Sunday, August 30, 2009

Planning a Project Post-Mortem - Part I

This subject will be presented in two parts, since the topic is complex and requires a certain level of explanation.  Part II will follow in the next blog posting.

In order to continuously improve your organizational process, a Project Manager should conduct a post-mortem (also known as a post-implementation review) once each project has reached completion.  No two projects are alike - each will have its own nuances, so taking the time to understand why a project did or did not go smoothly is an invaluable way of learning how adapting you process can lead to greater success.  Any resource that participated in your project must be included in your post-mortem review.  While some organizations will invite clients into the review, this can be a difficult and awkward decision, for fear of exposing internal weaknesses to your customers.  It's not mandatory, but client participation will certainly result in a more comprehensive and holistic assessment.

Setting Expectations:  The goal of your post-mortem is to identify the challenges your team and/ or client experienced in a given project, pin-point the source of each issue, and determine what could be changed in your current process to improve these specific challenges.  Although it may be difficult to avoid blame as your team shares their frustrations and experiences with one another, there are tactics you can employ to minimize negativity and focus on more constructive feedback.   

Deciding on a Format:  A post-mortem can be a laborious activity.  Multiple stakeholders will participate, and once feedback is gathered, it must be acted upon.  Depending on the volume and nature of issues that are raised by the team, a post-mortem can represent a significant amount of documentation, brainstorming, and implementation.  Let's break down these phases -
  • Information gathering: An effective method for gathering team feedback is to issue a common survey to each resource.  Individuals should complete the survey on their own, prior to meeting as a group, and the survey should be focused on a single project.  The survey should ask team members to discuss their own experience by commenting on personal successes and challenges at each project phase (planning, definition, documentation, production, quality assurance, etc.).  When creating the survey, it's very important that each resource comment on their own contribution - what they felt they did well, and where they struggled.  Asking resources to assess their own experience will prevent finger-pointing and result in a more constructive post-mortem.  Collectively, this feedback will become the material from which you will identify opportunities for process improvement.
  • Team ideation: Once all resources have submitted their survey response, team managers should review the data together and synthesize the information.  Look for patterns or issues that are raised by all departments, and then identify challenges that were specific to each department.  Having the managers organize responses prior to a team meeting will help streamline the group discussion.  Once the managers have completed this task, it's time to have the entire team assemble to review the survey results.  The managers should present the common and departmental challenges one by one, allowing the group to brainstorm possible process improvements that address each challenge.  
The final step in the process is implementation of the recommended improvements.  This activity will be covered in the next blog posting - Planning a Project Post-Mortem - Part II.

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