Virtual Project Postmortem

Plan Your Project Virtual Postmortem

When the project is done, it is easy to simply slip into planning for the next project, whether because you have pressing deadlines, or you are looking for the next challenge. Seasoned project managers know the risk of skipping the project close, or postmortem, and ensure that they and their teams always take time to reflect, share insights, and document lessons learned. With the increase in remote teams, Project Managers must blend best practices for project close meetings with considerations of virtual meetings.


Project Postmortem vs Retrospective

At the foundation, the postmortem is about looking back to capture insights to improve work in the future. It has similarities to an Agile project’s Retrospective but is specific to the Waterfall/traditional project methodologies.

Characteristic

Postmortem

Retrospective

Methodology

Waterfall

Agile

Purpose

review all of past effort within project, both success and failures

review recent past effort including both the successes and failures

Frequency

Repeating throughout overall effort; once per iteration

At close when all efforts have stopped

Output

Documentation of project lessons learned and results; often stored in knowledgebase and/or available to any project team

Action items to apply to the next round of work; specific to the work and often only shared with immediate team members

Plan Your Project Virtual Postmortem

As you would with a client or stakeholder meeting, you need to plan beforehand to better ensure success.

  • Leading Virtual Stand-UpsInclude postmortem from the start: include the postmortem as part of your initial project planning; including it in the plan demonstrates its importance and the expectation of participation by all; keep it to one hour or less to ensure more focus; put it on calendars from the beginning of the project
  • Create online questionnaire: clearly state if your questionnaire is anonymous or not and how submitted information will be used in the postmortem; keep it to 5 or less questions (you are not crafting a final exam you are providing a channel for feedback); communicate to team before you send out questionnaire link the purpose and deadline for it; thank those that submit information via the questionnaire without any comment on the actual submitted information so that the tool is for data collection only
  • Communicate expectations: including if web cameras should be on, if management is attending, that respectful behavior is required even if there are different opinions; include expectations in agenda and prior to the actual meeting
  • Develop an agenda: include brief summary of project goals, metrics, and results; building off results, address the wins and successes of each point; include time to wrap up session including how information will be used
  • Check your tech: consider the tools within your virtual meeting software and decide if chat, whiteboards, polls or other features will enhance your session; practice with tools so that your meeting is not hindered by you trying to figure out tools
  • Prep your space before meeting: reduce distractions and set up for video; if the project manager is not giving full attention to the sessions others will not either

The communication about expectations, the agenda outline, and the online questionnaire tool can become templates you use across projects with a few tweaks.

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Facilitate Your Project Virtual Postmortem

As the facilitator for the postmortem, be very conscious that you set the tone for the team’s engagement and participation. Be positive, be focused, and keep things constructive. It is your responsibility to ensure everyone has an opportunity to contribute in an respectful, organized manner. Incorporate questionnaire feedback to show you are listening to all input; leverage the chat tool to call forward input from those that do not feel comfortable speaking with a large group. It is not a meeting about deadlines and assigning tasks. The postmortem is a knowledge sharing discussion.

Use your agenda to guide the meeting. The majority of time should be on the discussion of wins/failures; that is also the hardest part of a postmortem as you are encouraging candor and that can lead to strong feelings. The questions you use can help you guide the discussion so that it is productive and not just a complaint session. Consider these questions from Karla Cook’s “How to run a Seriously Productive Project Post-Mortem”:

  • Quantitative Questions
    These are your standard yes or no questions. Were deadlines met or missed? Did we provide all deliverables outlined in the project scope? Were pre-defined success metrics achieved? Were outline workflows and processes followed? Was there a budget overrun?
  •  Qualitative Questions
    These open-ended questions should evaluate the project beyond the hard data and planning. Did we deliver work at the high standards we and our client expect? Does the client agree? Did people feel like they had the resources, information, and support they needed to get their own tasks done?
  • Subjective Questions
    Subjective questions help assess how your team members are feeling, and can help leadership identify troubling signs of burnout and fatigue early on. These questions also let leadership know what processes worked best with their team, helping them plan future projects.

Through the discussions, you should be actively listening for actions to take to do things differently in the future. Your action items need to be specific, not “let’s just do better next time.”

Looking Ahead to Your Next Look Back

The postmortem is more than a milestone for documentation, it is an important part of team building and modeling a growth mindset. The project close meeting, or postmortem, is included in Project Management Fundamental training because of its importance within the overall project effort. With purposeful consideration of the virtual environment, you can create a powerful team-sharing session that fosters trust and prepares you for future success.

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Megan Bell
Megan Bell