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Postmortem Reports

Summary:

These resources describe two workplace genres, an activity report and a postmortem.  It discusses the purpose of an activity report and a postmortem, as well as how to work with these genres effectively. 

Contributors:Kyle P. Vealey
Last Edited: 2015-01-15 04:10:32

What is a postmortem report?

Depending on the organizational context, postmortems go by a number of names: project postmortems, postmortem documentation, completion report, project debriefing, or lessons learned.

As many of these names suggest, a postmortem report is a collaborative reflection that allows a team to assess the successes, challenges, and failures of a particular project after it is completed. In other words, it is an opportunity to conduct a retrospective analysis of work processes, team-collaboration, and technology use in the workplace. Importantly, postmortems are not used to lay blame on any employee. Rather, they are meant to identify and assess what went right, what went wrong, and what can be improved in future projects.

There are a number of benefits to conducting a postmortem in the workplace. Most obviously, it gives employees, managers, and decision-makers a chance to learn from their experiences and to understand the successes and failures of the project. As a workplace genre, the postmortem report also provides structured feedback to a team, thus improving communication, collaboration, and cooperation amongst members. The ultimate goal of a postmortem, however, is to better a company’s work process and strengthen how team’s approach, engage, and complete projects.

Generally, there are two types of postmortem reports.

Comprehensive postmortem 

A comprehensive postmortem report focuses on one specific project and articulates the particularities of that project’s demands, constraints, and affordances. In being “comprehensive,” this kind of postmortem report aims to thoroughly describe and assess a team’s work on a particular project.

Multi-project postmortem

A multi-project postmortem takes a wider perspective than the comprehensive postmortem in articulating the successes and challenges of multiple projects. In so doing, a multi-project postmortem identifies successes and challenges in activities across a range of projects, processes, and tasks. Its primary goal is to describe not only the activities unique to a particular project, but the strengths and weaknesses of current workplace practices. 

Both comprehensive and multi-project postmortems should be documented and distributed the entire team within the week following a completed project.

Key questions to ask in a postmortem report 

The following questions should guide the writing of a postmortem report in identifying and assessing a team’s work process as well as provide an organizational structure for the document. While there is no “right” or “wrong” way to write a postmortem report, the document should provide all stakeholders a description of a project’s development and concrete ways of improving for future endeavors. 

Project overview

What was the overall purpose of this project? Who was its intended audience? In what context was this project intended to circulate? What was our estimated timeline for completing the project? Did we meet that estimated timeline or did we modify it along the way? Was the project submitted on time? Was this project unique or will we have similar ones in the future? Generally, what were some of the successes, strengths, or wins of this project? And what were some of its challenges, obstacles, or failures?

Team’s communicatiom 

Overall, did our team communicate proficiently throughout the project’s development? Through what means or technologies did we communicate? Was communication a strength or challenge for completing this work? How did our communication affect how we collaborated? How did communication affect our individual work? What communication challenges did you experience throughout the project? What communication successes did you encounter throughout the project?

Team’s collaboration

Overall, how would you assess our team’s collaboration on this project? What were our strengths and successes of collaborating together?  What collaborative practice worked well? What collaborative practice did not prove productive for you? How well was our work divided? Were tasks divided evenly, fairly, and strategically? How do you assess your work on the team? What could our team have done differently to improve above collaboration? 

Team’s use of technology

Overall, how would you assess our team’s use of technology to complete this project? What communication, production, or research technologies did our team use? What technologies were successfully utilized throughout the work process? How did those technologies contribute to the project’s successes? What technologies posed challenges, obstacles, or proved to fail throughout this project? How did those technologies complicate the work process? 

Lessons learned or action items going forward

What improvements could you offer to our communication practices? How can we better our collaboration with each other? How can we better delegate tasks to make our work process more effective? What technologies should we avoid in future projects? What technologies should we keep using in the future? What technologies might you suggest we try out? How can we mitigate or avoid the challenges, obstacles, and failures we encountered in the past? How can we maintain our strengthens and successes as a team and company? 

The goal of a post-mortem report 

It may seem odd to ask some of these questions at the end of a project. Why would anyone want to highlight weaknesses of a team endeavor? Again, the purpose of a post-mortem report is not to blame specific members of a team or to root out the specific cause of a difficulty encountered. Rather, post-mortems aim to improve work processes and project management by acknowledging what went right and what went wrong.

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