Learn from your project mistakes in a post-mortem

Learn from your mistakes

“That project was a debacle”

The description of insanity as “Doing the same thing and expecting a different result” couldn’t be truer, especially when an organization fails to methodically assess the reasons for a failed project or failing processes. Did your trade show promotion fail to attract new customers? Are bottlenecks in Production are causing lost sales? Is Marketing chronically dissatisfied with artistic renderings from the Creative Department?

Your next project is more likely to fail unless you take an hour or two to more thoroughly assess how and why a project didn’t fully meet expectations for success. Here are seven steps you can follow to conduct a successful post-mortem on a project or process in your company:

  1. Gather together all stakeholders to define what success is for the project. Is it increased sales? promotion of the brand? meeting deadlines?
  2. Create a “safe” environment to discuss your challenges. Make it clear you want to find solutions to the problem by brainstorming, not blamestorming. Challenge each participant during the meeting to come up with at least one action they can take to make a measurable improvement to the existing process.
  3. Map the process from start to finish, highlighting what works and what doesn’t. Identify errors, bottlenecks and delays, then outline how and why they occur. Caution the participants in assigning blame to any individual. If a specific person is causing the bottleneck or project delay, give them an opportunity to explain the reason for this without making them feel under attack.
  4. Brainstorm solutions for each error, obstacle, bottleneck or delay. Solutions could include but aren’t limited to increased funding(for example, purchase of new technology), more time (or different timing), additional headcount, a change in roles and responsibilities among team members, adjustments to quality standards, a change in policies or procedures, a move to a different vendor or an effort to better align expectations of all team members.
  5. Determine the potential gain or savings of every proposed change. Then quantify the cost of making no changes. Include intangibles like “chronic resentment of marketers among production staff”.
  6. Align on recommendations. Have the group agree, as much as is possible, on recommendations to the organization’s leadership.
  7. Gain closure. The manager running the meeting should present the findings and proposal(s) to leadership and obtain a commitment for a decision within a reasonable time frame, then report back to the stakeholders.

Taking a disciplined, methodical approach to process improvement will likely be one of your better investments this year. Chances are, the team will identify and fix problems they didn’t even know existed or find new opportunities for growth as a result of the discussions.