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Why You Need a “Post-Mortem” on Every Single Design Project & How to Run One

Why You Need a “Post-Mortem” on Every Single Design Project & How to Run One Blog Feature

Marc Amigone

Account Executive, Services, HubSpot Alumni, 8+ Years of Marketing & Business Development Experience

March 1st, 2019 min read

Design is a team sport.

While we often think of designers as magicians who wield fanciful tools to create beautiful visual representations of our ideas, successful design projects are often determined by how effectively teams are able to collaborate.

That’s why every design project deserves to have a post-mortem -- a retrospective conversation no sooner than 30 days post-launch to draw out as many insights from the project as possible to help all parties involved grow and improve.

While improving the end-product is important, it’s not about just improving the design -- it’s about the process.

Having all parties involved leave a design project feeling satisfied and happy with the results is no easy feat.

Taking into account all your different team members’ insights at the end of a project is a fantastic way to increase the likelihood of this and that of producing successful outcomes on future projects.

Before we dive into a step-by-step guide for your next design project, here’s are some general guidelines to follow when it comes to your design “post-mortem:”

Come with a Planned Agenda  

Know what you want to discuss and give everyone enough notice to do some thinking about what insight they can bring to the meeting. The most valuable insights won’t be spur-of-the-moment. Make sure everyone’s prepared with access to a pre-planned agenda.

Give Candid and Direct Feedback -- But Only When It’s Asked For

Nobody grows if they keep making the same mistakes.

Your post-mortem is the time and place to bring an open mind and capacity to be unemotional when it comes to hearing how you might have done a better job.

Do your best to not take it personally, and also be mindful of the ways in which you talk to your collaborators.

In terms of giving feedback, be hard on the problem and soft on the person. Be outcome-oriented to help your team members understand the effect their actions are having downstream and what they can do avoid those pitfalls in the future.

At the of the day, you’re all on the same team.

Document Your Learning

Retrospective conversations are always best documented so that any lessons uncovered can be saved and shared.

You’ll be surprised how much useful insight can come from conversations like these and the long-term benefit the team can experience.

How to Run a Successful Design Post-Mortem

Ok, now that we’ve gotten some general guidelines out of the way, here’s a step-by-step guide to running a successful design post-mortem:

1. Assemble the Team

Anyone who was involved with the project should have a seat at the table -- that includes not just the designer(s) but also the project manager and account executive/sales person to provide insight into what the client’s original expectations were at the outset of the project.

This way context for why or why not the project was ultimately successful in the eyes of the client will be available to all parties involved.

You want to make sure everyone involved has the opportunity to provide share what they’ve learned.

2. Start With Something Positive

While retrospective conversations often have a tendency to focus on what went wrong, that’s not always the best way to encourage people to open up.

Starting with some positive feedback is a great way to encourage everyone to participate and join in the effort to improve.

Have everyone go around and share one insight from the project that went well and add them to a list of the positive outcomes from the project.

3. Dive Into Where Things Could Be Improved

Now that everyone has been disarmed with some positive feedback, you can dive into the not-so-positive feedback. This is where the opportunity to improve comes around.

On a rotational basis, have everyone take a turn sharing one thing that could’ve gone better with the project.

Whether it was communication oriented, process-oriented, outcome-oriented, it doesn’t matter. Just get it all out on the table until everyone has shared all their thoughts.

4. Look for Themes

So you’ve got a long list of positive and negative observations from the project. Now’s the time to identify the themes, so you can see the greater areas in which you need to improve. This should be relatively easy.

5. Pinpoint the Pain, Dissect, and Learn!

Where do the trends point and what does that tell you and your team about your process?

If a lot of the negative observations revolve around communication and mismanaging client expectations, then you know that’s a broken element of your process.

If the data you’ve collected post-launch tells you certain metrics are trending in the right direction but not others, that can also help you understand potential issues you might be facing.

Now’s the time to wear your analytical hats and draw out the insights and at the end of this process, you should have a list of areas in which you and your team can improve.

Work with your team to set up a system to hold yourself accountable to implement new systems and processes to make sure the same undesired outcomes don’t happen next time.

If you carried out your post-mortem correctly, you should have actionable insights. So, take action!

It’s All About Learning

Challenging your processes, identifying shortcomings, and iterating to achieve optimal performance are keys to success in any business venture. Being honest with yourself and your team, whether they be designers, marketers, or sales, is the key to uncovering actionable insights, so don’t be afraid to lay it all out on the table. It’s only going to ultimately help everyone improve.

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