Looking Back to Move Forward: The Art of the Post-Mortem

Ashley Hollingsworth for the November/December 2017 LMA Mid-Atlantic Newsletter.

There’s nothing more satisfying than completing a major project or presentation. You get to enjoy the fruits of your labor and then never have to think about the stress that went into the project ever again. But, if you’re doing things right, you need to dive right back in and assess the success of the project beyond its outcome. You need to hold a post-mortem.

A post-mortem meeting, also known as a retrospective meeting, is the process of assessing a project with your development team to determine what worked, what did not, what processes need to be created or revised, and how similar projects can run more smoothly in the future. These meetings can also be held with client stakeholders. The post-mortem is common in technology and product development and should have a space in your legal marketing department. From RFPs, website redesigns, rebrands, events, and even award submissions, legal marketers are constantly juggling projects for demanding and discerning client stakeholders – our attorneys. Taking the time to hold post-mortems after a project can help your Marketing department work smarter, not harder.

The purpose of a post-mortem is to foster an open environment for everyone on the team to offer perspectives about the project. A productive post-mortem allows the team to uncover any gaps in a project’s process and fill them in; there is no place for point fingers and blaming others. A successful post-mortem also requires advance planning. Try the following steps after your next project for smoother sailing in 2018. 

  1. Don’t delay – schedule your post-mortem shortly after completing the project. Forbes contributor Pin Chen recommends holding your post-mortem within two weeks of completing a project so that team members have a chance to step away from the project and gather perspective while not forgetting key details of the work. Hubspot recommends including the post-mortem in the project timeline and even compiling a post-mortem questionnaire to gather feedback in advance of the post-mortem.
  2. Have an agenda and a moderator to keep things on track. As previously stated, post-mortems should be team-wide discussions, not monologues, blaming sessions, or celebrations. Develop an agenda that includes:
    1. A recap of the project’s timeline and key phases. How close did you come to meeting the planned timeline and budget of the project? How did the different phases end up working in practice?
    2. A discussion of the project’s outcome. Did anything change from the original scope of the project? Was the event well-attended? Was the client satisfied? Did you win the work?
    3. Questions for the team about what worked, what did not, and how those things can be applied to or removed from future project.

Agendas may vary based on the type of project being assessed, but these three points are a good foundation for any post-mortem agenda. Assign a moderator to keep the discussion on task and maintain an open environment that encourages dialogue.

  1. Focus on actionable takeaways. The key question behind any post-mortem, regardless of how successful the project was, is “How can we do better?” The agenda and the moderator’s questions should always lead back to actionable processes and tactics that answer that question. Avoid general conclusions like “We need more time to incorporate lawyer edits” and work towards concrete and actionable process improvements, such as “We should have more people involved in incorporating lawyer edits so we can reduce the time a project is with the Marketing team.” If you cannot use the information gathered in the post-mortem you cannot improve your processes.
  2. Share your notes with everyone. Do not let the takeaways from your meeting sit in a drawer. Share the results with your team and stakeholders to demonstrate what you have learned and how future projects will be improved upon based on your findings. This can also ensure that all parties are on the same page in regards to how processes will unfold in the future. Access to process documents can help your team run more efficiently and can help the lawyers understand the scope of future projects. 

For more information about post-mortems, including sample agendas and exercises for your team, review the following sources:

 

 

 

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Looking Back to Move Forward: The Art of the Post-Mortem

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