Keys To Successful Postmortems – Part I: Setting Up the Meeting
By Mark Calabrese
Part of closing out any project, outage, service restoration team effort or any initiative whether successful or otherwise (and it’s even more critical on the “or otherwise”) is the postmortem. Too often, this milestone in the ‘Closing’ phase of a project is either ignored or not fully exploited. I’d like to share some guidelines on conducting a successful postmortem that net useable results.
Note that the guidelines below are not meant to be all-inclusive. Use your judgement on what to add, modify or ignore. In Part I, we’ll focus on the meeting itself (timing, participants, etc.):
- Setting Expectations: Make it known either at the start of a project, early in the SRT (service restoration team) effort during an outage or just as a general principle of your management style that you will hold a postmortem after project or issue closure. This will help ensure that people will take note of the good, the bad and other learning opportunities.
When To Meet: Schedule the postmortem shortly after successful project go-live, or as soon thereafter as is practicable. The key is to schedule the meeting so that doesn’t interfere with any critical post go-live activities but soon enough to capture any learnings while they’re still fresh in everyone’s minds.
Where to Meet: Pick a conference room that has lots of room and ideally, lots of natural lighting. You want to keep people awake and talking in order to get good input that can be used well after the project is completely closed out. Make sure there are plenty of white boards or easels with tear-away Post-It sheets as well as markers that work. Finally, have some coffee, water, pop (or ‘soda’ as you east coast people insist on calling pop) on hand. I’m not a big fan of food at a meeting, but that’s your call.
Conference Calls: Ideally, you want people to be there in person but these days that’s not always practical or possible. Do the best you can. In Part II, we’ll discuss how to ensure good engagement and input from those dialing in.
Who To Invite: Include everyone on the project team, especially business partners who were critical to both the decision-making process as well as in any UAT, JAD sessions, requirement gathering/approvals, etc. Ultimately, you want to include everyone who did the “real work” on the project, as well as any key stakeholders or project influencers. If you find that the list of attendees is becoming unwieldy, try to limit it to those who have the most knowledge of what went right and wrong on the project and also make sure they are people who will speak up and give their opinions!
Timing and Duration: Set aside at least two hours and try to hold the meeting on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning. Mondays tend to be busy and Fridays, people have other things on their minds (or may be working from home). I prefer mornings, as afternoons can be “sleepy time” for some people, so earlier in the week and early in the day is optimal. I like 9AM until 11 or 12.
In Part II, we’ll talk about conducting the postmortem meeting and in Part III, we’ll talk about the deliverables and putting them to work for you, your team and your organizations beyond the project so that you truly can leverage lessons learned. Stay tuned.
© 2011, Mark E. Calabrese
Mark Calabrese is an IT leader, speaker, blogger, mentor/coach with over 20 years of experience in a wide variety of leadership roles in application development and maintenance, infrastructure, vendor management, PMO/project management, IT finance, and IT solution/service delivery. Mark is currently the PMO Director for Hubbard One, the leading provider of marketing, business development, and practice management solutions for law firms. You can read more of Mark’s writings at www.mecmusings.com or can contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.