have to re-learn them again next time.

Taking note of your big wins, challenges, and mistakes helps you pass on institutional knowledge. Even if the same team won’t be working together again, you can pass on what you’ve learned to the next iteration of your project group.

They identify process improvements

Effective post-mortem meetings help you identify issues with your project management software, remote collaboration tools, and approach to team communication. In addition to sending out a post-mortem questionnaire, you can review metrics such as your task completion rate, time to completion, and other key performance indicators (KPIs).

Use these insights to streamline your workflows, develop future project plans, and keep your project management triangle in balance. A post-mortem meeting can help you get to the root cause of a problem and create an action plan to address it.

5 Steps to a Productive Post-Mortem Meeting

Post mortem meeting: man saying, in retrospect, the signs were there

Post-mortem meetings can be more contentious than other types of meetings. Team members may have strong feelings about what went right or wrong and who dropped the ball along the way. Follow these five steps to run your next post-mortem meeting and ensure that everyone on your team has a chance to be heard.

1. Start with a questionnaire

An effective post-mortem meeting requires candid feedback, and some attendees may feel more comfortable sharing their opinions anonymously. A post-mortem survey isn’t an alternative to an in-person meeting, but it can give you a good place to start.

Send out a pre-meeting questionnaire to get an idea of what your team members want to talk about. Include open-ended questions like:

  • What was the most successful part of the project for you?
  • What were the biggest challenges you faced on the project?
  • What changes would you like to see on the next project?

2. Create a meeting agenda

Use these post-mortem questions to create a list of key talking points for the meeting. Create a meeting agenda just like you would for any other meeting, complete with an introduction, list of discussion topics, and an action item review at the end.

A post-mortem meeting agenda should focus on three key questions: What went well? What didn’t go well? What could we do differently next time?

Use a post-mortem template to create your own meeting agenda, or use a project management automation tool like Anchor AI to create one for you. Anchor AI’s Quick Prep tool can generate a customized agenda based on the notes from your last project meeting.

3. Set ground rules

Every meeting has its ground rules, whether you’re running a board meeting according to Robert’s Rules of Order or a scrum meeting following the agile methodology. With a post-mortem meeting, it’s especially important to set a positive tone in order to avoid placing blame on individual team members.

Let participants know that they can speak freely without risking their job, but that they should focus on constructive feedback and not personal criticism.

Choose a moderator to keep the discussion on track, and assign a note-taker to take meeting notes and document action items. Even better — use an AI-powered tool like Anchor AI to take notes for you and organize them into a Topical Summary.

4. Facilitate the meeting

During the meeting itself, stick closely to the post-mortem meeting agenda so you have time to get through everything. Ensure everyone has time to speak at least once, and avoid letting a small handful of team members dominate the conversation.

Keep the focus on actionable items, not on every little detail, and consider prohibiting smartphones and laptops (except for one to use Anchor AI to capture meeting audio) to help you stay focused and avoid distractions.

Post-mortem meetings don’t have to be long: Try to keep them under an hour, unless you have a particularly large team or an especially complex project.

5. Send out a meeting recap

After the meeting is over, review your notes and create an official project recap to send out to your team members and stakeholders. This should include key takeaways and action items that you can learn from and carry forward to your next project.

Not sure what to include? In addition to notes, you can also use Anchor AI to create a helpful meeting summary or craft a follow-up email after a meeting. You can also use Max, our AI project manager, to identify action items, delegate tasks, and track progress after the meeting.

Streamline the Post-Mortem Process With Anchor AI

Woman saying, if I could do it all again

Post-mortem meetings serve as an opportunity for your team to debrief after completing a project and identify areas for improvement before you begin the next one. Similar to a sprint retrospective meeting, a post-mortem meeting focuses on what went right, what went wrong, and how you could do better next time.

Anchor AI streamlines post-mortem meetings by helping you create an agenda, take notes during the meeting, send out a follow-up email afterwards, and manage post-meeting action items. Really, what can’t Anchor do?

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