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Postmortem; The Apartment Developers' Dilemma

Regardless of our role within an organization, we will be asked throughout our careers to participate in, lead or evaluate various corporate initiatives. After all, most of what a company really ‘is’ is a series of interrelated initiatives.  These could range from the acts of sales, operations, marketing, and acquisitions to finding efficiencies, fixing problems launching new products, etc. Generally we would like to succeed in whatever initiatives we are involved. And hopefully we have positioned ourselves for success through our understanding and expertise, our dedication and will to succeed, and our preparation and focus. Additionally we may have benefited from multiple books, papers and degrees which exist to provide us tools or help train us to succeed at whatever task we undertake. But invariably, there will be times when success is not an option or when we fail after seemingly doing all of the ‘right’ things. In those cases what do we do?


Our next step should be to perform a postmortem. Think of the postmortem as a forensic analysis of the results of the initiative. Admittedly, the specifics of every project are going to be different. But if we were to approach each postmortem as its own totally unique situation, then it would virtually be impossible to be efficient in our analysis. Over time, we also need the ability to connect the information that we gain to make better future decisions. This is the exact same process that our minds go through as the act of learning. The problem with our mind is that it does not always evaluate the information clearly and unemotionally. That is why we must take a scientific approach to the data and performing our analysis.


So that we don’t begin with a blank page each time, we need a methodology. We need to have the basic categories (the big buckets) already established. This gives us a framework for understanding the results.


Although there are multiple reasons, there are only three categories under which every initiative might fail; the product, the marketing or the person. Everything falls into one of these buckets. Because each goal is unique, the questions will be different, but here are some examples:


The Product. Was the goal defined and achievable? Is there a buyer? Did it solve a real market need? Was the value in-line with the cost?

The Marketing. Did the marketing convey the right message…in the right way? Did the message speak to the intended buyer?

The Person. Did the leader (or team) live up to the task? Did they have the foresight necessary to succeed? Did they have the skills to succeed?


 When we are able to isolate the cause(s) of the failure, we are able to learn from it. We are also able to make the necessary adjustments.


At this point in the discussion you are probably saying to yourself; ‘But doesn’t this apply to success as well? Isn’t understanding why we succeed just as important as understanding why we fail?’ The answer is yes. The challenge is getting ourselves to dedicate the time when we succeed. It seems that we are naturally more prone to introspection following failure than success.

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  • I totally agree with you on this. Especially that we need to reevaluate our market strategy and the techniques associated with it as often as possible. This is especially true in this ever changing world of technology and the speed at which the “hot” item becomes no longer “hot”. It seems that sometimes as soon as we get a plan in place to invest in the next hot marketing tool that the market has moved along to the next thing. This makes it difficult to determine the best ROI and which campaigns worked well and which didn’t show good results. Notice I didn't say "didn't work." All too often it could be a matter of not giving a particular marketing strategy enough time or the best attention/focus or direction. Regardless of the changing market I think that it is important to give each of your marketing tasks some time before you completely abandon them. It could be a simple little change to an aspect of it that makes all the difference.

  • John M. Feeney

    Over analysis of failure or success is no good either. Yes, we as business people always look to improve. For me, I focus more on the successes and looking to adopt better habits. Which is should lead to higher expectations and goals.

  • Hey guys, I sure love it when I get challenged on the stuff I say. John, help me out a bit. What is your focus in the industry? Do you have a good anecdote where understanding a failure would not have been important or useful information?

  • I agree completely, Ross. At the end of any project or program, this is one of the things that actually excites me the most. Yes, I can see what I did right pretty easily, but I love digging into the things that flat our didn't work or maybe weren't quite there yet. A whole list of ideas on how to improve comes from that analysis, and it helps us improve each and every time.

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