The following post is an excerpt from my new e-Book series, How to Become an e-Learning Freelancer. The three volumes in the series are designed to be easy-to-use, practical guides to getting your freelance e-Learning career off the ground. Learn more here!
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?
[This topic continues in my e-Book series, How to Become an e-Learning Freelancer.]