Project Management 9. Formally Close the Project When Finished

Because people learn best by experience, one of the most significant activities you can conduct after completing a project is identifying the lessons learned on this project that you will carry forward to future projects.  One of the most effective methods of identifying these lessons is a special meeting of the project team called the post-mortem.

Afterwards, you create a project record so that future project teams can learn from this experience as well as build on materials created for this project.

A post-mortem is a meeting of all members of the project team at the end of the project with the purpose of:

  • Identifying what went well and should be repeated on future projects
  • What did not go well and how to avoid these situations on future projects

In addition, the post-mortem should provide time for everyone on the project team to thank one another for their contributions.  Often during the course of a project, project team members become so comfortable working with one another that they do not thank them for their contributions or acknowledge exceptional work.  As a result, team members might not realize that their contributions are appreciated by their colleagues.  The post-mortem provides a formal opportunity for team members to offer one another such recognition.

Here are tips for conducting a post-mortem:

1.  Send a meeting notice to team members at least 2 weeks in advance.  Invite all team members to participate.

2.  Prepare and distribute an agenda before the meeting.  A typical agenda for a post-mortem:

  • Is no longer than 90 minutes, 60 if possible.
  • Contains separate items for:

a. What went right (at the end of a project, team members are often so focused on what went wrong that they want to understand what went right).
b. What to improve on future projects (do not use the post-mortem as a “blaming” session, instead, use the post-mortem as an opportunity to identify problems and suggest solutions to them)
c. Acknowledgements and thank yous

3.  At the meeting, create a positive, productive environment by doing the following:

  • Identify a recorder.  The recorder should prepare minutes, which will be distributed after the meeting.
  • Set the right tone for the meeting by:

— Emphasizing the positive

— Providing each team member with an opportunity to speak.  For example, when asking “What went right” and “what to improve on future projects,” rather than asking people to simply provide suggestions, go around the meeting table and ask each person to provide at least one suggestion before opening the question up to the floor for feedback

— Avoid passing judgment on comments.  Different team members, because of their role or because of their personalities, have different experiences with a project.  Some team members might have a positive experience, others may not.  Only be hearing how each team member perceived the project can the entire project team better understand their interactions with one another.

  • Close with some sort of celebration.  For example, you might provide a cake that says “Congratulations” or a small gift for each team member.

4.  Publish the minutes of the post-mortem within 2 business days.

5.  Store notes of the post-mortem with a complete project file. The file might include the material in the Worksheet for a Project File.

6.  For those suggestions that require changes to your organization’s policies and procedures, provide a follow-up memo to team members within 1 month of the meeting to tell them whether or not the policy and procedures will actually be changed.

Post-mortem meetings provide valuable closure to projects, letting participants emotionally separate from one project so they can move onto the next.

Therefore, post-mortem meetings are beneficial whether or not members of the team will work together on their next project.

© Copyright 1996, 1999, 2001, 2010, 2012. Saul Carliner. All rights reserved.  If sharing or excerpting, should be properly cited.


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