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How to Conduct Post-Mortem Project Evaluations

You're it! - Tagged

This is an extensive rewrite of a previous ChangeOrder post for my next book Design Business from A to Z—so much so I'm reposting it!

The website went live last week, and the entire staff is throwing a party to celebrate! The developers are huddled in the corner with some microbrews, plotting how they'll splice into the agency intranet to add a virtual dartboard. Designers are mingling with the copywriters and account people, clinking wineglasses and bonding over the ads they saw during The Office.

Yes, the job went way over budget—and the last thing your team wants to think about is who needs to take responsibility for it. Not the best time to mention that tomorrow, you're scheduling a post-mortem meeting (a.k.a. lessons learned, post future, etc.) to talk about how the project really went.

Was the estimate wrong to begin with? Did the designer spend too long tweaking those page comps? How come the developer pulled so many late nights wrangling with the content management system, when he said he knew .NET?

Discovering how a creative agency fails to make profit on a project usually boils down to a series of in-project decisions that, while intended to contribute to project success, lead to cost overruns and errors. Isolating and clarifying those agency decisions, role by role, can be punishing if conducted incorrectly. But if carried out in the right manner and in a safe group setting, a post-mortem meeting can galvanize a team and bring them closer together. By being aware of everyone's perspectives, your team members can see repeated problems in patterns of behavior and discover ways to change them. Plus, the ongoing learning that comes from open communication and active collaboration is what makes businesses more sustainable—especially on large, multi-phase projects that continue over months, if not years.

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