Our guide to creating and running effective project debriefs

What if I told you there’s a way to significantly improve your marketing team’s performance in every channel without buying new tools, with no sophisticated technology… just by using a simple document anyone can write?

In this post, we’ll talk about this magic document — the project debrief document (a.k.a recap or post-mortem document). But we won’t just talk – we’re giving you the exact template we’ve used through countless successful engagements with startup clients across diverse industries.

What is the project debrief document and why do you need it?

Imagine the conference you spent six months preparing for was a total failure. Or a smashing success. Why? What can you learn from it? How can you make it better next time?

The debrief document helps answering all of these questions, and more. It synthesizes feedback from different project stakeholders to highlight what went wrong and what can be improved. It also includes other useful project resources like photos, maps, and links to ad creatives. Take a look below to catch a glimpse of our template 👇

As you can see, the document is deceptively simple, but if you consistently prepare it, you’ll discover just how powerful it is over time. With regular and thoughtful debriefing, your projects keep getting better, and you’ll build a body of knowledge and experience — both personally and within your team.

We recommend creating a debrief document for any project where you invested substantial resources (time, money). For us, this usually means conferences, our own events, campaigns with a large budget, or campaigns we’re running for the first time (e.g. a webinar).

Creating an effective debrief document – step by step: 

Follow these steps:

1. Internal feedback meeting.

Schedule a meeting as close as possible to the end of the project, to make sure it’s still fresh in everyone’s minds. Same or next day is best. Invite everyone at the company who was involved, not just the planners or the marketing team. Often people outside the marketing team have great insights.
During the meeting, for each part of the project, ask the participants two questions:
– What went well?
– What didn’t go well? What can be improved next time?
Encourage everyone to participate and provide as much feedback as possible. Document everything.

2. Participant survey.

If appropriate, we highly recommend sending a brief survey to external project attendees / participants. It can be a simple as:

– What did you enjoy?
– What can we improve?
– Would you recommend it? [NPS Question]

We include all survey responses in the final debrief document.

3. Synthesis and lessons learned.

At this point, the project manager or the relevant marketing team members synthesize the insights from everyone’s feedback and survey responses. For important insights, especially for things that didn’t go well, we recommend using the “peel the onion” / “5-why’s” method to discover the root cause.

4. Playbook update.

Update your channel / campaign playbook, if you have one, with general insights for future campaigns (e.g. “all collateral should be printed at least one week before the conference,” “we should always have vegan food options,” “when marketing to banks, we should talk about cost savings in general, and avoid mentioning headcount reduction”).

5. Review.

Prior to the next campaign, go over past debrief documents (or the playbook), and make sure you’re implementing all the insights, and not repeating past mistakes. Making new ones is fine 🙂

Why does the project debrief document work?

The document itself is simple, but its creation process is thoughtful and insightful. When you’re done with it you’ll have extensive feedback from different stakeholders, and insights about what’s worth doing again, and what should be improved – and how.
Startups have a tendency to finish one project and immediately rush into the next one. This process “forces” you to stop and think – a rare commodity in startup life.

The bottom line

We all want to learn, improve, and do the best we can. Sometimes, something as simple as documenting what worked and what didn’t can lead to a dramatic improvement in performance.
Look, this is not rocket science. But we’re big believers that just doing the basics well is better than what most people do, and leads to a real competitive advantage.

Improve your marketing efforts with our free debrief document template below. Enjoy! 


Interested in additional B2B marketing templates? Get our marketing calendar document and marketing launch list template.

Netta is the founder and CEO of Blue Seedling. She loves third wave coffee, thin crust pizza, and B2B marketing.

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