How to Write a Postmortem Report

by Jackie Lohrey; Updated September 26, 2017
Four business people around a table and during a business meeting, hands only

Once a project is complete, the only thing left is to analyze what went right, what went wrong and what the team can do to make future projects more successful. This is usually done in a postmortem report. An invaluable prerequisite to a final, post-project meeting is a postmortem report that gives specific examples and lots of detail without being too negative or self-congratulatory.

Structure and Style

A formal report structure with well-defined headings and subheadings will help you present both factual and analytical information in a clear and concise way. The Purdue University Online Writing Lab suggests that you write the entire report using a single, standard font such as Arial or Times New Roman. Use lists whenever you can and use white space between and within sections to make the report easier to read. Use grammatical tense correctly: Use past tense to explain procedures and present tense to generalize and state what the project results show.

Introduction and Goals

Use the introductory section to describe postmortem reporting goals. Most reports aim to accomplish four main goals: to review and discuss whether the project was successful, identify high points and accomplishments, point out important issues and discuss problem-solving tactics and outline core takeaways. Formatting these goals as a bulleted list is also a good way to define the report structure.

Parameters and Objectives

Present fact-based project information and project goals in the next section. Organize fact-based information -- such as the title, the project manager’s name, the start date and the target and actual completion dates -- in a table format. Summarize the project in a brief narrative. Include information such as the type, purpose and goals and objectives of the project, as well as the budget, benchmark evaluation measurements and any constraints or limitations the project faced.

Performance Analysis and Assessment

Performance information is the “meat” of the report. Use narratives and bulleted lists to describe central accomplishments and issues. In the project accomplishments subsection, describe what went right and what worked well, and discuss practices -- such as a weekly meeting schedule or the option to communicate via instant messaging -- that the team found especially useful for completing the project on time. In the key issues subsection, describe what went wrong, which policies and procedures caused problems and what challenges the team faced. Talk about how these problems affected aspects of the project, such as the budget and schedule, and describe what the team did to overcome or manage them.

Assessment and Takeaways

Finish the report with an overall project assessment and takeaway analysis. A five-to 10-point rating system that evaluates critical aspects of the project -- including performance, management adherence to scope and communication -- can create a useful visual display. Finally, describe lessons learned, specify any best practices developed and implemented during the project and provide suggestions for ongoing improvements.

About the Author

Based in Green Bay, Wisc., Jackie Lohrey has been writing professionally since 2009. In addition to writing web content and training manuals for small business clients and nonprofit organizations, including ERA Realtors and the Bay Area Humane Society, Lohrey also works as a finance data analyst for a global business outsourcing company.

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