Project “Post Mortem” Review Questions

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A Web-Published Article by Michael Greer
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Overview

It’s important for project managers and team members to take stock at the end of a project and develop a list of lessons learned so that they don’t repeat their mistakes in the next project. Typically such reviews are called post-project reviews or “post mortems.”  I recommend a two step process for conducting these reviews:

  1. First, prepare and circulate a whole bunch of specific questions about the project and give team members time to think about them and prepare their responses individually.
  2. Next, hold a meeting and discuss the team’s responses to the questions. The result of this discussion is often a list of “Lessons Learned.”

The benefit of the first step, done individually by team members, is that it allows the quieter, more analytical people to develop their responses to the questions without being interrupted by the more outgoing, vocal types who might otherwise dominate in the face-to-face meeting. Also, it allows everyone the time to create more thoughtful responses.

So what would be on the list of questions? I’ve provided some of my favorites below.

General Questions

  1. Are you proud of our finished deliverables (project work products)? If yes, what’s so good about them? If no, what’s wrong with them?
  2. What was the single most frustrating part of our project?
  3. How would you do things differently next time to avoid this frustration?
  4. What was the most gratifying or professionally satisfying part of the project?
  5. Which of our methods or processes worked particularly well?
  6. Which of our methods or processes were difficult or frustrating to use?
  7. If you could wave a magic wand and change anything about the project, what would you change?
  8. Did our stakeholders, senior managers, customers, and sponsor(s) participate effectively? If not, how could we improve their participation?

Phase-Specific Questions (These will differ from project to project, depending on the life cycle/phases. The phases identified below are explained in detail in The Project Manager’s Partner: A Step-by-Step Guide to Project Management and The Manager’s Pocket Guide to Project Management.)

Phase I: Determine Need and Feasibility

  1. Did our needs/market analysis or feasibility study identify all the project deliverables that we eventually had to build? If not, what did we miss and how can we be sure our future analyses don’t miss such items?
  2. Did our needs/market analysis or feasibility study identify unnecessary deliverables? If so, how can we be sure our future analyses don’t make this mistake?
  3. How could we have improved our need-feasibility or analysis phase?

Phase II: Create Project Plan

  1. How accurate were our original estimates of the size and effort of our project? What did we over or under estimate? (Consider deliverables, work effort, materials required, etc.)
  2. How could we have improved our estimate of size and effort so that it was more accurate?
  3. Did we have the right people assigned to all project roles? (Consider subject matter expertise, technical contributions, management, review and approval, and other key roles) If no, how can we make sure that we get the right people next time.
  4. Describe any early warning signs of problems that occurred later in the project? How should we have reacted to these signs? How can we be sure to notice these early warning signs next time?
  5. Could we have completed this project without one or more of our vendors/contractors? If so, how?
  6. Were our constraints, limitations, and requirements made clear to all vendors/contractors from the beginning? If not, how could we have improved our RFP or statement of need?
  7. Were there any difficulties negotiating the vendor contract? How could these have been avoided?
  8. Were there any difficulties setting up vendor paperwork (purchase orders, contracts, etc.) or getting the vendor started? How could these have been avoided?
  9. List team members or stakeholders who were missing from the kickoff meeting or who were not involved early enough in our project. How can we avoid these oversights in the future?
  10. Were all team/stakeholder roles and responsibilities clearly delineated and communicated? If not, how could we have improved these?
  11. Were the deliverables specifications, milestones, and specific schedule elements/dates clearly communicated? If not, how could we improve this?

Phase III: Create Specifications for Deliverables

  1. Were you proud of our blueprints or other detailed design specifications? If not, how could we have improved these?
  2. Did all the important project players have creative input into the creation of the design specifications? If not, who were we missing and how can we assure their involvement next time?
  3. Did those who reviewed the design specifications provide timely and meaningful input? If not, how could we have improved their involvement and the quality of their contributions?
  4. How could we have improved our work process for creating deliverables specifications?

[Insert your own, deliverables-specific questions here.]

Phase IV: Create Deliverables

  1. Were you proud of our deliverables? If not, how could we have improved these?
  2. Did all the important project players have creative input into the creation of the deliverables? If not, who were we missing and how can we assure their involvement next time?
  3. Did those who reviewed the deliverables provide timely and meaningful input? If not, how could we have improved their involvement and the quality of their contributions?
  4. How could we have improved our work process for creating deliverables?

[Insert your own, deliverables-specific questions here.]

Phase V: Test and Implement Deliverables

  1. Were the members of our test audience truly representative of our target audience? If not, how could we assure better representation in the future?
  2. Did the test facilities, equipment, materials, and support people help to make the test an accurate representation of how the deliverables will be used in the “real world?” If not, how could we have improved on these items?
  3. Did we get timely, high-quality feedback about how we might improve our deliverables? If not, how could we get better feedabck in the future?
  4. Was our implementation strategy accurate and effective? How could we improve this strategy?
  5. Did our hand-off of deliverables to the user/customer/sponsor represent a smooth and easy transition? If not, how could we have improved this process?

[Insert your own, deliverables-specific questions here.]

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Do you like this article? It’s from my new eBook, The Project Management Minimalist: Just Enough PM to Rock Your Projects! and it’s also in the  latest edition of The Project Manager’s Partner: A Step-by-Step Guide to Project Management contains 57 tools, checklists, and guidelines to help project managers. For more information, click on the link above or phone HRD Press at (800) 822-2801.

Would you like a custom-tailored, on-site PM workshop for your organization?  Click here to check out the possibilities or send an e-mail to greers_pm@yahoo.com.

________________________________________________________________

(C) Copyright 2010 from Michael Greer’s Project Management Resources web site.  The URL is http://www.michaelgreer.com. For more information, send e-mail to greers_pm@yahoo.com. — Feel free to copy and distribute for informational (not-for-profit) purposes.

Posted: September 14th, 2009 under Project Management.

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Comments

Comment from halimat
March 6, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Thank you for this guide.

Comment from Michael Greer
March 7, 2010 at 10:59 am

You’re quite welcome! This is one of the most popular (most downloaded) pages at my website. And the cool thing about this tool is that it can be used to light a “grass roots” fire and gently start the PM upgrade revolution in any organization. As Socrates knew so well, it’s a simple but powerful thing to ask pointed questions. So, my challenge to my readers: If you think your organization’s PM processes and practices are screwed up, what would happen if you gently introduced the practice of Post Mortem/Lessons Learned at the end of each project? (Or maybe start with a single, high-profile project.) This usually gets the dialogue going and raises consciousness about the need to upgrade PM practices.

Comment from c0mpumast3r
May 4, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Thank you Michael, this is such a Very important guide for us! I was really kind of frustrated on our previous project and since we will be conducting a post project review tomorrow, this will be my sole guide for tomorrow’s discussion!

Comment from Michael Greer
May 5, 2010 at 10:01 am

I’m glad to hear this will help you! These post mortem discussions are often the very first step many organizations take toward taking charge of their PM processes. It’s often a starting point for the grass roots PM revolution! Good luck! -Mike G.

Comment from Laura Bamberg
June 8, 2010 at 11:38 am

Michael, one really good point you made was circulating the question material early enough for the “quiet, analytical people” because they tend to have original, unique thoughts but because they don’t always have time to formulate them, they miss the opportunity. All in all, really great post that I’ll share!

Comment from Michael Greer
June 8, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Thanks, Laura! Feel free to distribute the document to anyone. And please visit again and share any related links you might have as well. Best regards.
– Mike

Comment from Jeff Clark
August 26, 2010 at 9:56 am

One of the better articles I’ve seen on a post-mortem. I have not been a fan of “lessons learned” occurring at the end of a project for the simple reason that you have to learn them, and adjust way before the finish line.

This throws a different light for me. Many of the items here, ask to answer questions with the benefit of the hindsight of completion of the subject project, which I think is a good thing, and also ask about the effectiveness of things that may not have gone wrong.

I think all this is useful, especially if combined with asking these questions the events or phases happen.

Comment from samke
December 20, 2010 at 1:50 pm

can you please provide me with the answers of the above general questions?

Comment from Michael Greer
December 26, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Hmmm…. I think you misunderstand this article. You should use these questions yourself to guide your own “Post-Mortem” review of a project that you recently completed. Therefore, only you and your project team can answer these questions. And you will need to ask them again for each project you complete. In this way you’ll develop your own “Lessons Learned” and be able to improve your project management practices.

Comment from Anthony Halstead
March 22, 2011 at 5:01 pm

It’s been said already- but thanks for this article. We’re about to begin work on a project that’s been roughly 2 yrs in the making. I want to feel a sense of completion when the dust settles &, while I’ve had trouble getting results from similar post mortems in the past, some of these questions are new & I look forward to using them to get feedback, continue the buy-in loop & then help everyone move on to the next thing when we’re finished.

Comment from Michael Greer
March 22, 2011 at 7:31 pm

Thanks for your visit & your note of appreciation, Judah. Good luck with your project!

Comment from Microsoft Project Viewer
May 15, 2011 at 8:35 pm

I really enjoyed reading your article. It seems like so often it happens that you get through a project and you are missing information the client requested in a deliverable or you just went over their heads with too much information.

Comment from lokesh
June 20, 2011 at 2:15 am

some one could you please help me to understand the good practive book to improve the understanding lavel on deliverables in large project and meeting the customer expectation – thanks (Lokesh K)

Comment from Michael Greer
June 20, 2011 at 9:50 am

I think what you’re asking about is how to make sure the project team and the customer have a clear, shared vision of the project deliverables. The key here is to work with the customer (brainstorming, etc.) when developing the WBS (work breakdown structure) and project scope. In this way, the customer is part of the process from the start. And it’s not MY project but, instead, OUR project — we are sharing the picture of what the finished product will be, how it will be created, and what is an acceptable quality level.

Comment from Sherin
June 24, 2011 at 11:59 pm

Hi Michael,
I am working as a project manager, and i was in a trouble for some reasons for a better performance !! i m following your ideas now after reading this article( in my style) :) Really became a regular follower and will keep posting !! it will be helping and finding the solutions for alot of guys :)

Comment from Michael Greer
June 30, 2011 at 10:09 am

Thanks, Sherin! Glad you found this helpful. (It’s actually the most popular article on this website!)

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Comment from Ghizlane Elbok
November 16, 2011 at 4:45 am

Hello Michael Greer
First of all, thank you so much for this knowledge sharing. I am actually at the stage of closing a project that I recently completed, I am documenting for the 1st time the project lessons learned, I will adopt you guide in the interviews I will conduct with my project stakeholders, as it looks very practical and simlpe. I will let you know about the outcome.
Regards

Comment from Michael Greer
November 16, 2011 at 10:06 am

Hello Ghizlane –
I’m glad you’ll be using the Project “Post Mortem” Review questions. I look forward to hearing how they work for you.
Best regards!
Mike

Comment from Shafi
January 10, 2012 at 9:50 am

Dear Michael,
The article is very very informative and a fantastic guide for project managers like me. I will definately bring this practise in my organization and will share the outcome.
Thanks & Regards
Shafi Mohamed
Chennai-India

Comment from Michael Greer
January 11, 2012 at 10:18 am

Thanks, Shafi, for your kind feedback. I hope you have great results when you apply it in your organization. Best wishes! – Mike

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