Why Post-Mortems Should Happen Before Your Project is Done

The name says it all—the project post-mortem is typically conducted after an initiative is complete. It’s when the team looks back across a project, gauging the effectiveness of their efforts during key phases and reviewing components that would have benefitted from a different approach. With hindsight, you may realize that applying a broader set of expertise to a particularly difficult problem would have helped you develop a better solution, or that scheduling labor windows for high-demand external contractors earlier in the project’s activity flow would have given your team access to more competitive pricing.

post mortem

However, PMs are finding that, while the traditional post-mortem function continues to be critically important in achieving consistent project success, an even better strategy is to break the exercise into a couple of chunks so the bulk of it occurs while the last phase of the project is still underway.

Finding the time to conduct a productive post-mortem review is often a stumbling block for PMs. Consider partnering with an experienced project management consultancy to help you efficiently—and objectively—evaluate your project performance and spot areas where workflows and processes can be adjusted for more consisten success.

Consider some of the benefits to conducting a thorough review before the initiative is fully done.

A post-mortem review scheduled prior to the project’s completion enables you to gather input from key collaborators. Because most projects bring together disparate sub-teams to tackle various activities, the stakeholder list is rarely static from start to finish. You may find it difficult to pull everyone back together to weigh in on how things went and where improvements can be made if you wait to the very end. Post-project participation by outside vendors could also add expenditures for travel or out-of-contract support. Some team members may have already moved on to other projects, leaving them with little time available to return to your original initiative.

Conducting strategic lookbacks while an effort is still underway enables PMs to take the opportunity to recognize wins almost immediately. Positive feedback and recognition can be handed out while the good work is still fresh in everyone’s minds and the morale boost your team members receive from these acknowledgements can be a powerful positive benefit, especially if the project has been challenging or workloads are heavy. It’s also not uncommon for achievements to be missed when the team is under tight deadlines. Mid-project reviews give PMs a chance to discover recognition opportunities they may have otherwise overlooked.

It’s not unusual for projects to overlap. Many teams launch a new effort as soon as the current one is largely complete. This nonstop pace can make it difficult for PMs to maintain enthusiasm about what’s coming down the pipeline when everyone is swamped by the issues immediately in front of them. By conducting post-mortem reviews late in a project’s lifecycle but prior to fully winding things down, you have a window where you canget your team excited for the next project without worry they’re still too mired in the one that’s wrapping up to really pay attention.

Another benefit of separating the post-mortem look-back from the tail end of the project is that you avoid the risk it might simply turn into a punch list exercise where everyone shifts their focus to activities that are still require last-minute completion. Instead, with a post-mortem conducted before these final items become the focus, your team can put its full attention to assessing its performance, identifying areas where they can be more efficient or more effective in the future, and implementing steps to avoid repeats of any mistakes that were made.


PMAlliance offers project management consulting, training and portfolio management services.

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