Every year, most of us try to come up with some New Year's resolutions - things we resolve to do in the coming year.  And every year many of us forget the resolutions by the end of January in the press of day-to-day needs and crises.

 This year, why not try something different?  Do a post-mortem on 2015 - from a business perspective, from a personal perspective, or for everything together.  (OK, the new politically correct term is a 'restrospective' - but I've always liked the imagery of a post-mortem:  the thing is done, let's take it apart and see what happened.)

Every project manager is familiar with post-mortems and retrospectives.  I've talked about them quite a bit in blog posts and webinars, and I highly recommend them after any project has completed.  But it can be used for so much more than that!

This early in the year it's really good to take a look at what happened last year and take a few minutes to sort through it all.  (From a work perspective, it's also good preparation for those self-reviews!)  Ask the same questions you would ask at any post-mortem:

What went well?

  • What do I want to improve?
  • What specific changes will I make to implement those improvements?

 Take more than a cursory look at what went well.  It's every bit as important to keep the things that are working as it is to get rid of those that aren't.  Pat yourself on the back for the things that succeeded!

 When you're looking at what didn't go the way you wanted, try to keep some perspective.  The idea here is not to beat yourself (or your comrades in arms) up.  It's to think carefully about what you'd like to improve.  Do a little root cause analysis on the 'learning opportunities' - why didn't they turn out the way you wanted?  Be specific.  Once you have this information, you can decide what you want to do to make the next outcome better.  Avoid the blame game - if it really was someone else's fault and there truly was nothing you could have done to anticipate, avoid, or recover from the problem you need to just let it go.  If someone else was an initiator but some action on your part could have averted disaster, maybe there's something you can do to improve the situation after all.

At this point be really specific about the changes you want to make.  These are different than 'resolutions' - they're action-based.  Here's an example:

 Let's say you're looking at the personal side of things.  One of the things you feel didn't go well over the past year has to do with your weight (it's a cliché but it's so common that it seems like a good thing to go with).  You don't like your current weight.  A resolution looks like this:

I will lose 10 pounds this year!

 An action plan looks like this:

  • I will walk 20 minutes every day
  • I will eat no more than 3 desserts per week
  • I will take at least one exercise class before the end of March

 See the difference?  And once you have that action plan, schedule it in. Put 20 minutes on your calendar every day to take a walk.  Set up a spreadsheet to track your desserts.  And put an item on your task list to find an exercise class that looks like fun.

 You can do exactly the same thing on the business side of your life.  Is your resolution to get a promotion this year?  Seriously - you don't really control that.  But you can have an action plan to take steps that will help lead to a promotion.  Lead up a cross-functional team.  Take a technical class.  Come up with a product proposal.  Whatever your manager is telling you you'll be doing after the promotion, find ways to show that you can do it and then make a plan and follow up.

 When you're done, just as with a project retrospective, you'll have a list of positive things that went well, a list of things to improve, and a solid plan to make those improvements.

 Isn't that better than a list of resolutions?


Want more info?  Check out our blog posts on post-mortems  and sign up for our monthly newsletters.