5 tips for holding effective post-mortems

Written by 
Bryan Kitch
May 19, 2022
A graphic illustrating a post-mortem retrospective exercise

Post-mortems are a necessary requirement for any project because they give you more insight into what went right, what went wrong, and what can be improved. Post-mortem meetings are necessary to improve efficiency, enhance team communication, pinpoint process improvements, and share honest feedback. Although the post-mortem is a standard operating procedure in Agile and Scrum frameworks (where it's known as a retrospective — much less depressing), it's used collaboratively in any project life cycle.

How to run an effective post-mortem meeting

A post-mortem meeting is more than just rehashing a project. You have to identify key blockers, celebrate wins, and strategize what to do going forward to improve. You also need to keep the post-mortem meeting on track while maintaining a positive environment for your stakeholders since post-mortems will often be discussing uncomfortable challenges the project may have faced.

Related: Why Do We Leave Collaboration to Chance?

So how do you achieve all of these goals — keep it short, keep it fun, and keep it focused while maintaining a sense of collaboration and team-based cooperation? Here are a few basic guidelines that should help.

1. Use a moderator or facilitator

A moderator runs the post-mortem, assigns the time limits, and makes sure the team maintains focus during the meeting. Without a moderator, the meeting has no motive — it's just a bunch of people in a room talking for no reason. If your moderator or facilitator is not actively involved and prepared for all elements of the meeting, you can’t expect the rest of the participants to be engaged.

Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Leaders are made, they are not born.” The same applies to moderators and facilitators. You have to learn the soft skills needed to effectively lead a meeting. One great way to start is to familiarize yourself with resources like the Ultimate Meeting Facilitation Toolkit, which can guide you through the process by showing you how to effectively run a meeting using MURAL templates.

2. Keep it positive

Post-mortems can turn into a blame game, especially if tough questions about the project need answers. Keep your post-mortem positive by starting with icebreakers and energizers in order to engage employees and keep their attention. You want engaged employees in your meeting because they’re 21% more productive, and have lower turnover and absenteeism rates.

Related: 5 Ways to Make Meetings More Collaborative

Whether your meeting culture is remote, hybrid, or fully in-person, having a central, shared digital workspace can unlock that engagement to a much greater degree than a traditional roundtable or slide deck-focused approach. These templates include a variety of ice breakers, warm-ups, and meeting energizers your team can use to get to know each other and start the meeting on a positive note.

3. Use baselines to measure successes and challenges

A baseline in project management is a clearly defined starting point or fixed reference point against which you estimate and match your project’s progress. This enables you to evaluate the performance of your project over time. 

The three most common baselines for a project are: schedule, cost, and scope. Use these three guideposts if you're looking for where to start the post-mortem discussion.

The easiest way to evaluate the baselines after a project is to pose each as a question. Did we meet the schedule? Did we come under or go over budget? Did we achieve our objectives for the project (scope)? If you started your project with the product launch template, it can be customized to include the baselines of the schedule, cost, and scope for reference later in the post-mortem.

4. Give team members the time to speak — figuratively and literally

Setting time limits for speakers is essential in order to keep the post-mortem meeting moving and not waste everyone’s time, which is the most infuriating aspect of a bad meeting. According to Korn Ferry, 67% of respondents in their “Working or Wasting Time” survey said that time wasted in meetings distracts them from doing their work. And according to a “Productivity at the Office” survey by Jabra, more than half (51%) say that discussions without direction ruin productivity.

Related: How to Hold Effective Meetings: 6 Expert Tips

Time-boxing helps meeting facilitators stay focused and on schedule. If you realize you need more time for an activity, you can add extra time on the fly in increments of one or five minutes, or set up some private time outside of the post-mortem to gather honest feedback. Participants will be notified when you start the timer, if you add time or pause the clock, and when the time is up, so everyone stays in sync.

5. Follow the three-question rule to keep discussions focused

In order to keep the post-mortem meeting on topic and sharply focused (and cut down on wasted time), follow a simple three-question rule.

  • What went right with this project?
  • What went wrong?
  • What can we improve in the process for next time?

These three talking points will help you identify the parts of the project that you should strive to always include during a project, the roadblocks your team faced throughout the project that need to be solved, and the suggestions they have for streamlining the next project.

The retrospective template from MURAL is a great resource to help you efficiently plan a post-mortem meeting. It lets you collaboratively evaluate the post-mortem process, reflect on what happened in the most recent work iteration, and identify actions for improvement going forward.

A checklist for your next post-mortem

Checklist illustration and text bubble icons

If you find a post-mortem meeting daunting, use this checklist to make sure you're prepared. Preparation is key in order to keep the rest of the team responsive, engaged, and on target. They will appreciate the organization and engage themselves in the conversation.

  • Send out a post-mortem questionnaire or survey
  • Set a meeting agenda
  • Select a meeting moderator
  • Assign a designated note-taker for taking meeting notes
  • Set speaking time limits
  • Recap the project
  • Review the outcomes and results
  • Identify what went well and what didn’t
  • Prioritize action items
  • Send notes or minutes to everyone involved
  • Celebrate the wins
  • Wrap up and end on a positive note

The bottom line

Holding a project post-mortem meeting will help you become a better meeting facilitator

Delivering a solid, focused post-mortem will shape your other meeting skills and can help streamline your next project. Knowing how to weave your way through a tough discussion about challenges while keeping your teammates engaged and positive will transfer to your facilitation of future meetings and post-mortems. What you learn in a post-mortem meeting will shape your leadership skills in the future.

Even more exciting is that right now, you can take all of the templates mentioned here by signing up with a Free Forever plan. You can add a shared digital canvas from hundreds of ready-to-use templates to your next meeting for an easy way to increase engagement and get more problems solved — together.

Can't decide?

We've got you covered with our icebreaker generator.

Generate icebreaker

...Click button to generate icebreaker

What day in your life would you like to relive?
Describe yourself in three words.
What was your dream job as a kid?
If you could be a character in any movie, what character and what movie would it be?
What three items would you bring with you on a deserted island?
What would you title your biography?
A genie grants you one wish; what do you wish for?
What is the best concert or festival you have ever been to?
If you could make an office rule that everyone had to follow for a day, what would it be?
If you invented an ice cream flavor, what ingredients would it have, and what would it be called?
What was your last Netflix (or other streaming platform) binge?
Which two companies would you like to be sponsored by?
What is your favorite breakfast cereal?
If you could add a holiday to the calendar, what would it be and when?
If you could organize a team retreat, where would it be?
Who has influenced your work ethic the most?
If you could swap roles with anyone for one day, who would it be?
If you were a genre of music, what would it be?
What movie has the best soundtrack?
What is your go-to karaoke song?
If you could name a band, what would it be called?
Which band would you join? And what would your role be?
Which artist or musician would you like to meet?
What song brings back childhood memories?
Would you rather spend a weekend in a tropical paradise or a snow haven?
Would you rather sail or 'van life' your way around the world?
Would you rather speak 10 languages or play 10 instruments?
Would you rather only read the end of every book or always forget the story’s ending?
Would you rather have slow internet or always forget your passwords?
Would you rather have every traffic light turn green or always have the best parking spot?
Would you rather be a whale or a lion?
Would you rather get free plane tickets or free accommodations for the rest of your life?
Would you rather be able to control time or fly?
Would you rather always be two hours early or 20 minutes late?
Why do we create art?
Where do you find inspiration?
If you could invite anyone in the world, historical or contemporary, who would be the three guests at your dinner table?
Who is your favorite travel buddy or group?
What is your favorite scene from a movie?
When was the last time you tried something for the first time?
When do you feel the most courageous?
What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?
What’s your favorite holiday celebration?
What three things would you do if you were invisible?
What piece of advice would you give to your 16-year-old self?
What subject do you wish was taught in every school?
What is your superpower?
What is your favorite travel hack?
What is your proudest achievement?
What is your favorite travel story?
What is your favorite season?
What is your DJ name?
What is the most underrated city you have ever visited?
What is the best piece of feedback you have ever received?
What is the best prank you’ve experienced or planned?
What travel experience, city, or country impacted you the most?
What are the top three items on your bucket list?
What are the three values you treasure the most in a friendship?
Tell us your favorite joke.
Tell us a weird fact you happen to know for no reason.
If your pet could talk, what would they say?
If your life was captured in the “expectation vs. reality” meme, what would the two pictures be?
If you could take one prop from any movie set, what would it be?
If you had to sleep on a beach anywhere in the world, where would it be?
If you could organize a team retreat, where would it be?
If you could live in a different country for a year, which country would you choose?
Do you over or under-decorate for the holidays?
Name five things that make you happy
Do you consider yourself a lemon or a lime? Why?
If you could know the answer to any question, what would that question be?

About the author

About the authors

Bryan Kitch

Bryan Kitch

Content Marketing Manager
Bryan is a Content Marketing Manager @ MURAL. When he's not writing or working on content strategy, you can usually find him outdoors.

Tagged Topics