Better Meetings

How to run a post-mortem meeting [with sample agenda]

How to run a post-mortem meeting-featured image

After months of hard work, you can finally see the end of your project approaching! As you congratulate yourself and your team on a job well done, why not take a moment to take stock and analyze how the project went? 

A great way to do this is with a post-mortem meeting. Don’t worry, it’s nothing morbid – it’s just a meeting to get key takeaways that can help you with your next project. 

How do you run this meeting and what does the post-mortem process look like? Those are the questions this guide will answer for you.

Table of contents

  • What’s a post-mortem meeting?

  • Why is it important to hold a project post-mortem?

  • What’s the difference between a retrospective and a post-mortem meeting?

  • How to prepare for a project post-mortem in 4 steps

  • An agenda template for better post-mortem meetings

  • 5 tips on how to run a successful post-mortem meeting

What’s a post-mortem meeting?

A post-mortem meeting is a meeting you hold at the end of a project lifecycle to reflect on how it went and identify what you can improve and streamline in future projects. A post-mortem is also called a sprint retrospective meeting in the agile methodology. You might also hear people calling it a debrief, recap, wrap-up, or lessons-learned meeting.  

Whatever you call it, an effective post-mortem meeting helps you:

  • understand how the project went

  • streamline your workflows

  • gauge the quality of teamwork in your organization

How long should a post-mortem meeting be?

There’s no one-size-fits-all rule here. Still, it’s recommended that you devote 45 to 60 minutes to it. Long enough to give everyone a chance to speak but not so long that you’ve got a roomful of bored, unengaged attendees. 

Tip: Try to aim for the sweet spot where people get their voices heard and there can be in-depth discussions without tiring everyone out. Consider taking short breaks between different presentations. For more on making your meetings engaging, read our guide on interactive and effective virtual meetings

Why is it important to hold a project post-mortem?

Even though having one final meeting to analyze a project’s success is a key aspect in most project management frameworks like the Scrum methodology or the ADDIE model, many organizations skip it. 

That might be because organizing and running a post-mortem meeting takes time (and resources) but the benefits, if you run it properly, outweigh the costs. 

✅ Review key lessons

During the post-mortem meeting, you’ll be reviewing the project, reflecting on what went well and what didn’t. This is important because it allows you to apply the processes and workflows that worked well to your next projects. On the flip side, this same review can identify any unsuccessful aspects of the project and optimize your strategy going forward. 

By doing this, you’ll avoid repeating mistakes and mitigate future risks. When running similar projects, you’ll use the lessons revealed in post-mortem meetings to create a template, streamlining future project plans and letting team members know what deliverables and action items to expect. 

✅ Improve communication within your team

Post-mortem meetings allow project managers to take a step back and let the rest of the team share their insights and particular pain points, giving an overview of how everyone on the team felt about their parts of the project. 

Team communication is important for the success of any project so the post-mortem analysis provides a space for team members to share their unique perspectives and issues. 

For instance, a team member might have had issues with transparency and communication, so when they share this with the rest of the group, you can put communication-process improvements in place to address it and boost team collaboration. 

✅ Promote knowledge sharing

As people work on projects, they gain knowledge and insight. But if knowledge isn’t shared, it remains siloed within single teams and departments. A post-mortem meeting can fix this by giving people who worked on different parts of the project the chance to come together and share what they learned. 

✅ Boost team morale

Taking the time to acknowledge the successes of the project team is a great way to boost team morale. Instead of just jumping from one project to the next, make time for team bonding.

It’s as easy as shouting out to team members who went above and beyond to make the project a success. 

A few ways to do this are:

  • Include a “notes of appreciation” section in the post-mortem meeting agenda

  • Have team members share at least one “kudos” with another team member 

  • Note key wins and milestones achieved before the meeting starts and share them with everyone

What’s the difference between a retrospective and a post-mortem meeting?

The main difference between a sprint retrospective and a post-mortem meeting is that sprint retros happen after the end of each sprint during the project lifecycle while the post-mortem meeting happens when the entire project is done.  

Also, retrospectives involve the entire development team, while the management team often does the post-mortem. 

How to prepare for a project post-mortem in 4 steps

If you want to have a focused, worthwhile discussion at your post-mortem, follow these steps. 

Step #1: Create and share a meeting agenda

Having a meeting agenda ready is part of a good meeting culture

Even if your team is used to more informal meetings, an agenda is always a good idea because it communicates the purpose of the meeting and lets invitees know what to expect. 

Be sure to send your agenda out well in advance so that team members can gather their thoughts and come to the meeting prepared. 

A simple post-mortem meeting agenda should contain:

  • Statement of meeting purpose, which helps attendees maintain the focus of the meeting 

  • Recap of the project and review of outcomes: did the project accomplish what it set out to achieve for the stakeholders?

  • Shoutouts 

  • Discussion of improvements/opportunities and what you’d do differently next time

With Vowel, it’s very easy to create thoughtful agendas and share them before the meeting — pick one of many templates or create your own. 

Share meeting agendas in Vowel

Once your agenda is ready, you don’t need to create a separate document and worry about giving permission. Everyone who’s invited to your next meeting will have the agenda alongside their invitation (and in their calendar event).

Step #2: Measure project performance and prepare findings

Before going into a post-mortem meeting, it’s essential to determine project baselines for the triple constraints of:

  1. Cost

  2. Schedule

  3. Scope

And prepare your findings to be shared with all stakeholders. These three items often change during a project so compare them to your current baselines. 

Based on that, you can see if the project was successful or not in each of the three areas. 

This analysis can form the basis for the discussion at the post-mortem meeting. If a project was on time but ran over budget, you’ll want to discuss why it happened. 

Step #3: Assign a moderator

Even pros can have difficulty staying objective when they’re talking about their team and projects. To avoid the discussion getting too personal or accusatory, it’s a good idea to assign a neutral moderator.

After the project manager sends out a meeting agenda (and perhaps also a pre-meeting questionnaire that’ll give team members time to think about key questions before the meeting), they can assign the moderator to run the meeting, keep it on track, and settle any disputes that might arise. 

Essentially, the moderator’s there to ensure the team follows the agenda. 

Vowel’s built-in agenda timers can help out team members and moderators. You simply assign a duration to every agenda item and let the timers remind you when it’s time to move on to the next discussion item. 

Agenda timers in Vowel

Step #4: Assign a note-taker

Documenting your post-mortem meeting is very important! After all, the objective is to learn how to be better in the future and if nobody’s making a note of all the discussion points and insight, most ideas will be lost. 

So, assign a note-taker to take meeting notes. Preferably someone who hasn’t had a lot of involvement in the project so that the core project team can focus on the discussion instead of taking notes. 

Recording your meeting can also save you lots of time and resources and Vowel is here to elevate your meeting recordings. 

A screenshot of a recorded meeting summary in Vowel

It comes with automatic real-time transcription and collaborative meeting notes – all built-in with no add-ons or plug-ins needed. The notes are time-stamped too, so they’re easy to cross-reference with the recording.

An agenda template for better post-mortem meetings

Open the meeting, start with some icebreaker questions, and move on to the talking points… that’s the basic meeting agenda setup. 

We’ve created this post-mortem meeting agenda template to help you out. Copy and customize it to your needs. 

Post-mortem agenda template

Get our post-mortem meeting agenda for free 😉

5 tips on how to run a successful post-mortem meeting

Preparing for a meeting is one thing, and then there’s running it. 

Meetings that involve a large number of people and the discussion of potentially sensitive issues can easily turn sour and end up in a mess of accusations and acrimony. 

Here are five ways to avoid that and make sure the meeting goes smoothly.

5 tips on how to run a successful post-mortem meeting graphic

1. Set ground rules

The post-mortem meeting is a time to objectively look at a finished project and discuss how it went. It’s not the time for finger-pointing and petty squabbling and you should make sure to set these expectations at the beginning of the meeting. 

Additional ground rules to consider for your post-mortem meeting:

  • Limit the use of laptops and phones to make sure everyone’s focused 

  • Don’t get personal – focus on processes rather than people

  • Treat the meeting as a safe space, nothing people say can cost them their jobs

2. Celebrate the team’s wins

You shouldn’t just focus on the negatives and what didn’t go as expected. 

Instead, take some time to highlight wins – both as a team and as individuals.  

One benefit of this is that it increases team morale. Celebrating team wins will help you out in the meeting too. It’s easier to go into a discussion of what went wrong if you first praise the team for the things that went right. 

Also, be sure to take ownership of your own mistakes to encourage others to do the same.

3. Keep it clean

It’s not personal, it’s business. Keep that in mind during your next post-mortem meeting. As part of the ground rules, inform everyone that the meeting is not a forum to air personal grievances and engage in the blame game.

Instead, everyone should focus on processes and how they can be better in the future. 

The moderator should take extra care to nip any personal escalations in the bud and refocus the discussion on a more productive area. 

Everyone should try to stay positive, even if most of the discussion is about things that went wrong. Post-mortems are about learning from mistakes; they’re not a place to figure out who to blame.

4. Allow everyone to share their thoughts 

As the project lead or the post-mortem meeting moderator, you need to keep in mind that after you’re done with your presentation, you should open the floor to everyone else. Having frank and open discussions as a group about issues can produce better solutions than just one person. 

To make your meetings more inclusive, you can take advantage of  Vowel’s talk-time feature. That way, you won’t have a situation where one person is monopolizing the conversation. 

A screenshot highlighting the Vowel talk time tracking feature

5. Keep remote employees in mind

If you’re working with a distributed or fully remote team across time zones, you need to pay extra attention to scheduling. Schedule the meeting during an overlap in everyone’s working hours. 

If someone does have to miss a meeting, you can use Vowel to send clips of the most important parts. Or, send the whole recording alongside a searchable time-stamped transcript.

Creating meeting clips on Vowel

Upgrade your meeting culture with the right tool

Post-mortem meetings are an important part of the project management toolset. But when they’re not managed properly, they can be unpleasant and cause problems with team morale. 

Do your part to prepare, set ground rules, and choose the right meeting platform so your post-mortem meeting is a valuable, team-building conversation. 

Vowel has everything you need built in, from video conferencing to recordings to talk timers to agenda templates. Sign up now for free!