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One of the things I wish I did more often and better is follow through with the data collected during a Postmortem. I'm looking for input on "How do you ensure the postmortem data is followed up and dealt with -after- the project is done and you have moved on to another project?"

Specifically, I'm looking for thoughts on "Is it the PM's job to ensure the postmortem is acted upon, or does that responsibility transition to owners of the individual items or to the functional management team?"

Thanks!

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I typically find large-batch post mortem data very difficult to act on because of its highly hypothetical nature. All too often, it's "things we wish we would have tried" rather than "we tried this and had this result."

Instead, I encourage teams to capture a "process change log" throughout the effort. Each time they hold a retrospective or kaizen event, I hope teams will capture notes about the PDCA cycle they go through as a result. As mentioned elsewhere, retrospectives aren't effective unless action is an outcome, and the ongoing log of "we had this problem, we tried this, with this result" is incredibly valuable for future efforts, and much more easily mined than a single large event at the end.

I find most teams that capture information weekly or bi-weekly tend towards keeping them in a wiki, although I've also seen SharePoint and a living Google document as effective forms as well. Open access for viewing and editing seems to be the common trait that creates successful environments.

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The answer to your specific question will depend on the company and the culture. What I can say is often the project Post Mortem - or PIR, is often presented as value for PMs. If that's really the case, then the PM needs to take responsibility for making sure the results are available from the project he/she just finished and looking at lessons from previous project when initiating a new project. I would argue that the lessons learned are valuable to anyone who is interested in the results, or improving performance.

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I would take a step further and ask: why are you doing retrospectives in the first place?

The answer most likely is: because we want to learn (from our past experience)

And now we're coming to the point: who should feel accountable for learning?

The answer: everyone.

Lessons learned, postmortems and retrospectives produce specific feedback, because usually it is very specific (project-related) and can't be easily applied in general. But then it is also feedback which is potentially applicable not only on PM level but also on organization, team and individual levels.

So the basic answer for the question who should feel responsible for making use of postmortems is: everyone in these areas where it does make sense. PM should use it in project management activities, functional managers on team levels and individual contributors on their level as well. Stakeholders, especially those high in pecking order, should take care of conclusions regarding organization as a whole.

It is a cultural thing -- usually you're either a part of learning organization and such behaviors are rather common or your company does postmortems only because it is a part of their project management methodology and hardly make any use out of them.

It is even more important in organizations where project teams are changing over time, and this is my impression on your company basing on the question. If PM is now in this project with these people and tomorrow works on another project with completely different people they just can't be the only role responsible for applying lessons learned. It just won't work that way.

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To be useful the postmortem data needs to be put into specific categories and added to the appropriate organizational assets or knowledge base. For example, updates to estimates should be in one place whereas process improvements would be in another category. That makes the information easy to find and gives it context.

In terms of responsibility, there will either be a corporate culture that grows/ exists that makes use of the organization's knowledge base or their will be individuals who take advantage of those organizational assets. But you can't "make" someone utilize them if they don't want to.

If the postmortem contains risks or issues that are part of the deliverables, it is the pm's responsibility to bring those up with whoever is taking over the deliverables in the maintenance and operations phase of the deliverable's lifecycle. Whether the new manager chooses to act on them or not is their call.

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