Thanks to poor communication, an unclear vision, and last-minute client demands, your remote agency missed the project deadline and went over-budget.
Not good—but not the end of the world.
Except on the next project, thanks to poor communication, an unclear vision, and last-minute client demands, your team missed its deadline and blew the budget again.
Does this pattern sound familiar? If your distributed team is making the same mistakes over and over, it’s time to start re-assessing your work during the project. This is best done through a project post-mortem.How to evaluate the projects of your agency's team Click To Tweet
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Holding a project post-mortem
A post-mortem takes place after you’ve completed a project. During this process, you and your team analyze what went well, what went wrong, and where you can improve in the future.
Although it sounds simple, getting your employees on-board can be hard. When the project is deemed a success, they might (incorrectly) think a post-mortem will be pointless. When the project went awry, they’ll be reluctant to spend any time discussing their failures.You should hold an evaluation session even if your project was successful Click To Tweet
Good news: If you design a thoughtful, consistent post-mortem strategy, your team members will be more enthusiastic about participating.
When it comes to post-project evaluations, timing is key. You don’t want to schedule one so soon after the project is completed that everyone will still be stressed and drained, but you also don’t want to wait so long that people forget how it actually went.
I suggest having your project post-mortem 24 hours after you’ve sent off your last deliverable. Make sure everyone on your team knows about the post-mortem in advance—and if your deadline changes, adjust the post-mortem date accordingly.
Length is also important. Shoot for 60 to 90 minutes, depending on how big the project was. But try not to go any longer: after an hour and a half, most discussions are no longer productive.
Also, try to pick a time that’ll work with everyone’s disparate time zones.Keep your project post-mortem under 1.5 hours (and make sure it works with everyone's timezone) Click To Tweet
Sending a pre-meeting survey
Before your post-mortem, you’ll want to collect feedback from your two stakeholder groups: your team and the client’s team.
Use an online survey tool like SurveyMonkey or Google Forms to quickly and easily gather everyone’s thoughts. (Note: Design this survey in advance, send it out immediately, and give the recipients a 12-hour deadline. This ensures you’ll have time to review the results before the post-mortem.)
Unsurprisingly, you should design a different survey for each group.
Sample questions for members of the client’s team:
- Are you satisfied with the final product? If not, where does it fall short?
- What, if anything, frustrated you during the process?
- Did our communication methods meet your needs?
- Was there anything you would have liked us to do differently?
- Would you hire us again?
Sample questions for your employees:
- Are you proud of our finished product? Why or why not?
- What were the most and least satisfying parts of the process?
- How would you rank our internal and external communication?
- What would you do differently?
- Would you work with this client again?
If your team is new to post-mortems—or yours have typically devolved into uncomfortable finger-pointing sessions—you’ll definitely want to clarify the post-mortem objectives.
I recommend explaining your expectations in the same email you use to collect feedback.
Check out this template:
Thanks so much for your hard work on the [client name] project. As it shows on our project timeline, we’ll be conducting a project post-mortem on [platform, i.e. Skype, Google Hangouts, etc.] 24 hours after completion—this 90-minute meeting will give everyone a chance to reflect on our successes and setbacks, plus how we can use this info to evolve.
Please fill out the attached survey no later than [time]. Your feedback will help us structure the post-mortem. And while we definitely want your honest thoughts, don’t worry: This meeting is about helping us grow as a team, not pointing fingers or assigning blame! We’ll spend just as much time on the good stuff as the not-so-good.
See you tomorrow,
Making an agenda
Once you’ve taken a look at the survey results, you should be able to identify the major pain points. For example, maybe both your team members and the client commented on how disorganized the project was.
You should also look for discrepancies between your team’s experience and the client’s experience. Were your employees happy with the level of communication, but the client felt it was way too infrequent?
This post-mortem is also a great time to evaluate overall productivity.
With Hubstaff’s time tracker, it’s easy to see how efficiently each worker spent his or her time. I wouldn’t recommend calling out specific people, but you should note if general productivity was high, medium, or low. You can also compare activity levels to previous projects.
Comparing your initial estimates (both in terms of time and budget) to the results will also uncover some useful information.
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Finally, note anything that your team and the client both praised.
Each of these topics (pain points, discrepancies, and successes) should be a separate bullet point on your agenda.
Here’s a general agenda:
- Post-mortem goals (3 minutes)
- High-level overview of the project (5 minutes)
- Pain points (15 minutes)
- Discrepancies (15 minutes)
- Successes (15 minutes)
- Time for miscellaneous questions and comments (15 minutes)
- Strategic planning: what you’ll change and what you’ll repeat (10-15 minutes)
To make your meeting as productive as possible, you’ll need a neutral leader. This moderator (who ideally will be either the project manager or an uninvolved third party) is responsible for guiding the discussion, making sure that the group doesn’t spend too long on a single topic, and maintaining a respectful yet transparent atmosphere.
You should also ask someone to take notes. Without a record of the conversation and what your group commits to, your post-mortem will be far less effective. However, since the person writing notes won’t be able to participate, he or she should be (if possible) someone from outside the project.
Setting up the meeting
First, it’s crucial to have your post-mortem over Skype, Google Hangouts, or another video-chat tool—if you opt for a solely text-based communication platform, like Slack or Basecamp, you’ll lose all of the context that people bring with their vocal intonations and body language. And since post-mortems can have tricky moments, that context is completely necessary.
Second, if you’re going to be bringing in documents, reports, or other files, make sure that a single person has everything on his or her computer and can easily screen-share with the team. You don’t want to waste valuable time searching for a random spreadsheet or wireframe.
Strive to keep the mood fairly positive (if you don’t, your team will be understandably reluctant to head into the next post-mortem.) At the beginning of the meeting, reiterate that:
- Everyone gets a chance to speak; no one will interrupt
- Everyone’s opinions are equally valuable
- No one should be pointing fingers
Your moderator will also play a big role in keeping the conversation productive.
Let’s say one of your team members says, “Well, Lucy took way too long on the documentation, and that’s why we had to scramble to finish the mock-ups.”
This is a complaint, not a helpful comment. The moderator should steer the conversation back with a comment like, “In the future, how can we ensure that each person has the necessary support and resources to fulfill their individual tasks? And can we set up a better system so that if someone isn’t going to make a deadline, everyone has plenty of warning?”
Sticking to the agenda
While getting issues out into the open is one of the aims of a post-mortem, that doesn’t mean you should allow the meeting to be derailed by any one topic.
If you find yourself spending too long on an issue (to the point where you’re in danger of going over the allotted time or people are repeating their points), then the post-mortem leader should say:
“This topic clearly requires more discussion. To keep the post-mortem on-track, let’s table it and schedule an independent meeting sometime next week.”
Then, move onto the next agenda item.
Deciding on goals
The end of your post-mortem should be spent deciding—as a team—how you’ll adapt your processes.The end of your project post-mortem should be spent deciding how to adapt your processes. Click To Tweet
Trying to change a ton of things at once is overwhelming and unrealistic, so aim for four to six goals.
Sample goal: “Schedule more check-in meetings with the client at the beginning of the project to ensure we don’t spend too long on any ideas they won’t like.”
It’s a good idea to assign each goal to a team member. This employee will be responsible for implementing that goal, tracking the team’s progress, and recording the results.
Giving your workers clear ownership of each goal will definitely help them be transformed into reality.
Sending out the minutes
After the post-mortem, ask the note-taker to compile what you covered into a one-pager and distribute it to your team members.
This sheet will be a great reference on how to organize your next project. Plus, once you’ve got an archive, you can compare the one-pagers to see if there are any trends over time.
Have you experimented with holding a project post-mortem?
Holding a successful post-mortem is definitely a challenge. After all, no one likes lingering over their mistakes—especially not in front of their peers and bosses. However, if you take the necessary steps, your team’s post-mortem will be an incredibly constructive event that’ll allow you to grow as a team faster than ever before.
What’s your process for evaluating the performance of your agency team? Do you have a structured approach or prefer to ‘wing’ it? Let us know in the comments.