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How to set up and run an incident postmortem meeting

An incident postmortem meeting is held after an incident is resolved, and provides an opportunity for responders and stakeholders to analyze an incident. It is a key component of the overall postmortem process.

The postmortem meeting shouldn’t be confused with the postmortem report, which is typically a document and set of actions created as an output of the postmortem meeting.

These two components will often be used interchangeably. Someone could be referring to either the meeting, the report, or both, when they use the term “postmortem.”

 At Atlassian, we aim to use the term incident postmortem to describe the entire process of analyzing an incident after it’s resolved, including:

  • Running an incident postmortem meeting
  • Capturing actions and information during the meeting
  • Getting approval on follow-up actions and communicating the outcome of the meeting

Read more about how Atlassian manages postmortems in our incident management handbook.

Postmortem meeting invite template

Setting clear expectations and communicating consistently sets a postmortem meeting up for success. This happens well before the meeting even happens.

Here is a template that can be used for inviting participants to a postmortem meeting. It is the template we use at Atlassian and can be found in our Incident Management Handbook:

Please join me for a blameless postmortem of <link to incident>, where we <summary of incident>.

The goals of a postmortem are to understand all contributing root causes, document the incident for future reference and pattern discovery, and enact effective preventative actions to reduce the likelihood or impact of recurrence.

In this meeting we'll seek to determine the root causes and decide on actions to mitigate them. 

The goal of a postmortem meeting

A postmortem meeting supports the goals of the overall postmortem process by bringing the right people together to analyze an incident. The postmortem process aims to help the organization understand all contributing root causes, document the incident for future reference and pattern discovery, and kick off preventative actions to reduce the likelihood or impact of recurrence.

What makes for a good incident postmortem meeting?

Get the right people in the room

The meeting should include the key incident responders, as well as relevant stakeholders for the impacted service and the business. If you don't have the relevant engineering managers in the room, avoid committing to specific actions right away because you don’t have the right context for prioritization decisions. Instead, follow up with managers after the meeting to get commitment to work on the identified action items.

Take good notes, stay on topic

The meeting is a good space for spontaneous conversation, as long as it doesn’t veer far off topic. That’s why coming prepared with an incident timeline is so helpful. It’s also good to use a consistent postmortem template.

Keep it blameless

Many companies, Atlassian included, practice blameless postmortems.

Blameless postmortems focus on improving performance moving forward, rather than punishing people and casting blame.

An incident postmortem meeting plays a crucial role in supporting the broader postmortem process.

The actions that create an effective postmortem meeting start well before the scheduled start time, with an effective meeting invite, throughout the meeting itself, and the actions that follow as a result.

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