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:
- Identifying those things that went well with a project so that they are repeated in future projects where applicable.
- Identifying those things that did not go well so that project planning, processes, and communication may be improved allowing future projects to benefit favorably from the improvements made.
Post-mortem meetings are seemingly more important in these days of rapid process change brought about by new methods such as Agile and Rapid development. Post-mortem meetings also present a dilemma. They are clearly necessary so that an organization may identify what they are doing right, as well as what needs improvement. The challenge is to conduct them in such a fashion that they do not negatively impact team dynamics and morale. Post-mortem meetings need to be viewed not as a necessary evil, but as a positive growth experience for the organization and the individuals involved.
This, the first article of two, will outline how to conduct effective project post-mortem meetings for software testing that meet the goals outlined above, without negatively impacting the involved teams and the organization as a whole. In it will be discussed:
- Post Mortem Logistics
- Content of a Post-Mortem Meeting
The second of the articles in this article set will discuss:
- Testing Specific Content
- What to Do with Post-Mortem Findings and Recommendations
- The Importance of Saying Thank You
- Post-Mortem Communications
Post Mortem Logistics
When thinking of post-mortem meetings it is important to understand that there are really two types of post mortem meetings:
- Post-mortem meetings whose purpose is to examine project processes to determine what is working effectively and what can be improved "next time"
- Post-mortem meetings whose purpose is to review the delivered product to determine if the product meet goals and objectives
The first type of post-mortem meeting can be performed either at the end of a project, or at certain pre-determined project phases such as the end of specified phases or monthly. The second type of post mortem is best performed after some time has elapsed after the end of a project so that benefits and problems can become more apparent and measurable.
Useful logistical suggestions for post-mortem meetings borne out by experience include the following:
- Use a moderator for the post-mortem meeting who has the requisite industry experience but who is not a member of the project team. This type of moderator will be able to more effectively run the post-mortem meeting because they are not caught-up in the politics and squabbles that may have arisen during the project.
- Announce the meeting enough in advance so that you can have maximum stake-holder participation. Invitees should include everyone involved in the project at least at the project lead level and potentially lower down in the organization depending on the number of people. The goal is to have a small enough group to be effective but inclusive enough so everyone has a chance to be heard.
- Create a clear concise agenda that is distributed well in advance of the meeting. The agenda should include the topics such as "what went right", "issues identified and what to improve in future projects", and "project acknowledgements and thank yous". It is also important to set time limits for each section to maintain balance and not spend too much time on what went wrong.
- Clearly articulate the goal of the meeting - "whether what was promised was delivered, and, if not, why not." (Project Management (Teach Yourself Business & Professional), by Phil Baguley, Teach Yourself New Ed edition, January 1, 2003).
- Require participation and have participants come prepared to discuss a few items that went well, as well as items that did not. It can be useful to have participants identify "issues" prior to attending the meeting using a pre-set format such as:
- What the issue is
- What group raised the issue
- What area the issue is in
- How the issue was identified
- Recommendation for addressing the issue (which can be further discussed at the meeting)
- The meeting should be held in an environment that is away from where the project happened. Conduct the meeting in a different part of the building or better, offsite.
It is important to be in an environment that is free from distractions so that meeting participants can focus. The only person with a PC at the meeting should be the scribe. Blackberries and PDAs should also be banned.
- Identify a recorder or note taker for the post-mortem meetings minutes.
- Serve food especially if the meeting extends through lunch time. This serves two purposes, you run a risk of losing people to other things if they leave the meeting and people tend to be nicer when they are fed.
Content of a Post-Mortem Meeting
It is important to remember that one of the goals of a post-mortem meeting is to have a positive outcome. This is not a venue for laying blame or finger pointing. With this in mind it is important:
- To remember to be constructive.
- Do not pretend that problems were not there but do not make them the sole focus of the meeting.
- To focus on known facts and try to stay away from opinions and conjecture.
- To start by listing the things that went well before moving on to the problems. The focus of the meeting should be what works and what the team would like to do better in the next project.
- To critique in a positive fashion and to start with an honest self-assessment. Critiquing your own or your own group's performance can be very disarming and clearly demonstrates to all participating that you are there to improve everything, even those things that you "own".
Paying attention to the logistics of the post-mortem meeting, as well as clearly articulating goals and the content of the meeting are critically important to the success of the post-mortem process. In the second article of this series, which assumes the foundation of logistics and content laid out in this article, we will discuss testing specific content, what to do with post-mortem findings and recommendations, the importance of saying thank you, and post-mortem communications.
"Conducting Effective Post-Mortem Meetings (Part 2 of 2) - Click here to view part two of this article.
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