A Week of Postmortems

Since I'm in the process of taking stock, I figured what better to do with this week of time-traveling posts than go over a postmortem for each of my four most successful products? Among them, they made me a total of almost $40k, so they're pretty good examples of what "good" products are and should be.

Before I get started on that, though, let's talk about what goes into a postmortem.

A proper postmortem consists of three major parts: what went right, what went wrong, and what was learned,

You can call this "the good, the bad, and the ugly" if you like. Most people think that's clever. 

This is a question of composition and division. You have a result. You explain how you got from where you started to the result. And then you sort it into the good shit and the bad shit.

So you list those things out, and then each of them splits into three parts: what you did, what you expected, and what happened.

The primary thing to remember is that you're only interested in what can teach you or someone else a meaningful lesson. If there's no lesson in it, you probably don't need to talk about it.

What went right? Well, we put a $50 price tag on it, and we expected people to pay $50 for it, and they did in fact pay $50 for it. So we learned that people will pay $50 for this.

That's bullshit. Don't stuff up your postmortem with shit like that. It's hippie-hippie-fag-fag garbage that makes you feel good and does pretty much nothing else. It's like an automatic back-patting machine.

Perhaps you should get a go-fuck-yourself machine.
Perhaps you should get a go-fuck-yourself machine.

With my luck, that picture will end up being the thumbnail for this post on Facebook and people will be horrified. But that's funny, so I don't care.

Now, with that, I'd like to turn to another question of how this format works very well for the kind of posting I do here on this blog. I organise a lot of posts like this:

  • Here's what I'm going to tell you
  • Here's what I'm telling you
  • Here's what I just told you

Then I split up the middle part into three pieces.

  • Here's what I'm going to tell you
  • Here's what I'm telling you:
    • Beginning
    • Middle
    • End
  • Here's what I just told you

And since all my posts are about 750 words, each of these just needs to be 150 words and the post is done.

Amazingly, you can write about 150 words simply by sitting down and writing for exactly five minutes. So writing the complete blog post takes about half an hour - you just sit down, focus on your subject, and write for five minutes.

Of course, in this case, we have it even easier because each of those middle parts gets split up, too. Each thing that went right or wrong splits into three pieces, so that 150 words turns into 50 words total for each of those segments, so if I have three to five things for each of those sections (which is a good number), each element of each item is just ten to seventeen words.

Ten words times three sections times five items is 150 words. That's a sentence.

The decomposition of problems from large things into small ones is a critical skill. Molehills out of mountains. The journey of a thousand miles beginning with a single step.

There is one final component here that I haven't covered, which is the learning section. Each of these splits into three things, too: what you should have done this time, why that would have been better, and what you are going to do next time.

The really funny part is that most of this process came about from two major sources: the outlining process they taught me in elementary school, and the way government contractors format reports.

Yeah, if you could have that by the end of the day? That would be great.

Even the process of doing a postmortem in the first place comes from the formal project management process - it's frequently overlooked in the small business space, simply because everything is perpetually disorganised there.

So let's get you playing with the big boys and show you how a postmortem is done, shall we? Learn from my mistakes and from my successes, so you can pull out the same process in your own work and come to some light-bulb moments of your own.

We'll start with my first product ever...