Incident post-mortem

Turn incidents into progress by using this incident post-mortem template to reflect and take action.

When an incident happens, the first step is to fix it as quickly as possible. The next step is analysis; this is an opportunity for your team to understand what happened and why, focus on prevention, and outline valuable action items and key takeaways for the future.

A structured and repeatable incident post-mortem allows your team to comprehensively reflect on incidents and clearly define action items so nothing slips through the cracks.

Height’s incident post-mortem template gives you a clear way to record new incidents, set up your post-mortems, and ensure that you actually complete identified action items since they’re housed right along with your other tasks.

Here’s how:

  • Record the incident, key details, and when it occurred using a task form
  • Keep your team on-track by noting whether a post-mortem is scheduled yet for a particular incident
  • Stay organized by creating individual action items and tracking them within a specific incident’s list, and see at a glance how long it’s been since that action item was created

What is an incident post-mortem, and why is it important?

An incident post-mortem is a team debrief after an incident (a large event, like a website crash, data breach, or broken login process) is resolved, in which you’ll reflect on what happened, determine the cause, and strategize ways to prevent similar incidents from happening again.

When you complete an incident post-mortem, you ensure that everyone on your team is aware of what happened — this both keeps everyone in the loop, but also gives team members who weren’t directly involved an opportunity to contribute insights, action items, and potential prevention ideas to the conversation.

For teams with strict service level agreements (SLAs), incident post-mortems are critical since they reduce the chances that you breach your SLA in the future. With an incident post-mortem, you’re also able to actively acknowledge problems faster and take action on fixing them more efficiently. Incident post-mortems also make the business case clear for why paying down specific tech debt might be critical, and help your engineers prioritize work that might not be as clear or user-facing while showing stakeholders its value.

During the incident post-mortem, you’ll document the discussion and key takeaways, which will help you refine your process over time as future incidents occur. This also helps your team develop a deeper understanding of underlying issues, as well as resiliency in the face of incidents. A post-mortem is collaborative, and should never involve pointing fingers or blaming — instead, it should be a structured process where everyone feels heard and empowered to speak up about potential issues and solutions. This doesn’t happen in cultures with blame, because everyone’s priority is just to shift the blame rather than contribute to conversations without fear.

Who is this incident post-mortem template for?

This incident post-mortem template is meant for engineering teams of any size. It provides an organized way for your entire team to complete post-mortems and house action items in one place. On an individual level, your team members will have accountability for the follow-up tasks they’re responsible for, and on an organizational level, there’s transparency into what’s happening and how long things take to complete after an incident occurs.

How do I handle incident post-mortems with this template?

Optimizing your incident post-mortems starts with having a process for completing the action items identified in them. Creating a standardized process helps you streamline the post-mortem and reduces the overhead of running and planning them. A standard post-mortem experience also keeps your action items visible right where you and your already track your regular tasks and todos — giving them a much better chance of being completed promptly.

Here are the three steps to more effectively handle your team’s incident post-mortems with this template:

  1. File the incident with essential information to create a new task and list.

After an incident has been resolved, you need a way to record it and start facilitating the process of its post-mortem. The best way to do this is with the New incident post-mortem Task Form built right into the template. In the form, you’ll enter the incident name and when it occurred, summarize what happened and attach any relevant files, and explain how you resolved the issue. You’ll also have the chance to add essential details right away, including the impact on users, how you found out about the issue, whether the post-mortem is scheduled yet and who will be involved in it. And of course, all of the details and questions in the form can be customized over time as your team figures out what’s important for your process.

  1. Run the incident post-mortem in a timely manner and stay organized throughout the process.

After you’ve submitted the task form to record an incident, two things will happen: a new task will be created as a place to aggregate information before and after the post-mortem, and a new list will be created specific to the incident — this is where you’ll be able to house any notes, conversation, and follow-up action items from the post-mortem as their own tasks and subtasks. You’ll work off this list and refer to it throughout the post-mortem and beyond.

  1. Following the incident post-mortem, start working on your action item tasks.

The most essential step after debriefing the incident is creating and completing action items to prevent similar incidents from happening again. All too often, teams don’t create tasks for action items, jot them down in a personal notes document, or worse, just expect team members to remember and do them. Instead, track your new action item as tasks right within the incident’s list. You’ll have clear visibility on how long it’s been since each task was created, and can even step back and look at your incidents-all list to see in one glance every incident and its accompanying action items. You can assign the right team members to each task, and even better, link those tasks to the original post-mortem reminder task created by the form so anyone stepping in to work on a fix will have the context needed to be successful.

How do I get started with the incident post-mortem template?

Getting started is easy — all you have to do is click “Try in Height”.

If you already have a Height account, you’ll be all set and ready to start customizing your new workflow. If not, welcome! Creating a Height account is free, quick, and easy. You’ll be good to go in just a minute.