Prioritizing The Postmortem: Learning the Most from the Post

Business.com / Technology / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Whether your project was a success or a failure, there are always valuable lessons to be learned in the postmortem meeting.

After many long days in the office, it’s finally done: Your newest project for your client.

Whether it’s an ad, a landing page, or the launch for an ongoing campaign, there may still be much to do, but have you been thinking about the postmortem yet?

It may retain its Latin name, but a postmortem is very much a modern invention when it comes to creative projects.

Conducting a postmortem helps a team identify where any issues may have popped up, as well as any pain points that could hinder a similar project in the future.

It’s not an understatement to say that a postmortem can help lay the groundwork for future endeavors, and possibly make or break them.

Whether your project was a success or a failure, there are always valuable lessons to be learned, which is why a proper postmortem ought to be conducted after the project’s lifecycle has run its course.

Let’s take a look at the importance of this step, and a few tips for making sure this is a valuable assignment for everyone involved.

Related Article: Which Team Member Are You? Identifying Your Project Management Style

Why a Postmortem is Important

As anyone who’s ever worked in marketing knows, having a campaign or project go off without a hitch is as rare as a unicorn.

There are bound to be hiccups along the way, and hopefully your knowledgeable team has managed to handle them expertly. But even if there was no saving a misguided effort, you can still definitely learn from what happened, and these lessons can then be carried on into future projects, so you don’t make the same mistakes twice.

That’s where the postmortem comes in. An article in Salon discusses postmortem meetings and how they can be used as a “safe space” for talking about issues and errors after a project is completed:

“Discovering how a creative agency fails to make profit on a project usually boils down to a series of in-project decisions that, while intended to contribute to project success, lead to cost overruns and errors.Isolating and clarifying those agency decisions, role by role, can be punishing if conducted incorrectly. But if carried out in the right manner and in a safe group setting, a postmortem meeting can galvanize a team and bring them closer together. By being aware of everyone’s perspectives, your team members can see repeated problems in patterns of behavior and discover ways to change them.”

It’s also a good idea to consider bringing in representatives from the client side to take a look at the lifespan of the project.

Whether it’s over a conference call or passing along documents from the meeting, it’s always wise to share knowledge of how the project performed. Although this may seem a bit intimidating, it’s entirely useful to help manage the client’s expectations going forward.

Postmortems can be good learning experiences for not only the agency, but also the client.

However, postmortems aren’t just for bad experiences. Since it has a fairly dire-sounding title, it’s a common assumption that postmortems only need to take place if a project was a failure, or else riddled with problems.

But they can also be useful when a project was a success, since they can potentially identify areas that surpassed expectations while also pinpointing areas of growth in future projects.

“To some, it’s an examination of a corpse in order to determine the correct cause of death,” says an article at Portent .

”To other more well-adjusted individuals (no offense Dana Scully), it’s a discussion, usually at the end of the project, to identify and analyze elements of a project that were successful or unsuccessful. It answers the question, ‘How’d we do?’”

If you go into a postmortem with the intent to answer the question “How’d we do?” rather than “Where did we go wrong?” then you’ll be setting the tone for a meeting that focuses on both negatives and positives.

Related Article: The Best Project Management Tools to Boost Employee Performance

What You Should Aim for in a Postmortem

First and foremost, a postmortem should be treated like any other meeting, with a set time, an agenda, and a clearly defined goal.

Having this structure in place should help keep the postmortem on track, as well as keep the focus on making it a learning process rather than an overly critical look at any possible failings.

Here are a few additional things you should look to achieve through a postmortem:

An examination of analytics:

If you were tracking data throughout the project, take a look at some of the key metrics that you established before the launch. These should assist your team in getting a clear picture of where traffic may have dipped, or if your keywords were falling flat.

Also, your analytics can pinpoint any areas of digital marketing that performed more strongly than others, so you can make a note to direct more resources toward those areas in the future.

A positive tone and outlook: 

Portent is correct in saying that all postmortems need to be constructive, learning-focused tasks. It may be easy for employees to get defensive when it comes to having their hard work criticized, so it’s important that the postmortem have a positive learning-based tone without any pointed accusations.

After all, you work as a team and you learn as a team, and there’s no better time to reinforce that fact than in a postmortem.

The creation of action items:

Coming out of the postmortem with actionable items makes the meeting worthwhile.

“These action items should address the key lessons from the project,” says an article at ClickZ. “For each action item, be sure to clearly define an owner and timeline for completion.”

Some of the action items they suggest include identifying if any of the project templates need to now be changed, if any new templates need to be drafted, and whether roles of any level ought to change going forward.

Make notes to follow up with the owners of these action items within a set timeframe.

Related Article: 11 Best Tools for Setting and Tracking Goals

Keep Your Post Mortems Positive

Although it can be tempting to shut the book on a creative project as soon as it’s finished, particularly if it was a long and tedious one, it should be considered necessary to hold a postmortem meeting to go over the strengths, weaknesses, successes and failures of the project.

If you can go into the meeting with clear objectives, keep the tone positive, and come out of it with actionable items, you’ll be on the mark to make your next project even better, and more problem-free.

What do you think the most important part of a postmortem is?

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