Why every engineering team needs a post-mortem process


Sep 21, 2023

Project management

Sep 21, 2023


One indispensable practice within the software development space is doing post-mortems. A post-mortem is the reflective process that follows a significant mishap or failure. It involves a collaborative effort where the development team systematically dissects the sequence of events that led to the issue, documenting their findings along the way. However, it's important to emphasize that the primary goal of a post-mortem is not to assign blame but rather to unearth and rectify process shortcomings that contributed to the incident. In other words, it's about identifying "process failures" rather than pointing fingers at "personal failures."

The fundamental purpose of a post-mortem is to act as a deterrent, ensuring that developers do not repeat the same blunders that caused a failure in future project iterations.

Despite its morbid etymology, the term "post-mortem" in the context of software development signifies "after failure." Conducting a software post-mortem after any major incident involving your software is essential.

💡 Tip: Although you can employ virtually any document creation tool for your post-mortems, we strongly endorse utilizing Notion. Leveraging Notion enables you to consolidate all your incident post-mortem documentation into a unified database, facilitating the tagging of relevant teammates, application of filters, and customization of views tailored to your specific requirements.

A post-mortem basic skeleton

A well-structured post-mortem report serves as a critical tool for analyzing incidents, learning from them, and improving processes. While the specific details may vary based on the incident's complexity and the organization's needs, most post-mortem logs typically follow a basic skeleton, ensuring consistency and clarity in documenting and addressing incidents. Below is an overview of the key sections commonly found in a post-mortem report:

Cause: Identifying the Root Cause

The cause is the foundational section of the post-mortem, dedicated to uncovering the incident's root cause. It delves into the factors that triggered the problem, aiming to pinpoint the underlying issues. Key points to cover include:

  • Root Cause Definition: Clearly articulate the primary factors contributing to the incident, which will provide a comprehensive understanding of the problem's origins.

Impact: Assessing Wider Implications

The impact section explores the broader consequences of the incident, considering its effects on other systems, applications, or processes. It encompasses:

  • Impacted Items/Apps: Detail any items or applications that were affected directly or indirectly by the incident; this will help stakeholders grasp the extent of the issue.

Corrective Actions: Preventing Future Incidents

This section outlines the corrective actions to be taken to mitigate the risk of similar incidents occurring again. These actions should be specific, actionable, and focused on preventing recurrence. Elements to address include:

  • Preventive Measures: List concrete steps, changes, or improvements to implement going forward to avoid a repeat of the incident.

Timeline: Documenting Actions Taken

The timeline section provides a chronological account of actions taken during the incident's resolution; this includes:

  • Incident Timeline: Present a detailed chronological sequence of events from the initial detection of the problem to its resolution. Include key actions, decisions, and their respective timestamps.

Lessons Learned: Opportunities for Improvement

Finally, the lessons learned section reflects on the incident as a learning opportunity. Identify areas where improvements can be made and where the incident response process can be enhanced. Address:

  • Improvement Opportunities: Analyze what could have been done differently or more effectively. Identify actionable insights and strategies for enhancing future incident management.

The benefits of a project post-mortem review

The benefits of a project post-mortem review are multifaceted, spanning a range of advantages that include enhancing efficiency and boosting team morale. Here are a few of them:

Enhance Efficiency: Just like a pit crew shaves off precious seconds during a pit stop, familiarity with processes and continuous analysis increases project efficiency.

Boost Morale: Post-mortems offer a broader perspective, lifting team spirits by showcasing the end result of hard work and leaving your team energized for future projects.

Strengthen Teamwork: Post-mortem meetings foster better team understanding, aligning capabilities and learning styles, resulting in improved teamwork.

Learn from Mistakes: Objectively identifying mistakes turns them into invaluable learning experiences, reducing the likelihood of repetition.

Achieve Closure: Incorporating post-mortems as a project-ending ritual provides a sense of accomplishment, ensuring no lingering concerns or sleepless nights.

Celebrate Achievements: Beyond analyzing errors, post-mortems also shine a spotlight on successes, making these meetings enjoyable as you accumulate more victories.

Now that you understand the importance of post-mortems in software development, it's time to take action and make your team's life easier. Incorporate this practice into your development process and save time with our ready-to-use Notion template.

Here's how it can benefit you:

  1. Efficiency: Our template is designed to streamline your post-mortem process, saving time and effort.

  2. Organization: Keep all your post-mortem documentation in one place, easily accessible, and neatly organized.

  3. Customization: Tailor the template to your specific needs, ensuring it aligns perfectly with your project requirements.

Use our Notion template and experience a smoother, more efficient, and more effective way of conducting post-mortems.

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