CXO

Build toward your next project with these 'postmortem' questions

Here's a set of postmortem questions we used to discuss the best and the worst aspects of CNET's Builder.com launch. Check them out and share pointers on how you hone your project hindsight to 20/20.


Consultants regularly find themselves immersed in massive projects for their client organizations. They wear almost every hat, from project management to code review to getting pizza for that deadline-beating, all-night QA session.

And then it’s on to the next contract.

But before parting ways with a client, consultants should survey other team members about what worked well. Done correctly, such "postmortem" discussions can help everyone come away with a sense of how to develop the best approaches to future projects. You define best practices that you can use on your next assignment, and you also leave your client with a final, tangible deliverable.

By now, regular TechRepublic readers probably have seen Builder.com, CNET Networks’ new community for enterprise developers. Like any ambitious IT initiative, putting Builder.com together took the time and expertise of dozens of people, both here in our Louisville, KY, offices and in California, where many key project assets—including the associate vice president for Builder.com—are located.

After three months of intense effort, we had our own postmortem survey and session that included technical managers, developers, ops personnel, the QA team, and the business owners who handled some operational issues, like publishing content to the site. In other words, most everybody who had anything to do with the project.

Our program manager for the project, Colin Maloney, distributed a questionnaire to project participants a few weeks before a large group meeting/conference call where participants discussed their insights.

Here’s a look at the questions that Builder.com team members discussed after the site was launched. Maloney said these questions are designed to elicit positive and negative feedback from all corners of the organization to help him hone TechRepublic’s internal projects process. The information gleaned from the questionnaire will also be reviewed to develop recommendations on how TechRepublic’s business units can interact with development.

Here’s a look at the questions we asked.
  1. Are you proud of BUILDER? If “yes,” what’s good about it? If “no,” what’s wrong with it? Be specific.
  2. List the three things that most frustrated you about this project.
  3. What could we do in the future to avoid this frustration?
  4. What was the most satisfying part of this project?
  5. Which of our internal methods helped this project along?
  6. Which of our internal methods hindered this project?
  7. If you could change anything about this project, what would it be?
  8. Do you feel that the stakeholders participated effectively? If not, how can we improve on their participation?
  9. Do you feel we had all the right players on this team? Is there anyone that you would have added in any position?
  10. Did you see any early warning signs that resulted in problems in the project? Please describe the signs you saw. What could we do in the future to better react to those signs?
  11. Was our testing effective? What could we do to improve it?
  12. Were there things that you did that you thought were not your responsibility? What were they?
  13. Of course, every project will have unique issues that you may want to tackle. But we think you can use these questions as the basis for exploring your next project through a postmortem.

In hindsight, Maloney said the questionnaire was largely successful because it allowed individuals to express their opinion anonymously in case they didn’t feel comfortable doing so in the postmortem meeting.

What would you add?
As a consultant, project manager, or team member wrapping up a project, what questions would you add to this list? Would you remove any? Send us your suggestions, or post your comments below.

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