The Pumpkin Patch Postmortem

The Pumpkin Patch Postmortem
October 20, 2010 Derek Fournier

Let’s review the series here.

  • Goal – Unload pumpkins (a little vague, but workable)
  • Strategy – Leverage brute force method with no real guidance to offload the truck. No real approach to the layout of the pallets or any other setup process
  • Tactics – None defined beyond a vague plan for a bucket brigade
  • Workforce – Varied levels of desire/motivation, dedication, skills and aptitude
  • Team Structure – No clear management or leadership structure

So what lessons were learned? Sadly, for the team involved, probably not many. There is no cohesion from year to year so no continuous improvement model exists. Sadly, this process happens every day in companies large and small across the country and the world. More upsetting to me is that companies live through these projects and rarely make any modifications to the broken processes that landed them in the mess. A healthy postmortem (that word is so beautifully descriptive) is an amazing tool. There are a number of examples for successful execution online but my favorite requires:

Facilitator – This person, um, facilitates. The timeline for the project (including baseline) is presented by the facilitator along with the review of the Mission, Vision, Goals, Tactics and any other primary information. It is the goal of this person to help the team members participate, not to participate themselves.

Three Color Index Cards (or Post It Notes) – Green is used for positive events that occurred. Red is used for negative events and yellow (or some equally neutral color) is used to note on the timeline events that occurred that triggered changes.

Everyone on the team is allowed to brainstorm all of the good, bad and schedule items that they can recall. The facilitator will collect and subdivide them by broad topic area. Each team member will then be allowed to expend one vote for each member of the team present and select items. This will weight the items in order of importance and allow focus to be gained on the hottest issues.

The result of this process will be a set of good (few) and bad (more often what we focus on) items that can be discussed and brainstormed with the team. I am happy to go into the logistics of post mortem meetings in more detail in a subsequent post but for the purpose of this post, this is enough detail.

Once the items are ranked and brainstormed, the facilitator will write up a findings report with all of the details and mitigation recommendations to be presented to the management team. The most critical thing to keep in mind for this meeting is that everyone involved must be willing to be, at times, brutally honest and open realizing that the goal is improvement, not finger pointing. Only through that open communication can improvement be found.

At our pumpkin patch, a few things became clear:

  • A layout of the lot that allowed easier access for the bucket brigade and tools is critical
  • A plan for which pallets to fill and in which order would make sense. Filling the farthest first would allow the lines to shrink and people to move to the truck as the pumpkins were offloaded.
  • A description of the bucket brigade and review of the efficiency points (like being closer together) would have been helpful as well as a reminder to keep a good mix of adults and children so the larger pumpkins did not halt the line.
  • At least one real leader should have been earmarked who should have been responsible to keep the morale up, team members engaged (through water, snacks etc – bribery is a powerful tool!) and the pace high. Planned breaks for recharge allow people to push themselves knowing that a break is around the corner.

So you see, the areas are around the key areas of project organization.

  • Goal
  • Strategy
  • Tactics
  • Workforce
  • Team Structure

Have you been part of a project like this? Have you ever been amazed by brute force models that outpace technology? Sometimes it is amazing how much we can learn about our professional lives from an event like my time in the pumpkin patch.

Read the whole series on the Pumpkin Patch:

  1. Projects Explained by a Pumpkin Patch
  2. Strategic Planning and the Pumpkin Patch
  3. The Self Appointed Leader
  4. Tractors versus the Bucket Brigade
  5. The Pumpkin Patch Post Mortem



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