Post-Mortems: They Can be a Real Lifesaver!

Have you ever thought: “If I could talk to my 20 year old self, I would tell him/ her to ____!”? You fill in the blank. It could be save more money. It could be don’t date guys who want to be ski instructors. Maybe you would tell yourself to travel more. Maybe you would remind yourself, again, not to date guys who want to be ski instructors. You live and learn through those experiences in your life and you are left with a highly developed, experience- driven perspective that drives your actions based on experiences- lessons learned, we like to call them.

We can do ourselves a service by keeping a log of these in our personal life. We can do our professional selves that same service by creating these in our professional lives as well. These are typically called “post- mortems.”

Don’t let the term “post-mortem” throw you for a loop – it can be one of the most powerful tools within your reach for your next project.  In my current project, I was able to consult previous West Monroe Partners lessons learned archives that helped set up this project for success- resulting in a very satisfied client experience.

I consulted some in-house experts as well as the Project Management Institute (PMI) for some best practices to help you in your next post- mortem efforts:

  • Don’t wait until it’s too late! According to PMI, most formal lessons learned sessions are held at the close out of a project. However, a best practice is to create a running log of ‘lessons learned’ throughout the project so information can be captured while it is still fresh.
  • Talk about the good and the bad. You can learn from the good, just as much as the bad. When discussing lessons learned, focus on creating repetitive steps for perpetuating what worked well. On the converse, discuss the negative experiences and create corrective actions plans so you don’t repeat those experiences in the future.
  • Think outside of yourself. Get other people involved! Post-mortems should include the perspectives of more than just one stakeholder group. By involving multiple vantage points, you will certainly gain access to insight that you would have never come up with on your own.
  • Document the heck out of those post-mortems, and archive! Document, document, document! By documenting the lessons learned, archiving them, and making them available for peer consumption, you will ensure that peers and teammates are set up for success on their next project.

There is the quick elevator speech for post-mortems and lessons learned. I have been so grateful to my colleagues for creating these documents and uploading them to our internal SharePoint. Our clients benefit from the years of experience we bring to projects, as well as the lessons learned that we are sharing for project success.

Now, if only I could share lessons learned with my twenty year old self, I would have never started skiing…

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