If we don’t learn from our mistakes, we’re doomed to repeat them. We can thank Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana for this bite-sized piece of wisdom. Santayana was referring to mistakes humans have made throughout history, but we can apply the same principle to how we work. Few things are more frustrating than running into the same issues again and again when trying to execute a project. It sets the entire workflow behind. So how do you ensure you and your team avoid repeating mistakes?
Answer: a project post-mortem meeting.
Here we’re outlining what a post-mortem meeting is, how to do it, and four tools that can help.
What is a post-mortem meeting?
A post-mortem meeting is the big beautiful bow you tie around a project upon its completion. Soon after you’ve wrapped up a project, gather all the stakeholders and individual contributors for a debrief. Together, you’ll reflect on what went well and identify opportunities for improvement. Essentially, it’s an open forum for team members to voice their constructive feedback about the recently-completed project. This meeting is not a reading out of a list of project wins and losses. In fact, you should avoid using a post-mortem meeting as nothing more than a project recap.
A productive post-mortem meeting is a collaborative process. You’re pooling together the experiences and takeaways of everyone involved to pinpoint areas where operations could improve. You then take all this information a step further, ending the meeting with actionable ways to improve future projects.
Why have a post-mortem meeting?
You likely had a lot of meetings before the post-mortem. These were effective for prepping the project and ensuring the project stayed on track. But teams often wrap up a project, and that's the end of it. There are no follow-up action items, learnings, or reflections. As a result, they make the same project management and workflow mistakes. A post-mortem analysis is how you identify and solve these mistakes. It's a single step added to the end of a project that will save you time and energy in the future. It helps your team scale. You can grow to tackle more complex projects, rather than get hung up on the same problems over and over again. It can also be more than finding where things could have gone better. A post-mortem meeting celebrates victories and highlights those who did great work.
A good post-mortem meeting is as good for progress as for team morale, but there are far more benefits. Let’s take a look.
The benefits of post-mortem meetings
Chance to share feedback
Depending on the scope of the project, several teams across the organization might have played a part. The post-mortem meeting is the place for these teams to cross-reference their experiences executing on the project tasks. It’s the quickest way to see if one setback trickled out to impact everyone involved or if one team has insights that another might find useful. For example, the marketing team might have feedback that the customer success team will find insightful, and vice versa. For any project, big or small, feedback is important for growth. It doesn’t matter the size of the team or the scope of the project—thoughtful feedback gives individual contributors the confidence to try new things and learn from their mistakes.
Identify opportunities for improvement
Here is the heart of the post-mortem meeting—a constructive reflection on how to run the project better next time. In a perfect world, you conduct every part of a project in the most ideal way. But in real life, this is rarely the case.
Take a close look at places during the project where confusion or misalignment set in, resulting in setbacks. What hiccups did stakeholders run into as they executed on their tasks? Project managers should iterate on project processes based on this stakeholder feedback. Make sure you go a step further than drawing attention to what could be improved. Turn these opportunities into next steps that result in an improved process.
Remember to save a little time at the end of the post-mortem to highlight wins. Conclude the meeting on a celebratory note. Calling out the parts that went well throughout the project is just as productive as finding the places that need improvement. Use this time to turn the spotlight toward individuals or teams who did excellent work. Avoid falling into the trap of only addressing what should improve—balance this with emphasizing things that went well.
Increase productivity and efficiency
Consider all of the time spent attempting to troubleshoot problems as they arose. Could that time have been better spent coming up with creative ways to do great work on the project? One of the best ways to increase long-term productivity is to iterate on processes.
When you use a post-mortem meeting to create better ways of doing work, you end up saving time and energy on future projects. The problems have been solved and the best processes are in place, so you can focus on providing excellent deliverables. After all, a finely-tuned process frees up mental energy that you can use to innovate and find creative solutions to problems. You boost productivity in the long run by taking time to reflect now.
Tips for hosting a successful post-mortem meeting
Be respectful of individuals and their contributions
As you work through the project's ups and downs, keep everyone's roles in mind. The post-mortem meeting is a place for honest feedback given with respect. Constructive feedback is always helpful, but avoid calling individuals out in front of their peers. During the post-mortem meeting, stick to discussing topics at a high level. You can give individual feedback one-on-one.
Keep it concise
Set the ground rules and an agenda before the meeting so everyone in attendance understands its purpose. It might be helpful to send a questionnaire beforehand to source topics of discussion to build a meeting agenda.
Designating one person to keep the meeting on track will help move the conversation along. The effectiveness of a post-mortem meeting hinges on the efficiency with which attendees are able to address and troubleshoot project setbacks. Create alignment before the meeting so you can effectively work through the talking points during the meeting. This level of preparedness is not only helpful for the post-mortem meeting’s efficiency but it’s respectful of everyone’s time.
Call out wins as well as areas of improvement
We can't stress the importance of celebrating wins enough. This invites teams to acknowledge their contributions toward the company’s larger goals. Good term morale stems from each team member feeling like they are making an impact. Highlighting moments when teamwork shined or the deliverables were superb during a post-mortem meeting is a perfect way for everyone to see the project holistically and how they contributed to its eventual success.
Ask constructive questions
First, pinpoint what you're hoping to gain from the post-mortem meeting. Now create a pre-meeting questionnaire that addresses key talking points. This gives the team time to reflect on their own before bringing their ideas to the meeting. Choose language that remains positive and opens the door for constructive conversations. Once you’ve found a formula that works for your organization, create a post-mortem template to streamline the process in the future.
Document and record everything
A post-mortem meeting without documented results won't help you much in the long term. You want to have easy access to project feedback so you can easily reference them anytime. Documenting the meeting results will also help you put together a thoughtful list of actionable next steps after the meeting. Next, you can create tasks or implement workflow changes as a result of your post-mortem meeting findings. Share your newfound knowledge with the rest of the company so everyone can benefit from your efforts.
Generative AI tools—like Supernormal—take meeting notes for you and keep them all safely stored in one place.
Sample post-mortem meeting agenda
For some inspiration, here is a sample agenda for how to run your post-mortem meeting. Send out a questionnaire before the meeting with these questions. Ensure everyone has submitted their answers before the meeting so you can create an agenda accordingly.
- Was the project plan and goal clear from beginning to end?
- Was project communication handled well?
- Did team collaboration and team communication run smoothly?
- Were there any unanticipated hurdles that affected milestones?
- Do you have any suggestions for the future?
Now, use the answers to these questions to break down the meeting into time blocks. For this example, we’re hosting a 30-minute meeting. Make the necessary adjustments to meeting duration based on how big of a project and team you’re working with.
Recap the project and outcome (10 minutes): The project manager does a high-level walkthrough of the project, its goals, and the results. Feel free to add any predictions or unique findings throughout the project.
Collect stakeholder feedback (15 minutes): Dive deeper into stakeholder observations and suggestions. Let everyone have a chance to explain the areas of improvement they’ve identified.
Shoutouts and celebrations (five minutes): Save the last few minutes of your post-mortem meeting to highlight wins. Pass the mic to anyone with something or someone to celebrate.
4 tools for post-mortem meetings
One of the most effective ways to run a great post-mortem meeting is to have the right tooling on deck. Here are some of the best options for tools to support your team’s post-mortem meetings.
Supernormal is a top-tier AI note taker that documents your meetings in detail. The tool integrates with the most popular CRM platforms and video conferencing tools, so it’s automatically available for every meeting on your calendar. Supernormal helps its users streamline project workflows to support a successful post-mortem meeting every time.
- Note style customization: Select the type of meeting, and Supernormal will document notes that are broken down into sections based on meeting style.
- Calendar integrations: Supernormal lives where your meetings do, so it’s ready for you when the meeting starts.
- Video messages: If something doesn’t need to be a meeting, record a video and send it to their entire team.
- All video meetings, screen recordings, and video messages live safely in one place and can be organized based on team or topic, making it easy to find and reference past videos.
- Supernormal can create notes in many languages, removing the language barrier with clients and global companies.
- Use the pop-up menu to mark action items and key points within the meeting discussion without disrupting the flow of conversation.
Pricing: The Starter Plan is free.
Retrium is specifically designed for post-project retrospectives. It’s ideal for agile and scrum teams aiming to use their post-mortem meetings to scale faster. Teams can use templated retrospective outlines or customize their own. Each template has interactive components intended to boost attendee engagement.
Image description: Retrium has a built-in workflow to help meetings run efficiently. (Retrium Home)
- Several retrospective format options: Customize how you document your post-mortem check-ins based on the kind of project.
- Anonymous feedback: Team members can give anonymous feedback about project wins and setbacks.
- Interactive retrospective templates: Meeting attendees can vote on discussion topics, allowing project managers to see topics that spark the most interest.
- The guided retrospective interface walks team members through a practical project reflection and feedback process.
- Users can follow industry-tested templates or customize a unique setup that aligns best with their team.
- It can invite an unlimited number of members and an unlimited number of retrospectives starting with the Team pricing tier.
- Designed for retrospective meetings, so it’s not useful for all meetings.
- Retrium does not currently offer a mobile app.
- Users pay a monthly fee based on the number of their Activated Team Rooms, which is more expensive than other options.
Pricing: Users can sample Retrium for free for 30 days. After that, users can opt into the Team Edition at $39 per month per Activated Team Room or the Business Edition at $59 per month per Activated Team Room. Information about the Enterprise Edition is available at request.
Parabol is an engaging post-mortem meeting tool that covers all the bases for standard teams. The tool provides a basic structure for meeting agendas and engaging team members. Users can select a meeting style to get a template that matches their needs.
Image description: Parabol users select a retrospective template to organize their post-mortem meeting. (Parabol Home)
- Anonymous suggestions: Team members can offer suggestions and insights without attaching their names.
- Create tasks on the go: Create tasks from within the meeting as you work through your retrospective to ensure nothing gets left behind.
- Pre-mortems: Ask team members to anticipate problems before kicking off a project to mitigate setbacks.
- Users can run collaborative check-in meetings by building an itinerary and task list as a team. This setup helps better structure team meetings.
- There are various templates available that include unique approaches to project management like the Sprint Poker layout.
- The tool captures action items, project takeaways, and feedback all in one place.
- There are limited ways to see the dashboard.
- There is no ability to assign more than one person to a task.
- The tool lacks a central repository for past meeting summaries.
- Unable to use Sprint Poker feature without integrating with Jira.
Pricing: Parabol’s Starter Plan is free forever for up to two teams. The next tier up is the Team Plan at $6 per active user per month. Parabol also offers a customized Enterprise Plan for larger companies.
Quip is ideal for teams dealing with a lot of clients and accounts they need to keep diligent notes on. It combines client documents and spreadsheets into one place for easy reference. Quip is a robust tool for storing post-mortem meeting information, creating documents, and collaborating.
Image description: Thoroughly document project information and share among the team to help keep everyone aligned. (Quip Home)
- Built-in chat: Teams can use the tool’s chat features to comment on all documents, have one-on-one chats, and open team chat rooms.
- Templates: Choose a template for a sales team, account action plan, and others to streamline workflows.
- Internal search: The tool’s search feature makes it easy to locate documents.
- The platform scales well as your team grows.
- The tool removes unnecessary formatting to streamline note-keeping and brainstorming.
- The excellent search feature makes it easy to find documents.
- Quip doesn’t have the ability to multi-select and export a group of documents. .
- The tool may not have enough integration options depending on user preference.
- The Quip desktop app can be slow to record document changes others make.
Pricing: The Quip Starter Plan begins at $10 per user per month. For large and complex teams, the Quip Plus Plan is the best option at $25 per user per month. Finally, Quip Advanced offers the most robust integrations at $100 per user per month. All plans are billed annually.
How Supernormal can help
Supernormal is your trusted AI note-taker for post-mortem meetings. We know the most impactful post-mortem meetings collect, analyze, and iterate based on project feedback. The easiest way to succinctly gather all this information during a post-mortem meeting is using a tool like Supernormal to document all of it.
It frees up post-mortem moderators to focus on guiding a productive discussion. Everyone can hone in on solving complex problems rather than taking notes. Leverage AI to automatically generate actionable notes and document crucial project debrief details without lifting a finger. Supernormal is the AI note-taker that helps you do your best work.
Try Supernormal for free today to start running successful post-mortem meetings.