The first time I heard someone say “post-mortem,” it sounded like something out of a medical TV drama. Upon Googling its definition, I was not far off: a post-mortem is defined as “an examination of a dead body to determine the cause of death.”

In my experience working in project-based professional contexts, it’s not hard to imagine why we would think of projects as organisms that live and die. Once projects are born, they take on a life of their own. They inhabit project spaces, sweat out process, and breathe through the people that animate them.

One of the advantages of working on a project-by-project basis is the ability to get better and improve through time. However, this only works if project teams create the space to nurture this learning as they kick-off and wrap-up projects. The following are some of the activities I’ve used in the past to facilitate pre- and post-mortems, largely inspired by one of my favorite resources of all times—Gamestorming, as well as by all those alongside whom I have had a chance to work.

Pre-Mortems

Set at the beginning of a project’s life, a pre-mortem is the perfect opportunity to discuss the project’s objective, determine the division of responsibilities of the project team, and assess any risks that might emerge as well as ways to mitigate them. The following are four activities that can be used when facilitating a post-mortem session.

Project Goals

Objective: Agree on project goals.

Instructions:

  • Have the team write down on post-its:
    • The personal goals they hope to achieve in this project (e.g. learning, personal growth, visibility, etc.).
    • The goals that the project team (or the overall organisation) has for the project (e.g. relationship building, revenue, case study, etc.).
    • The goals that the client has for this engagement (e.g. improved user experience, productivity gains, etc.).
  • Optionally, once all the post-its are on the wall, you can go through a second exercise of consolidating and prioritizing the goals as a team.

Who+Do

Objective: Define roles and responsibilities of the different team members.

Instructions:

  • As a group, discuss the expected contributions for each team member.
  • Once agreed upon, write down the name of the team member in one column, and their role and responsibilities in the other.
  • Note: It’s helpful to do this activity after the Project Goals exercise, as some of the personal goals that team members list may affect how the roles and responsibilities are assigned.

Risk Mitigation Table

Objective: Assess potential risks that might arise and how to mitigate them.

Instructions:

  • This activity is three-fold:
    • First, ask the team to brainstorm answers to the question “What can go wrong?” or “How can this project end in disaster?”
    • As team members are sharing their post-its to the group, go through a clustering exercise to group risks that are of similar nature.
    • As a group, discuss what actions need to be taken to mitigate each cluster of risks. Write down the agreed upon mitigation measures next to the corresponding cluster.
  • Optionally, after step 2, you may want to have the risk clusters ranked or voted on to determine priority. This is particularly helpful if the team was prolific in generating risk post-its and if you are running out of time.

Graphic Gameplan

Objective: Composite activity with multiple objectives, which can be conducted in lieu of the three previous exercises in case time is a constraint.

Instructions:

  • First, write down the broad stages of the project (e.g. research, design, testing) in the arrow at the center.
  • To the right of the arrow, discuss the project goals. Place the main goal in the middle, and the secondary objectives in the outer circles.
  • To the left of the arrow, discuss and write down the team members and resources that will feed into the project. This is the opportunity to agree on a division of roles and responsibilities.
  • Below the arrow, discuss and write down potential risks that might present bumps in the road and ways to mitigate them (in a different post-it color).

Post-Mortems

At the end of a project’s life, a post-mortem is the opportune time to recognize achievements, ponder the project’s successes and mishaps, and think about what can be done differently in future projects. The following are four activities that can be used when facilitating a post-mortem session.

The Memory Wall

Objective: Recognize and celebrate accomplishments.

Instructions:

  • Give team members markers, papers, and tape, and ask them to draw a stand-out memory from the project. It could be anything broadly related to the project.
  • Once everyone is done, ask each team member to tape his or her memory to the wall, and describe how they remember it to the rest of the group.
  • Allow for discussion and time to appreciate those who have contributed to this project in a positive way (especially all the unsung heroes!).

Plus-Delta

Objective: Reflect on the project’s successes and missed opportunities.

Instructions:

  • On a whiteboard or a flipchart sheet, make two columns: one for “plus” and one for “delta” — the Greek symbol for change (or, alternatively, “I like” and “I wish”).
  • As a first round, ask the group to reflect on what was positive about the project as a whole, and put their thoughts under the “plus” column. Then brainstorm about what they would change about it, and capture it under the “delta” column.
  • As a second round, ask team members to reflect, specifically, on their personal contributions to the project. What is one thing they excelled at in this project, or what is the contribution they are most proud of? And what is one thing they could have done better?

Start-Stop-Continue

Objective: Discuss what should be changed in the future.

Instructions:

  • Ask the group to individually brainstorm actions in these three categories:
    • Start: what are the things that we are not currently doing and that we need to start doing in the future?
    • Stop: what are we currently doing that we can and should stop doing in the future?
    • Continue: what are we doing now that seems to be working and that we should continue doing in the future?
  • As team members share their post-its, come to an alignment as a group on the proposed steps moving forward, and document them accordingly.

FLAP Matrix

Objective: Composite activity with multiple objectives, which can be conducted in lieu of the three previous exercises in case time is a constraint.

Instructions:

  • FLAP stands for: Future considerations; Lessons learned; Accomplishments; and Problem areas.
    • First, write down accomplishments worth noting for the project.
    • Second, write down any problems encountered throughout the project.
    • Third, reflect on key lessons and takeaways from the project.
    • Lastly, think of considerations to take into account for future similar project.
  • Optionally, you can consider color-coding post-it notes based on different topics (e.g. process, people, customer relationship, etc.), to easily reference each topic under the four quadrants.

 


What other activities have you used when conducting pre- and post-mortem sessions? What worked and what didn’t? Let us know by leaving a comment on this post.

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