Scott Hodge


Pixar Postmortems

Sep 9, 2008

Ed Catmull, President of Pixar, offers some good tips on conducting a postmortem (post-project reviews) in his article How Pixar Fosters Creativity in September's Harvard Business Review. 

People in general would rather talk about what went right than what went wrong. 

Left to their own devices, people will game the system to avoid confronting the unpleasant.

Vary the way you to the postmortems.  By definition, they're supposed to be about lessons learned, so if you repeat the same format, you tend to find the same lessons, which isn't productive.

…ask each group to list the top five things they would do again and the top five things they wouldn't do.

Employ lots of data in the review. 

Most of our processes involve activities and deliverables that can be quantified. 

Data can show things in a neutral way, which can stimulate discussion and challenge assumptions arising from personal impressions.

On a side note….  Don't EVER, EVER, EVER Google the phrase "Postmortem" in an effort to find a nice photo to go along with a blog post.  EVER.


4 Responses to “Pixar Postmortems”

  1. David Anasco says:

    “On a side note…. Don’t EVER, EVER, EVER Google the phrase “Postmortem” in an effort to find a nice photo to go along with a blog post. EVER.”
    Now I am really tempted.

  2. David says:

    Nice Google tip. ;-)

  3. Heather says:

    LOL! LOL! Thx 4 the good laugh on your side note!! And I’ll heed your warning.

  4. Lisa says:

    Where I work, postmortems are called Lessons Learned, and they do follow a predictable path (what went right, what didn’t go right). I think where we succeed is by stepping through each project phase in turn. That tends to reveal some new “opportunities” as well as “attaboys.”
    The key is to have an environment in which every participant feels valued enough and safe enough to participate in the discussion without fear of reprisals.
    “No finger pointing allowed.” is usually the first rule before starting the exercise.
    I’d love to be a fly on the wall in one of Pixar’s postmortems…

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