Post project reviews, sometimes called postmortems, are opportunities to improve performance and subsequent R&D projects. Unfortunately most companies have not established a structured approach to learning from projects after their completion. Those companies that neglect post project reviews as a tool for systematic inter-project learning, throwing away invaluable potential insights for competence building.
How a post project review is conducted depends on a number of factors often beyond the sphere of influence of the reviewers. These are things such as the size of the project and the team, the significance the project for the success and image of the company, the project management style and the team leadership, etc. The following is a list of what many people consider successful review practices. Max von Zedtwitz, in his paper on Post Project Reviews in R&D, provides a post-project process model that helps R&D learn from its mistakes. His guidance on how to conduct post project reviews is shown described below.
- Run the post project review like a mini project: set a goal, allow for creativity and person input at the beginning, then apply discipline to the funnel towards a tangible output at the end.
- Have a trained independent facilitator run the meeting: this allows the key project members to focus on the review results while the facilitator adds neutrality, process experience and review techniques. Outside facilitators can also uncritically identify the 4 principal review problems and address them more effectively.
- Ensure that the team is prepared for the review meeting. This pre-review work includes questions about the project itself and can be complemented by requests for the most unusual or surprising artifacts or observations from the project.
- Select the right environment and the right time for the review meeting. Off-site meetings reduce interruptions frp, day-to-day work and offer more opportunities for informal communication. If the review is held on-site, limit the duration to half a day and break to review into 2 meetings if necessary.
- Invite key stakeholders of current and selected future projects. Include managers and engineers, as well as key customers, marketing and sales people and, last but not least, the project administrator or department secretary.
- Produce a summary document. This is written report should not stop at enumerating general project problems but should focus on concrete solutions, warnings and recommendations for subsequent teams. Assign responsibilities for taking action on these recommendations.