According to Socrates, “an unexamined life is not worth living.” It would be surely easy to go on from day-to-day without evaluating ourselves and our lives. But as Craig Charles asserts, “its evolve or die, really, you have to evolve, you have to move on otherwise it just becomes stagnant.”
To successfully evolve, we must regularly perform a postmortem, a process performed at the end of an event or project to identify the aspects which were fulfilled, or not. To determine why they were, or not. And to choose what, if any, changes to make for better results in the future.
Postmortems can often go undone. When we’re winning, we want to just keep building on that momentum. And when we’re losing we want to just move on. But a regular practice of performing effective postmortems can help us learn, grow and move on while making even our best efforts even better.
In my family we have a postmortem discussion at the end of every family event. Basically we all gather together around the kitchen table and share openly how it went for each of us, including what worked, what didn’t work, and what we will do better in the future. It’s an integral part of our family culture, even though it’s just a casual, informal chat.
In the business world, a project postmortem is similar, in that it includes a discussion amongst project members, though it can be a more formal procedure. Effective organizations codify debriefing into an operational activity that informs both process and performance improvements in order to promote best practices and for effective risk management.
There are a few basic guidelines for conducting an effective postmortem process:
1. Schedule a specific time and place. This may be a recurring weekly event for a general check-in, say every Friday at 4pm to review our weekly accomplishments, or it may be event-specific. After my recent art exhibition opening, as a natural part of our post-event celebration dinner we chatted about how the opening went. It’s best to do this as soon after the event as possible, when it’s fresh in everyone’s mind.
2. Create a culture of open communication. An effective environment for sharing and learning means that everyone has permission to make any acknowledgments, and also to admit any mistakes or share any vulnerabilities. It’s understood that everyone had a role in creating all the results, both good and bad. Often it’s a good practice to start generally, with overall observations (see pink stars at the center of this postmortem template).
3. Review a few key questions:
* Did we meet our objectives for this project / event? Restate the objectives of the event or project, then clearly indicate if it was achieved, such as with Y / N or a number.
* Why did we achieve these results? Get to the root cause of what aspects worked or didn’t work. This may involve asking “why” several times.
* What should we continue, start or stop doing? Clarify specifically what we will do going forward. Brainstorming actions plans about how to implement any changes may be helpful at this stage.
4. Summarize key messages. Capture and share the information in a post-event checklist for future reference. I do that right on my handy template (download your free copy here), but use whatever communication method will work best for you and your team.
That’s it folks, super simple! Though not always easy, because it requires us to intentionally and deliberately set aside the time and willingness to examine our performance. But don’t you want to have a life worth living? I do!
So get your copy of the postmortem cheat sheet. And post a blog comment to let us know how you used it!