A post-mortem is a special meeting to help analyze the successes and failures of a project. No, you do not need a medical background. You just need the skills to run a meeting well. In this article I will discuss church web projects in particular. I will start off with the benefits of a post-mortem, as well as how to prepare. Then move into how to conduct them. I will wrap up with the deliverables and how to use them for future success.
I first encountered project post-mortems as a project manager. I was on a prototyping team that produced a lot of great deliverables. One was a tool to help demonstrate and configure a modular home page. The problem was that we were our own customer. It was a new dynamic that caused the project to be late; a rarity for us. We already had requests for enhancements. So we needed to fix our problems fast. The first thing my boss suggested was a post-mortem. It was a goal look at our performance. Plus it helped us focusing on fixing problems rather than placing blame.
The best time to conduct a post-mortem is shortly after the project finishes. You want tempers to cool, but memories to be fresh. This helps keep your many ups and downs in perspective. There are several ways to prepare for a post-mortem. Yet, I prefer to gather information ahead of time. This helps jump-start the conversation the moment the meeting begins. This approach helps those shy members contribute anonymously. Before the meeting, ask for three to five things that went well in the project. Also ask for three to five things that did not go well. The meeting facilitator then consolidates the list, noting those that received multiple mentions. Use these topics to start conversation about making the next project go more smoothly.
Are you worried about tempers flaring? Do you think someone will hog the conversation and drown others out? See my article about HIPPOs to get some ideas for keeping the lines of communication open. My favorite technique was using a speech key, in the form of a tennis ball. But any of those methods is helpful. Discuss those topics you prepared in advance. Note those that received multiple mentions. You may consider spending extra time on those common threads. As you continue, group them into larger themes. Then focus on where you can make improvements. Take good notes so the web team leader can later merge ideas into action plans. Before you leave, the majority of your team should agree on the following items.
- The validity of each strength and weakness
- The comments made about each item
- Some possible resolutions for each topic
- The major themes they follow
You now have all the data and feedback required to begin planning for a better next project. Meet with your church leadership and elders for prayer and wisdom. Keep names out of it and focus on delivering better results. You are stewarding church resources and your volunteers' time. They will likely not have many technical skills. Yet then can help you with many issues that caused a project to go well or poorly. Of course technical issues are left for your team to sort out. Ask your leadership for the time necessary to fix those issues. A slight delay in resolving a problem now may mean less frustration in your next project.
This meeting is meant to help understand how the team feels about the project outcome. A mature conversation is the goal. You focus on preventing mistakes and repeating your successes. This is not a meeting to throw blame in someone's face. You should address any personal failures and mistakes in a private meeting. Stay focused on your goals and pray that personal feelings keep out of the fray. Work through the issues to come to a few concrete resolutions. Bring these concerns to your church leadership. Ask for counsel as well as the resources to fix the issues. Then get to work on the resolutions. One last reminder is that you start and end your meetings in prayer. These tough discussions need spiritual guidance.
Special thanks to TJ Boykin. He is the reason I even know about post-mortem meetings.
Photo courtesy of Adam Ciesielski