Despite the fact that managers and executives are under an immense amount of pressure to make their businesses profitable, very few of them take the time to reflect and learn from past projects. A postmortem is a process in which you look at a project’s history and analyze its positive and negative aspects. The goal is to help you learn from your successes and mistakes. But don’t let the morbid name fool you—a postmortem is an extremely effective way to improve and establish best business practices.

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Why Perform a Postmortem?

Statistics show that approximately 70% of all projects are “under bid.” Importantly, many businesses are not pricing projects for what they actually cost. For example, businesses are pricing out what they know about a project, but fail to account for the unforeseen details that may be involved. In addition, they are not including time for potential risks—that is, all the elements that could impact the goals of the project. And even worse—businesses are repeating these mistakes over and over again. The best way to avoid repeating bad business practices is through a postmortem.

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Performing an Effective Postmortem

To perform an effective postmortem, it is essential to incorporate a powerful analytical tool, such as time and project tracking software, into your business process flow. As you complete one project and move on to the next, time and project tracking software will provide the information you need to analyze historical performance, plan more efficiently, improve implementation, and assess how your organization actually works. The combination of accurately recording time and powerful reporting capabilities, allows you to apply the knowledge you’ve gained from one project to the next, constantly improving your process with each project you do.

Be inclusive: It is wise to get others involved in the postmortem process. Arrange a review meeting and set aside time to reflect on the experience. Be sure to create an open environment and take note of all input and feedback, and ask targeted questions.

Record it: By accurately documenting your postmortem, you can allow everyone in the organization to access it and utilize it as a learning tool. Start with an overview of the project, including estimated budget, when the project began and when it ended. Detail the objectives and other big picture information.

Be specific: Discuss the details of the project, including phases, budget estimates, resource allocation, employee time, and so on.

Document what went right and what went wrong. Were the project outcomes better than expected? What problems were encountered? Did the project take longer or less time than expected?

Experimentation: How many risks did you take on this project? Did you try out new technology, business processes, or innovative ideas? 

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