post-mortems are an essential part of the project management process, ensuring teams learn from mistakes and fostering a culture of continuous improvement. However, if these analyses aren’t conducted in a structured and purposeful way, they can quickly get off track and result in meaningless action items.
post-mortem templates are crucial documents for project managers, providing a framework to conduct post-event meetings and ensure consistency across all projects and teams.
This article will share several great template examples and introduce ways to apply a more structured approach to post-mortem meetings. We’ll even throw in a free post-mortem template on monday.com and share how our Work OS can transform project planning and reflection initiatives.
What is a post-mortem template?
A post-mortem is an investigation into and reflection on project successes and challenges.
It’s usually conducted at the completion (post) of a project. However, there are times when it’s used directly after an incident … which may be mid-project.
post-mortems are generally run as meetings. This allows the entire project team to be present, ask questions, provide feedback, etc. However, the findings of that meeting must be recorded and documented for future use.
Enter: The post-mortem template.A post-mortem template is a customizable document, a framework, to help guide post-mortem analysis.
Project post-mortems typically ask questions such as:
“What were the key accomplishments?”
“What aspect of the project was most frustrating?”
post-mortem templates include these common questions and blank spaces under each question for project teams to record reflections.
Templates can vary significantly in size, layout, and depth. Some are simple, while others are more complex. Therefore, it’s critical to find one that fits a team’s specific needs.
Why use a post-mortem template?
Templates are invaluable for reflecting on the results of a project or incident. Here are four reasons why:
1. Proven, tested framework
Project managers (PMs) often like post-mortem templates for their rigid frameworks, built based on extensive post-project analysis experience.
Rather than a large boardroom meeting with a broad, open-ended question like, “So, how does everyone think that went?” … there is a process, a framework.
PMs who equip themselves with a tested post-mortem — perhaps one they’ve edited and customized over time — can run more effective and efficient discussions and uncover critical insights that would otherwise be missed.
2. Efficient reflection process
post-mortem templates make the post-project reflection process faster and more efficient.
Rather than meeting to discuss which questions are the most valuable, determining which order is best, and figuring out how to record results, templates can be used immediately.
3. Consistency across departments and projects
One of the benefits of using a template for any work is consistency and uniformity.
When the entire company uses the same post-mortem template, leaders and project owners can better understand and interpret the information. Plus, project team members get used to following the same process at the end of each project … leaving them more prepared for each subsequent post-mortem meeting.
4. Inform better project planning
One of the significant benefits of using a post-mortem template is continuously editing and updating the template as you conduct more analyses. Iteration!
If it’s determined a particular line of questioning isn’t valuable, strike it from the template! This ensures a more robust and relevant process going forward.
What are some examples of post-mortem templates?
There are several post-mortem templates, depending on specific preferences and needs. Here are a few examples.
Project post-mortem template
What is a project post-mortem? Project post-mortems are the most common style of post-mortem, used to reflect on the challenges and successes of a recently completed project. Leaders use these insights to inform changes to processes and approaches to project management moving forward.
This post-mortem template is relatively in-depth, spanning multiple pages. It allows project teams to expand on their thoughts in as much detail as needed and provides helpful checkboxes for more simplistic questions such as “Did the project reach its goals?”
Incident post-mortem template
post-mortems can also be used to reflect on workplace incidents.
Aside from the fields for details such as the date of the review meeting and the employees involved, this template asks four key questions:
- What happened?
- What was the impact of the incident?
- Why did it happen?
- What did are the lessons learned?
After completing that reflection process, action items are added at the bottom of the post-mortem template and assigned to individual owners.
Project post-mortem survey template
Some project managers find it helpful to preempt the post-mortem meeting by surveying the project team. This allows the PM to kick off the meeting with a few insights that have already been provided by the team, avoiding that awkward first few minutes before the conversation starts rolling.
This post-mortem survey template is quite efficient. It includes a few questions that team members can answer by checking a box on a scale of one to five and then provides the opportunity for slightly longer-form answers for questions such as “What issues would you like to discuss in the meeting?”
monday.com’s post-mortem template
One of the problems with most post-mortem templates is that they’re disconnected, static documents that don’t link with the tools you’re already using to manage projects. In addition, most of them are designed to be printed out and written on.
The monday.com Work OS includes an interactive, collaborative post-mortem template.
The monday.com Work OS is a collaborative online workspace that allows teams to build custom, user-friendly apps built around how they work. Teams can visualize work in multiple ways — Gantt, Kanban, tables, etc. — and communicate and collaborate “on the go” using purpose-built mobile apps.
BONUS: It’s super-easy to design helpful automation recipes to minimize manual, repetitive work.
The post-mortem template is built on monday.com workdocs, the collaborative online word editor within the monday.com Work OS.
Workdocs takes things a few steps further from the basic online word editors, providing bug-free real-time collaboration and allowing users to connect and display data from their various monday.com work management boards.
After finishing the project post-mortem using this template, it’s simple to pull information from the project management board. post-mortem analysis done? Action items built? Plug ‘em straight into the task management board and get to work!
post-mortem template tips & tricks
A few best practices for post-mortem templates:
1. Start by preparing a structure for the meeting
Here’s where the template comes in. Share the structure before the meeting so everyone is prepared for the upcoming discussion.
2. Schedule the post-mortem as soon after the project concludes as possible
The project must be fresh in the minds of everyone involved when conducting the post-mortem. Therefore, try to run the meeting immediately after the project before moving on to another (similar) project.
3. Use a survey to gather information before meeting
A brief survey questionnaire can help get the conversation started. Start the discussion by reviewing and summarizing survey results. This also provides the “less vocal” team members the opportunity to voice their views.
4. Set expectations at the beginning of the post-mortem discussion
At the beginning of the post-mortem meeting, set expectations by explaining the purpose of the meeting and what the end goals are. Remind everyone that while the goal is to uncover areas for improvement, the meeting should be organized and structured with only constructive feedback.
5. Use the post-mortem to fuel continuous improvement
The last part of any solid post-mortem meeting should involve analyzing the various insights discovered and turning them into action items. Ask, “What can we do about this?” “How can we make this better NEXT time?
Those action items will fuel continuous improvement.
FAQs about post-mortem templates
How do you structure a post-mortem?
post-mortems should be structured to include the following information:
- Project overview – goals and criteria
- Project successes – what went well and why?
- Project challenges – what didn’t go so well and why?
- Post project – tasks to be completed
- Project team – how did each part of the team perform?
- Learnings – what did you learn from the project?
- Action items – new actions to be completed based on project learnings
Which incidents should trigger a post-mortem?
post-mortems should be conducted after any severe incident — SEV1 or SEV2 — including any time an incident response is triggered, even if the incident severity was later lower. SEV1 is a production outage or system failure. SEV2 is an incident of a higher severity — a major incident with a significant impact.