What is Postmortem Meeting?

According to the dictionary, postmortem means an examination of a body after death to determine the cause of death or the character and extent of changes produced by disease. It can also be defined as a critical examination, evaluation, or assessment of someone or something past. Based on this definition, we can define postmortem as an examination of the project after it is complete to determine the cause of problems and delays, and ways of avoiding them in the future.

  • Postmortem of the project is the last step performed to evaluate the effectiveness of the documentation process. This basically means that the project has to be looked at in detail for the following information to do away with any possible mistakes in the future:

                        – Evaluate what worked and what did not.
                        – Identify the problem areas and processes.
                        –  Identify areas and/or processes that worked well.
                        – Look for a working solution that can be applied to the future projects.

  • It is a case study that provides practical help in understanding why problems or mistakes occur and how they can be avoided. Documenting your problems and solutions is the best way to develop best practices.
  • It is the comparison of actual performance with your plan. You can’t afford to repeat the mistakes and encounter the same problems project after project.
  • It is a process of looking at the current process, identifying what went wrong, and situations that weren’t working right. You can then analyze the situation, check how such problems and situations can be prevented in the future projects and come up with appropriate alternate solutions.
  • It is a practical method that helps you capture experience and collect suggestions for improvement from completed projects. It is also about identifying the positive and strong aspects of the projects and applying it to the future projects.

There is a famous quote by George Santayana, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The same applies here as well. In short, the postmortem of a project actually allows you to learn from your mistakes. After any documentation project (big or small), you should step back and look at all the aspects of the documen the good, the bad, and the ugly. This will give you a proper direction to move ahead. So postmortem is not just about looking back, but is about looking back so that you can move ahead with ease and double confidence.

It is important to look back at what went right and what went wrong during a project and to share this information with others in the group/team. Continue following the procedures which worked well and try to nd solution and/or work arounds for problematic areas. Postmortem is the comparison of actual performance with your plan. It provides the opportunity for us to learn how to proceed with future documentation in a better way.

Why Have a Postmortem

When a project goes sour, it is natural to have bruised egos, and low levels of self confidence. In such a situation, the writer is blamed for deviating from the required quality or the schedule. There might be a person or persons at the point where something went wrong, but anyone in the position would have made the same decision, or failed in the analysis. It is the ill fate of the person(s) who happened to be there at that point of time. Most of these problems can be eliminated easily by improving the process.

In such a situation, you may desperately want to put the bad experience behind you and move on. Having such a meetings will help you and the project members discuss the experiences openly you can review what went wrong and what went right. You can find solutions to the problems and apply the lessons learned to the future projects.

If the projects should start with a kicko meeting, it is but natural that it should wrap up with a postmortem meeting. Having a postmortem meeting after every single project will help you gain more value out of the experiences. It improves the functioning for the next project. Hence postmortem has to be an integral part of the documentation process. It will help you collect valuable information about the problems you faced and the project in general.

Goals of a Postmortem Meeting

The project is over and is probably alive as a huge success and the writers involved are either excited about  the success and the positive outcome of their efforts or dazed at the negative results inspite of the hard work and effort they put in. The latter might be nursing a bruised ego. Is it necessary to talk of postmortem? Sure it is, because this is an extremely productive method of improving your documentation practices. The goals of the postmortem meeting is to:

  • Provide an environment that supports constructive criticism.
  •  Identify the loopholes in the project.
  • Encourage improvement in procedures and processes.
  • Encourage the project members (writers, developers, engineers, SMEs, managers, QA personnel, etc.) to share lessons learned the hard way.
  • Help to draw meaningful conclusions from the results of the previous projects.
  • Help you learn from your successes and failures.
  • Provide a process that allows you to identify some activities as best policies and adapt them in the future projects.
  • Support easy collection and archival of information.

Postmortem is intended to be an exercise which will help you realize more about how you work and help you make decisions about how to work more e ectively. You can identify some of the activities or processes that worked well and you can continue with, and problematic areas that you can avoid in the future.


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