The Postmortem Meeting

The Postmortem Meeting


After you have completed the written postmortem, follow up with a meeting to discuss the incident. The purpose of this meeting is to deepen the postmortem analysis through direct communication and to get buy-in for action items. The asynchronous production of the written postmortem helps the team start learning from the incident, but having a conversation leads to deeper learning. Furthermore, having a meeting scheduled to discuss the written postmortem creates accountability for the postmortem to be completed in a timely manner. Using this time to discuss action items also helps ensure that those tasks will be completed.

An anti-pattern for the postmortem meeting is to be overly focused on the immediate concerns documented in the written postmortem. Avoid filling the meeting time by simply reading through each section of the document. The best use of this time is to take a step back from the detailed analysis to better understand the systemic factors that led to the incident.

Some teams make use of the Retrospective Prime Directive to set the tone for the meeting and serve as a regular reminder of the goals. It can be a helpful tool to anchor the discussion and provide a clean slate to start a retrospective, postmortem, or post-incident review.

"Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand." --Norm Kerth, Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Review

The most important outcome of the postmortem meeting is buy-in for the action plan. This is an opportunity to discuss proposed action items, brainstorm other options, and gain consensus among team leadership. Sometimes the ROI of proposed action items is not great enough to justify the work or postmortem action items must be delayed for other priorities. The postmortem meeting is a time to discuss these difficult decisions and make clear what work will and will not be done, as well as the expected implications of those choices.

Whereas the written postmortem is intended to be shared widely in the organization, the primary audience for the postmortem meeting is the teams directly involved with the incident. This meeting gives the team a chance to align on what happened, what to do about it, and how they will communicate about the incident to internal and external stakeholders.


Send a link to the postmortem document to meeting attendees 24 hours before the meeting. Though the postmortem does not need to be complete when it is sent to the attendees, it should be finished before the postmortem meeting. It is still worth sending an incomplete postmortem to meeting attendees in advance so they can start reading through the document.

This will help you avoid wasting time in the meeting simply reading through the document. Remember the purpose of the meeting is to have an in-depth conversation about what caused the incident and how to prevent it in the future, not to review the document. The postmortem meeting is also an opportunity to clarify any questions about what happened and what the team plans to do to prevent it from happening again. Encourage attendees to ask any and all questions to help everyone get on the same page and help the team consider new perspectives for their analysis.


Here is a sample agenda for the meeting:

  1. Postmortem owner summarizes incident causes and timeline. Facilitator leads discussion:
    • What were the larger cultural and structural factors that lead to the incident? How did we get here?
  2. Postmortem owner summarizes proposed follow-up action items. Facilitator leads discussion:
    • Is the team confident this plan will reduce the likelihood of this incident recurring?
    • What more or different work might be needed?
    • Will team leadership (Engineering Manager, Product Manager, Tech Lead, etc.) commit to prioritizing these action items?
  3. Customer liaison summarizes customer impact.
    • Provide any new context about customer reaction to the incident.
    • Review and approve external communication drafted in the postmortem.

Who Participates#

The postmortem owner invites the following people to the postmortem meeting. Below is more detail about the role each plays in the discussion.


What Is Facilitation#

The facilitator's role in the postmortem meeting is different from the other participants. The facilitator does not voice their own ideas in the meeting; instead, they encourage the group to speak up and keep the discussion on track. The postmortem owner, the incident commander, or any other meeting attendee that played an active role during the incident are the ones who need to contribute to the discussion and should not also be responsible for facilitating.

The facilitator:

The facilitator does not:

Who Should Facilitate#

Good facilitators tend to have a high level of emotional intelligence and can easily read non-verbal cues to understand how people are feeling. They use this sense to cultivate an environment where everyone is comfortable speaking. Agile coaches and project managers are often skilled facilitators. At PagerDuty, we have a guild of confident facilitators who coach individuals interested in learning how to facilitate. When searching for individuals in your organization to help facilitate postmortem meetings, look for people with these core competencies:

Postmortem meeting facilitators do not need to be experts in the affected systems. Facilitators do not need to be well-versed in the content of the discussion. Remember, the facilitator does not contribute their own opinions to the discussion, but works to get others to speak. The meeting attendees that were involved with the incident response are the experts on the incident, and the facilitator will ask the right questions to encourage those experts to share information with the group.

Your facilitator should, however, be familiar with the postmortem process and the goals of the postmortem meeting so they can guide the group discussion to achieve those goals. Postmortem meeting facilitators must have a strong understanding of blamelessness so they can help the group avoid blaming speech in the meeting.

Facilitation Tips#

The postmortem meeting facilitator helps the team dig deeper into their analysis, avoid blame, and get buy-in for their action items. Common challenges for the postmortem meeting are being overly focused on the written postmortem and succumbing to the tendency to blame individuals for system failure. Below are tips on how to run effective postmortem meetings and how to handle awkward situations when they arise.


How to avoid blame:

What to do when the conversation is getting off-topic:

What to do when one person is dominating the meeting:

If a team member has not said anything, how do you get them to contribute:

How to stimulate analysis: