5 Tips for a Successful Post-Mortem | ODEA

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5 Tips for a Successful Post-Mortem

What’s the first thought that crosses your mind when you see that post-mortem meeting invitation appear in your inbox after a project is completed? Anxiety? Dread? Understandable. The word “post-mortem” itself even sounds scary, but it doesn’t have to be!

Two ODEA team members spent two days getting smarter at the Digital PM Summit hosted by the Bureau of Digital in Memphis, Tennessee. Their favorite presentation was “Finessing your Retrospective” by the brilliant Patrice Embry because post-mortems are something we’re trying to be better about implementing at ODEA. Patrice gave some amazingly easy and simple ways to make a post-mortem more successful (and painless!). We wanted to share our takeaways with you:

1. Let’s Get Weird
Make sure that you take note of anything unusual that happens during the project. These cringe-worthy moments may feel like they should go down in the “never discuss again” book. But re-visiting it during the post-mortem could provide solutions on how to avoid moments like that for future projects. Like that eternity-long pause after you sent your first draft to your client? Or that one awkward meeting that you vowed to never speak of again? Just jot it down.

2. Get Candid
Getting candid feedback from your team is extremely important for a successful post-mortem. This is the time for your team to take a hard look at the good, the bad and the downright ugly. And this can’t be done without honest feedback. Ask the team before the meeting to think about some positives and negatives that occurred during the project. This will ensure they have ample time to gather their thoughts. At ODEA, we’ve adopted the rule of saying one positive thing before giving any negative feedback. We think it’s a great way to assure support within the team and make sure everyone is feeling psychologically safe.

3. The 5 Why’s
A concept brought to us by Japan, the 5 Why’s help narrow down the root cause of an issue. To use the 5 Why’s, take an issue and simply ask the question “why?” until you get to the root cause. It may take more or less than 5 why’s to reach your root cause and sometimes there may not be a solution to the issue, but that’s okay. Either way, it helps you open up dialogue and see things from a different perspective.

4. Separate the Issue from the Person
One of the most dreaded moments in a post-mortem: someone bringing up that thing you dropped the ball on. There is no place for the blame game during a post-mortem. This doesn’t mean you don’t address issues that occurred throughout the project but separate the issue from the person. Instead of saying “Jamie missed the deadline for the first draft” try “a deadline wasn’t met”. Your team will likely be more willing to participate if they know fingers are not going to be pointed.

5. Come Up with a Plan
The reason for a post-mortem is to address the obstacles faced during a project and learn from them. Great ideas and solutions come from everyone. Discuss as a team what you’re specifically going to do next time. The power of a post-mortem comes from specificity, not generalities. If one of your solutions is to communicate more then plan out how you will make that happen. Is it a weekly call? Huddle in Slack every Tuesday? Decide this as a team so that everyone is held accountable when it comes time to execute your plan.

Want to hear more about how to make your post-mortem successful? Check out our latest podcast episode of Brain Lava where Sue and Chelsi discuss their thoughts on post-mortem.