Lesson Learned

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As a manager (and parent), I am a believer that the key to learning is making mistakes. That is, if you make the effort to evaluate your mistakes and then do things differently next time.

Technology companies use post-project reviews, or “post mortems” as a method to conduct this type of analysis. However, any business can benefit – if you set out to accomplish an objective within a specific period of time, you’ve got a project ripe for review. Think about barrel tasting events, winemaker dinners, in-market visits, auctions, wine club runs, etc. An effective post-mortem will help you identify:

  • what went well
  • what didn’t go so well
  • areas where you can improve
  • how to achieve that improvement

There are three primary stages to an effective post mortem:

  1. Preparation
  2. The Meeting
  3. Follow-Up


First, determine who will participate. At a minimum, require attendance of all the people who  performed the day-to-day activities. It can also be informative to invite everyone who was at all a part of the project, from budget planners to the executives who set company direction. Once you’ve decided on your list of participants, choose a meeting facilitator. If you have the luxury of assigning someone who was not directly involved in the project, that can help in that they are more likely to be impartial. Otherwise, just make sure to put on your impartial observer hat. You will also need a designated note-taker.

Perhaps most importantly, set your intentions, goals, and agenda for the meeting in advance and distribute them to the team. This allows the participants to prepare on their own which makes the meeting go more efficiently and helps everyone stay on track. Consider also posing questions ahead of time to spark ideas and reflection.

The Meeting

Set any rules you might have at the outset. For instance, “be constructive and respectful”. Reiterate your intentions and objectives, then start working your way through your agenda (with time constraints noted). Sample topics include:

  • Process & Planning
  • Communication
  • Roles
  • Acknowledgements

Some Tips:

  1. Choose a meeting style and surroundings that match your company culture. It can refreshing to be removed from the usual work environment as well.
  2. Starting out by reviewing the original project timeline can help ground the meeting and set the scope as well as identifying areas that required time adjustments.
  3. Critical to evaluating the success of any project is an analysis of the stated goals compared to the project results.
  4. As the team talks through communication issues, it is likely that future role definition takes shape.
  5. Be sure to acknowledge all the things that went well, note areas that surpassed expectations, and emphasize any exceptional performances.


Write up the meeting summary, highlight any process improvement suggestions, and capture the noted action items. For instance, during the meeting you may have created a list of materials that need to be created or improved, or discovered an adjustment to team roles, or recommended that each project begin with a kick-off meeting with all the key players along with a project plan to indentify all the necessary tasks with assignments noted. Finally, distribute your summary to the project stakeholders.The next time you embark upon a similar project, you will have a blueprint and list of improvements to take advantage of during your planning. Then you will have a whole new set of events to learn from and refine.

I’d love to hear if you have tried this type of exercise and if you have any tips to offer. There is always more to learn!