There are few things more cathartic than finishing up a long-term project. After weeks or months of working toward a goal, it feels really good to see it finally come to fruition. But just because the project has been delivered doesn’t mean that you’re done with it. While everything is fresh in your mind, it’s important to sit down and do a thorough project post-mortem.
Yeah, it sounds a bit ghoulish, doesn’t it? If you’d prefer, call it a project retrospective. Either way, the important thing is that you take the time to do it.
Project Post-Mortem Benefits
The biggest benefit to a formal project review is that you’ll be able to pull out important lessons from the project. When you sit down an honestly evaluate how the project went, you’ll be able to see what you’re doing wrong, and strategize on how to fix those problems.
Of course, there’s more to a retrospective than just looking for mistakes. While things will go wrong on any project, things will also go right. Look at what you did well and see how you can use that on other projects and reinforce that behavior. You can also look at new things you learned or tools you used to expedite the project, and then fold them into your day-to-day workflow.
Done correctly, a project post-mortem can allow you to identify and correct problems while reinforcing the things you’re doing right.
Questions to Ask
There are a lot of different ways to run a project post-mortem, but I like to keep things simple. Ask yourself the following questions, and then write out a list of responses to each. Treat it like a brainstorming exercise.
- What went wrong with this project?
- What went right with this project?
- What did I learn from this project?
- What new tools or techniques did I use on this project?
You can expand quite a bit from here. For instance, you could break “What went wrong” into a few different questions, such as “What mistakes were made” and “What roadblocks did you encounter”. You can make it as simple or as complex as you like; the important thing is that they’re all given careful consideration.
Avoid Finger Pointing
When a project goes poorly – and that will happen sooner or later – it’s easy for the project post-mortem to turn into a quagmire of complaining and people blaming each other for every issue that comes up. Avoid this at all costs. While one of the goals is to identify problems, this needs to happen constructively.
While getting the answers can be time consuming and call for a lot of reflection, the difficult part is to take that raw information and turn it into a plan that will help you refine your business. Look at what went wrong and see how those things could be avoided in the future, perhaps by finding and patching holes in your process. Look at what went right and integrate those items into your best practices.
Project reviews can be time consuming, but they will help you become more effective and efficient.