Post-Mortem Meetings: They Don’t Have to Be Bad!

Professional project managers have all heard of post-mortem meetings. Some organizations work them into their workflows and project processes and others only hold meetings for high-level and high-risk projects. However, those project managers and organizations that incorporate them into their project processes typically dislike them. But why? Post-mortem meetings don’t have to be bad!

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “Post-mortem” as “an analysis or discussion of an event after it is over”, which also means “after death”. Post-mortem meetings are typically held after project completion where the project encountered a lot of risks or errors, or the project was just a complete failure. The purpose of a post-mortem meeting is to discuss the problems or issues to see how the project can run smoother next time around.

Most project managers and team members dread post-mortem meetings. This is because team members often play “the blame game” and meetings are often negative in nature, or even closely resemble a boxing match than they are productive. Most team members and project managers don’t want to spend time discussing errors or negative events, but need to address management or personnel concerns if those were the reasons for the project’s failure.

However, post-mortem meetings don’t have to be this way. In fact, some organizations hold “post-mortem” meetings for every completed project, whether it was a success or failure. Each meeting addresses high and low points; things that worked really well and areas which needed improvement. This way, all meetings talk about the positives and the negatives and how teams can work on these items and keep them in mind for future projects.

In addition, post-mortem meetings should allow each team member and project manager a chance to speak and voice his or her concerns on what they thought went well and maybe what didn’t go so well. Each meeting is productive, positive, and efficient, and each team member leaves with action items as well as feeling fulfilled that their opinions were shared and valued.

The only downside to holding regular “post-mortem” meetings is time. Most project managers know that they are often pulled to another project before being able to properly close out the previous. As a result, there isn’t always time to hold a “post-mortem” meeting for every project that is completed. Sometimes it is months before a project manager is able to hold a post-mortem meeting for a completed project.

All in all, post-mortem meetings don’t have to be bad. They can be a productive and positive experience that team members and project managers don’t have to dread or avoid. It also gives team members a chance to focus on strengths, weaknesses, and feel valued by offering suggestions, giving and receiving positive feedback or constructive criticism, and maybe even learn a thing for two for the next project, particularly if the next project is for the same account. Finally, like every other process and phase in the project, post-mortem meetings should be properly documented and archived with the project during procurement so other teams or other project managers can review the notes before working with the same account or revising the same project in the future.

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