March 2007 - Conducting Effective Post-Mortem Meetings (Part 2 of 2)
Michael Hackett, VP of Business Operations, LogiGear Corporation
The purpose of project post-mortem meetings is straightforward. Post-mortem meetings are meant to identify lessons learned in two important areas:
In the first article on this topic ("Conducting Effective Post-Mortem Meetings (Part 1 of 2)") we discussed:
This article, assuming the foundation of logistics and content laid out in the first article, will discuss:
Testing Specific Content
From a software testing standpoint, a post-mortem meeting is a good place to reexamine. In the meeting, care should be taken to reexamine:
This reexamination process can help to identify both things that are working well, as well as problem areas.
What to Do with Post-Mortem Findings and Recommendations
One of the most essential steps to the post-mortem process is actually doing something with the findings. If nothing more than producing a post-mortem report happens then all involved will come to see post-mortems as a waste of time.
Any post-mortem meeting will come up with a list of "issues" or problems to fix. It is important to prioritize these problems so that you can focus on those that can have the most impact. Equally important is that some of the recommendations need to be implemented, even if they are the easier suggestions. Doing so will show the value of the post-mortem, and that the team members input is valued and actions are taken to improve.
Since a good post-mortem will bring up difficult and complex issues, not every recommendation will be implemented before the next project starts. Implementing some of the recommendations prior to the start of the next project, however, will improve processes, show people that improvement through the post-mortem process is important and having an impact, and leave them looking forward to the next post-mortem meetings to continue to improve.
Implementing changes and improving processes and the organization will get people much more excited about participating in projects, because they will feel like their feedback matters. This helps to increase productivity, ownership, and job satisfaction.
It is important to remember through all of this that anyone involved in Quality Assurance, such as the members of a software testing organization, has at least some responsibility for Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) and Total Quality Management (TQM). This means that even if participating and helping to implement the necessary changes are not a central part of an individual's job description, their responsibility to CPI and TQM empowers them to participate and help make the necessary changes.
The Importance of Saying Thank You
Be sure to say thank you! Getting the project done and out the door and running is always a monumental task - devoted staff is the reason development projects get completed - in spite of problems in development. It is critically important to morale and job satisfaction that you take the time to acknowledge the hard work of individuals, the contributions made by many, the insights offered, and of course the long hours put in. Doing so is actually critical to the success of future projects. Do not forget to thank the people involved in the project as well as those participating in the post-mortem.
One of the most overlooked parts of an effective post-mortem process is communications. This starts before the meeting happens with ample communication of the meeting's time and place, the meeting's agenda, as well as what is expected of the participants in the way of preparation. Next it is important to report on the meeting itself, what was discussed, what went well with the project, and what needs improvement. The minutes of a post-mortem meeting should be distributed within a couple of days of the meeting's completion.
The most often overlooked aspect of post-mortem communications is communicating what has been and is being done with the meeting's recommendations. It is important for those who participated to be able to "see" the fruits of their labors in the meeting. It is not safe to assume that people will simply know that changes are being made. Communicate the changes when they are made. Communicate the impact of the changes. In doing so you "close the loop" and people can see easily see the value of the post-mortem process and their contributions to that process.
Post-mortem meetings provide valuable closure to projects, letting participants emotionally separate from one project so they can move onto the next. Therefore, post-mortem meetings are beneficial whether or not members of the same team will work together on their next project.
In addition, post-mortem meetings conducted properly have other benefits:
The organization as a whole will benefit as well. Implemented recommendations from post-mortem meetings will help to improve development, testing, and quality assurance processes that will ultimately lead to better products.
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