What is a project post-mortem? | 5 steps for a successful report | HackMD Blog
January 24, 2024

What is a project post-mortem? | 5 steps for a successful report

Rachel Golden
Rachel Golden
Telling HackMD's story, building awareness, and meaningfully connecting with communities.

There are few better feelings than when you finish a project. You’ve put countless hours into prepping, building, and executing on a common vision. The to-do list is all checked off.

But what you do next can make the biggest difference on your next project, sprint, quarter, or business at large.

Enter: the post-mortem

Taking the time to sit down with your team to discuss the successes, shortcomings, and lessons learned is crucial.

Today, we’re diving into the practice that separates the good from the exceptional.

What is a project post-mortem?

A project post-mortem is a reflection and analysis held after the completion of a project, bringing all key stakeholders into the fold. It’s a moment to review, dissect, and learn from the highs and lows of the development process.

It’s an opportunity to fully unpack a project and ask questions like: What did we accomplish? And what can we do better moving forward?

If you’ve never done a post-mortem before, you might be familiar with it by another name like, project debrief, retrospective, project recap, wrap-up meeting, or lessons learned meeting. However you’re familiar with (or even if you’re not), post-mortems will help your team align ahead of your next task.

Benefits from post-mortems

The insights made at this time can shape the way your next project is built and carried out. You may find inefficiencies in your processes, staffing, or tooling that, when updated, improve the overall efficiency of your team.

As the saying goes: Work smarter, not harder.

Here are some other ways post-mortems can benefit your workflow…

  • Communication - Sometimes the biggest blocker to a smoother workflow is a lack of communication. Creating key moments where all stakeholders can come together to discuss a given project creates a culture of open communication and often leads to quicker resolutions moving forward.
  • Transparency - Making a habit of conducting post-mortems across teams allows for more transparency. It lends itself to a working environment where issues and improvements are discussed without judgment.
  • Moral - Post-mortems should also celebrate wins from the project. Highlighting what the team did well pinpoints solidifies an efficient process.

5 steps for a successful post-mortem

1. Identify your objectives

Before you gather together, clearly outline the goals and objectives of the post-mortem. What do you aim to achieve? Was there a specific issue you want to discuss?

Whether it’s optimizing processes, improving communication, or refining technical skills, setting clear objectives is the first step toward success.

2. Send a pre-meeting questionnaire

To streamline your processes, this questionnaire should be templatized, using something like custom templates on HackMD. When you get in the habit of circulating a questionnaire, your teammates will also get in the habit of more keenly observing the project.

Ask questions like

  • What are 3 things that went well during this project?
  • What are 3 things that did not go well during this project?
  • Describe areas we can improve before the next project.

A questionnaire will help your team analyze the project and show up to your meeting prepared.

3. Create a meeting agenda

Once you have your objectives outlined and specific discussion topics gathered from the questionnaire, creating a meeting agenda will ensure your team stays on task and that every area that needs to be covered is addressed. Circulate this agenda ahead of time for visibility.

An agenda should typically cover:

  • Overview & project goals
  • High-level recap
  • What went well
  • Team shoutouts
  • What could have gone better
  • Applications to the next project

NOTE: Be sure to invite all team members who were a part of the project. This may seem like an expensive meeting, but gathering the full scope of contributors will give you insight into all areas of the process and more accurately pinpoint ways to improve.

4. Meet promptly after the project ends

This is an important part of the equation. When you meet directly after the close of a project your team is more likely to recall details – everything is top of mind.

Ideally, you should plan to meet 2-3 days after the project’s completion. This gives team members enough time to reflect on their work, while still keeping everything fresh.

Bonus points if you can schedule the post-mortem into the project plan.

5. Document and share your findings

Your post-mortem meeting should be followed by a recap or report highlighting your discussion and findings. This report should be shared with all key stakeholders and contributors.

Here are key items to include…

  • Project name - Include codenames, if applicable.
  • Dates - List all relevant dates; start dates, milestones, target launch date, and actual launch date.
  • Background - Describe why the project was launched, the original goals, the anticipated results, and anything else that would be important to know.
  • Documentation - List all important documents, photos, data, etc to the launch of the project. This is not for creating new documents, but instead compiling all documents used throughout your project.
  • Results - Dive into what happened. Start with the goals of the project, adding specific metrics you’re measuring against. If this section is challenging to complete because of vague goals or pre-determined metrics, this is a good time to call that out and look into more data-driven, measurable metrics.
  • Analysis - This is the most important section of your report. Here you’ll document the feedback and findings from your meeting, as well as the potential solutions and action steps for change. This step is pivotal in ensuring that the post-mortem doesn’t just gather dust but drives tangible results.

Streamline your post-mortem documentation with HackMD

As you close out your current project and race towards the next, you need a tool to help streamline the post-mortem process.

With its intuitive interface and collaborative features, HackMD provides the perfect platform for creating and sharing post-mortems. Multiple teammates can contribute to each document in real time. And custom templates for your questionnaire, agenda, and report will ensure you don’t miss an important step, without sacrificing speed and efficiency.

Here are a few teams already harnessing HackMD for their post-mortems:

You can create a post-mortem report or questionnaire template today with HackMD.