Hints for efficient project postmortems

Project postmortems help improving a development process. But before planning one, ask yourself why you need it, and what will be the consequences of doing it or not. There’s nothing worse than collecting people’s feedback, and then ignoring it. If you are not ready to take actions to improve things, just don’t do a postmortem. Else, the following tips may help you get the most from your project postmortem :

  1. Ensure everyone understands that all comments are welcome, but that only the team-agreed most important points will be taken care of.
  2. Collect feedback during your whole development process, else you’ll only have feedback about the last week before the post-mortem. 
  3. Ask people to send their comments before the meeting. This will force them to think by themselves, instead of coming unprepared and blindly following more prepared/influential members of the team.
  4. Do not give your point of view first. As a boss/leader, if your point of view doesn’t match your subordinates one, they may shut up instead of disagreeing with you.
  5. Drive the discussion flow : no one should monopolize the discussion. Ensure everyone has a chance to speak. The most loquacious persons may not make the most useful comments.
  6. Do not focus on negative. It is as important to outline what worked well as it is to identify what didn’t. Else, you may focus on what remains to improve, and stop doing what was working. 
  7. Avoid personal criticisms, but ensure that people still feel free to make comments that are closely related to a person.
  8. Vote for the most important comments. There should be only a couple of them, and these are the ones that must trigger actions. You can’t deal with all issues at once, so get people to vote for the most important ones, and keep focus.
  9. Keep track of all reported points, to check which ones come back in the next post-mortem.

Eventually, project postmortems must be followed by immediate, visible actions. Else, they will be perceived by the team as yet another waste of valuable time…

Want to read more about project postmortems ? About their value, and how ensure they are useful ?

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