Improve Your Operations with Project Postmortems

How and why to analyze what went wrong — and right — on your last job.

Boosting productivity is a big-ticket item on every construction company’s wish list. Technology is of course one way to do it. (United Rentals’ Helge Jacobsen predicts 2018 will be the year drone use will take off for real among building contractors.) But improving your processes is another.

Examining jobs after completion to see what went well and what could have gone better can reveal processes that need reexamining as well as those that should become best practices.

The main advantage of project postmortems: “You can be more efficient, be leaner and get the right answer faster on the next project. You don’t repeat mistakes,” said Scott Ivany, director of operations for PCL Construction, a group of independent construction companies that work throughout the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Australia. With knowledge gained from project postmortems, you will be able to offer clients solutions based on company-wide experience and not just individual experience, he noted.

Ivany’s tips:

Gather info along the way

Don’t wait until a project is complete to start gathering the information you’ll need for a postmortem. That process is most efficient if it’s done during the project. As each phase of a project winds down, leaders should assign team members to record and capture what went well and what was learned.

“It doesn’t have to be in final format; you can have a file folder available to put notes in along the way. Then, within 30 to 90 days of the project’s end, that information can be compiled into a detailed report,” said Ivany. “But if you don’t capture it as you’re going along and you wait until the end, you’re only going to capture the high-level things.”

Share lessons learned company-wide

Your postmortem process should include ways to share the lessons learned with your entire company. Ivany said PCL Construction has made this sharing a part of its culture, so it has some 30 different ways to disseminate the information. The company recognizes good ideas from projects through awards for innovation and through internal announcements that highlight cost-saving practices.

Most recently, PCL Construction has started using Yammer, an internal social media tool, moderated by experts for each different community of practice. “People can turn to this to capture and discuss lessons learned and best practices. It’s there forever and easily searchable,” Ivany said.

Act on what you learn

Company leaders have a role to play. “We find that staying engaged as leaders who see the bigger picture provides us with opportunities to give to our project teams just-in-time connections to these lessons learned.”


Freelance writer Mary Lou Jay writes about business and technical developments in a variety of industries. She has been covering residential and commercial construction for more than 25 years.

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