Reaching a project finish line is a great feeling—you’re done! You finally made it through all that work! It’s definitely worth celebrating the end of any project and its accomplishments. With that in mind, it’s also important that you go through a few important post-project activities to help you do better in the future—even if you think everything went great, there’s always something to be learned at the end of every project. In addition, it’s a good idea to get in the habit of doing some basic maintenance at the end of each project, to make sure you’ll have everything you need for future events like a follow-up project or even tax time.
With that in mind, this week I’d like to talk about the three big actions I take at the end of every freelance e-Learning project, and how those steps make me a more effective freelance professional going forward.
1. Conduct a Post-Mortem Meeting with Clients and Team Members
A project post-mortem meeting, sometimes called a retrospective, is a meeting that takes place after a project is over where everyone has a chance to discuss what went well, what didn’t go well, and what can be done differently going forward. As a freelancer, you don’t have a boss, or a manager, or a mentor—which means that post-mortem meetings are a rare opportunity for you to get feedback about your professional performance. Don’t miss out on the chance to self-improve!
Everyone who was involved with a project should be involved in a post-mortem. (If you use subcontractors to help with the work, you may not need to involve them, or you may choose to meet with them separately, depending on that relationship. I don’t typically include subcontractors in post-mortem meetings.) Regardless of the project size, post-mortems are there to give everyone involved a voice; think of it as a post-game huddle in a locker room after a championship game. Even if the project went off incredibly well, there will always be things to learn and opportunities to improve.
There are multiple ways to run a post-mortem meeting, and which one you choose doesn’t matter, so long as everyone leaves the meeting with a strong sense of what went well, what could go better next time, and what actions or practices can be used for improvement going forward. For example, one way I’ve run post-mortem meetings is to give everyone a stack of sticky notes, and then marked off sections of a white board, labeling them “what went well,” “what could have gone better,” and “commitments to action.” Then, I give everyone five to ten minutes for each area, to write down their thoughts on the sticky notes for each category. Once that’s complete, we review all of the sticky notes under each section. I find this approach useful, because it allows me to group similar ideas from different people, and it affords everyone an equal voice in the room. If I see multiple sticky notes that each list “communication” in the “what could have gone better” column, I know right away that it’s an area that I can improve upon. Even if I think I did a great job of communicating my ideas, if it was listed as a project problem, I know I can contribute to improving that, because communication is a two-way street. Similarly, if multiple notes list “timeliness” as something that went well, I can pat myself on the back for staying ahead of deadlines, and note that it’s an approach I’ll want to continue in the future.
It’s also OK to run post-mortem meetings at project milestones as well as after the project is over. Sometimes, a mid-project post-mortem meeting will allow me to address a problem before it gets out of hand, or it can provide me with more momentum if I get feedback that things are going especially well.
Post-mortem meetings are sometimes easy to deprioritize after a project is over because people are naturally inclined to move on to the next one. To help make sure that I don’t skip any post-mortem opportunities, I often include them as a requirement in my project proposals that I deliver to clients. That way, the client has agreed to make the meeting a requisite step before the project can officially be considered closed. To help my clients prepare, I sometimes even send out a short questionnaire; this helps prepare them for what we’ll be talking about at the meeting and increases the quality of the feedback they provide.
If I’m closing a project remotely, and don’t have the opportunity to be in the same room as my clients, I substitute the following meeting agenda:
- Review the e-Learning project’s overall goals
- Examine the agreed upon objectives and business drivers
- Discuss the results
- Discussion questions:
- Did it achieve the results expected?
- Did I hit all targets I set out to meet?
- What steps can we take next time to ensure we leverage strengths and address shortcomings?
2. Ask Questions That Get to the Root of the Problems
Most post-mortem meetings don’t last more than an hour, and that’s not always a lot of time to cover work that lasted anywhere from weeks to months. It’s important to use your time wisely!
To help make the most of the post-mortem meeting, I often prepare a list of questions to cover, so I can make sure that the discussions stay on track and so I’m left with actionable feedback. Preparing questions is a great way to make sure you’re targeting specific topics, and getting to the heart of the client’s feedback, instead of carrying on a lengthy conversation that only covers general, surface-level topics. As I mentioned, sometimes I provide the client with a few questions ahead of time, but I also keep some to myself, to make sure I ask them during the meeting. If you bring questions to a post-mortem meeting, don’t expect to get them all answered—you never know what feedback you’re going to get, and you need to follow the conversation where it goes—and because of this, I often prioritize my own questions, to make sure that if I only get a few answers, I’m getting the specific answers I’m looking for.
Here are a few questions that I bring to post-mortem meetings:
- Were the e-Learning project’s deadlines met?
- Were all deliverables provided that were documented in the proposal?
- Were all milestones met?
- Did we meet the budget we established for this e-Learning project?
- Was the plan we put in place for the e-Learning project followed?
- Was it a good plan?
- Did everyone feel they had access to the resources and information they needed?
- Was there anything in the plan that could have been defined or explained more clearly?
- What did you enjoy most/least about working on this project?
- Would you want to work on a similar project again?
On of my goals with these questions is to follow up these questions with “why,” or “why not.” For example, if the milestones weren’t met, then why? If all deliverables were not provided, then why? Sometimes there are valid reasons why, and other times, “why” questions can expose a learning opportunity.
3. Create a Digital Project History Folder
One of the easiest things to put off after a project is all of the digital housekeeping that should be done. Don’t delay! The longer it’s been since a project has finished, the more likely you are to forget critical information or lose assets that you may need in the future. You never know when you’re going to want to re-use a template, or when a client is going to ask for revisions down the road.
In a recent blog post (separate from the Succeeding as an e-Learning Freelancer series), I discussed my own processes for backing up client data, and that process plays a big role in how I store business assets after a project is done.
In short, I create a folder labeled “CLIENTS,” and within that, I create separate subfolders for each of my freelance clients. Within each client’s subfolder, I create separate folders for each individual project. This may seem basic, but it’s a simple structure that takes discipline to adhere to—it’s hard work at times because it’s so much easier to just dump everything in a single folder, or worse yet, on my desktop! I urge you to stay organized with your assets, because you can end up wasting a lot of time looking for things if you don’t have a logical system in place. There’s nothing worse than a client asking for a copy of a particular file, and then not being able to find it or having to spend hours trying to locate it when you have other work to do!
For each project folder, here are the documents that I typically store:
- Project Proposal with Signatures
- Any training needs analysis that was completed
- Prototypes built
- Alpha, Beta, and Final versions of the course (1 master copy of each)
- Feedback sheets from the client for each version
- My project estimation sheet
- My project scheduling sheet
- My project comparison sheet (which compares my estimation costs to actual costs for both budget and schedule)
- Meeting notes from any calls or emails
- Contact information for all stakeholders who participated in the project
- Post-mortem meeting notes
Lastly, I recommend adopting a standardized file-naming convention, to help you determine what’s in your files without having to open them. Even starting each file with its content type—for example, “ProjectProposal.ProjectName.Date.BusinessName.pdf”—can make a big difference when sorting through lots of files in a directory.
Like any process, the more you practice doing standard post-project activities, the easier it gets. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s tempting to completely drop a project once it’s been completed and move on to the next one—but I’ve learned the hard way that I end up creating more work for myself, or worse yet, missing out on vital feedback, when I skip these steps.
One larger takeaway from this article is that processes and workflows breed efficiency. Whether it’s having a standard practice of documenting what you’ve learned from a project via a post-mortem meeting, creating a list of questions to use as success metrics across all your projects, or establishing storage, backup, and naming conventions with all of your digital assets: Using the same practices each time diligently will help you work smarter and optimize your skills for making more money.
What activities do you do at the end of your freelance e-Learning projects? How do you make sure you’re learning from your mistakes and leveraging your successes? Everyone does this a little differently, and I’m excited to hear about what processes you go through after each one. As always, I invite you to join our private Facebook group, or share your thoughts on Twitter using the hashtag #eLearningBiz!
Editor’s note: This post is part of my ongoing 2017 series, “Succeeding as an e-Learning Freelancer,” a comprehensive look at the ins-and-outs of working independently in the Learning and Development industry. All of the previous posts in the series can be found here.