In an article on creativity, an author discusses postmortems held by Pixar, the movie studio, but his insights carry over to law departments. He believes that people learn from postmortems but don’t like to conduct them. Most people would rather talk about what went right than what went wrong. And after spending months and months on a matter, usually lawyers too just want to move on to the next one. These truths about retrospective review come from the Harv. Bus. Rev., Vol. 85, Sept. 2008 at 72.
The author suggests three simple techniques for overcoming these problems. One is to try various ways of conducting the postmortems. If you repeat the same format, you are likely to learn the same lessons. Another technique is to ask each person to list the top five things they would do again and the top five things they wouldn’t do. The balance between praise and criticism stimulates thinking. Third, bring to the review as much data as you can. Data makes the retrospective more neutral. Facts and figures stimulate discussion and challenge assumptions that may arise from subjective impressions (See my post of May 27, 2008: postmortems with 7 references.)