Tear-downs are Not as Negative As You Have Been Led To Believe

Ya’ll, I have to tell you about the MOST unbelievably effective practice I’ve started.

Tear downs.

Now, my language-sensitive readers might have a bit of a problem with the wording here. Tear-down sounds so negative! So do some of the other names for the process, like post-mortem, or debriefing.

But the main point is to analyze your completed projects, regardless of the actual outcome.

In particular, I’ve taken to analysing projects that aren’t completable in a week, as part of my weekly review.

Doing this is a crucial way for me to assess what needs to be done yet, and whether the project is still worth my continued effort.

This is the template I use:

Name of the Project:


  1. If yes, recurring?
    1. If yes, do optimization procedure
    2. If no, archived? Summarize for documentation binder with links to supporting material
  2. If no,
    1. What’s been accomplished to date? Is there a deadline?
    2. Where is it going?
    3. What will be the benefit?
    4. How does this tie into the overall system?
    5. Notes/Thoughts


  1. What’s smart about this? What’s dumb?
  2. Where’s the bottleneck? The inefficiencies?
  3. Where’s the particularly elegant or clever solution?
  4. What have other people overlooked about this problem? What am I overlooking?
  5. What’s the underlying system? (How would you teach this to others?)

Now, each of these questions is nothing special in and of itself, but as a whole it leads to cohesive, strategic, executive thinking. It takes you out of the doing mode and prompts you to figure out how to do things better.

It’s incredibly effective and is well worth the time I spend on it.


Because if you spend your days simply doing things, you’re essentially just doing the bare minimum. Even if you tell yourself that’s all you can do, there’s an immense amount of leverage to be gained from the practice of analysis:

  1. Taking the time to note what worked and what didn’t in a systematic manner means that you’re going to be that much faster working out similar problems, and that over time, you’re going to refine that knowledge and become extremely adept. This is similar to the concept of deliberate practice.
  2. Some problems only need to be fixed once in a long while, and the incidents are so few and far between that you pretty much have to reteach yourself every time. Like replacing the toner in the printer. Documentation is your friend! This is similar to documenting bug fixes in tech support.
  3. Sometimes you’re doing something that sounded like a good idea at the time, and you didn’t think through whether it was really necessary or not. This will solve that problem before you put too much work in.
  4. You need a win. It’s awesome to be able to pat yourself on the back for a job well done, particularly if it was an elegant solution. You should take note of these occasions if you have a job with a review process, hope to ask fora raise one day, or have occasion to market yourself. So, basically everybody.

I know these bloodless articles are never enough to really persuade a person to do what seems like a lot of extra work for marginal benefit. So instead, a challenge: try it for just two weeks.

See if a ritual teardown doesn’t actually give you a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, control and a template for doing things better next time.


22 thoughts on “Tear-downs are Not as Negative As You Have Been Led To Believe”

  1. There are so many distractions out there and it is really important to know your “Money Tasks” and complete it on a regular basis. 
    Here is an article I found really useful: http://liveyourlegend.net/how-tony-robbins-plans-his-week-my-5-step-process-free-worksheet/ 

  2. SteveBainesBiz

    Great Post Shanna. You certainly hit the nail on the head.  There is so much valuable information waiting for us to gain by doing this. Why make the same mistake over and over and over, when if you would have taken time to review what you are doing, you could fix the mistake and start having more success.

    1.  @SteveBainesBiz Or you could figure out what you did right and do more of it! Too often people just move onto the next thing, without taking any tangible knowledge with them. Too focussed on just checking things off the list, I guess.  Thanks, Steve.

  3. Shanna,
    Good stuff!
    Too many times we are focused on just doing, but never analyzing what we are doing (and if it’s really worth our time).
    Stopping for a moment and taking a critical look at our projects will reveal those “black holes” where the time is spent (or wasted).

    1.  @TimoKiander Thanks Timo! You know, the time saved is a great bonus, I’m not going to lie, but I’ve found that breaking down the process and figuring out both how it works and how to make it more efficient has paid WAY more dividends over time. Not only does *my* life run more smoothly, since so much of my time is spent teaching clients processes, this regular reflection at the 10,000ft level has made me a much more effective coach.

  4. Shanna,
    Very good… Documentation is definitely your friend.  The few extra minutes it takes you to document could save you hours in the long run.
    Ryan H.

    1.  @Ryan Hanley I really wish more people realized this! Of course, a lot of people aren’t organized enough to know where to find their documentation when they need it, so… baby steps!

  5. GemmaThompson

    Hello Shanna,
    Wise words indeed! And I love the challenge too! I set aside time every week for making sure i’m on track with my goals and sometimes it does mean I’m moving my own goal posts! But better to do that early than to reach a goal that isn’t effective!

    1.  @GemmaThompson Thanks Gemma! Honestly, the very first week I tried it, it saved me at least ten hours of tedious labor and I was hooked! I knew combined reflection and analysis was effective, but it’s really hard to conceptualize *how* effective until you challenge yourself to try it. 

  6. Shanna, I never been real good at looking back.  Always trying to stay in the moment, but your template is a great tool for reflection.  Thanks for sharing this.

    1.  @cnadeau I find that it *is* a good way to stay in the moment– without the prompt to pause and reflect on my actions, I get caught up in the frenetic energy of pushing towards a goal. I also really enjoy the process, not only of doing, but of reflecting, and putting this in place in my weekly review has given me so many more reminders to do so. 

  7. Shanna,
    I like the point of your post. Analyze what you’ve done to improve and get the most out of it. I completely agree. We spend so much time on new but don’t take the time to optimize, improve or squeeze all the value out of our already completed hard work! I’m going to do more “teardowns” of my own work. Thanks for triggering this useful idea!

    1.  @RtMixMktg No problem! It’s one of those things— sounds like a good idea, you’d sure like to do it, but it just keeps slipping through the cracks. So if I can persuade anyone to give it a try, I’m sure they’ll be floored.

  8. HectorAvellaned

    These are all great questions to ask when working on a project Shanna! I am a program manager by trade (of course I will not be doing this forever. I have other passions) but your template reminds me a lot of the schedule and risk management assessment that I must do on an ongoing basis when working through the development of different projects.

    1.  @HectorAvellaned Good eye. I used to do small-scale construction project management. I steal best practices from all kinds of places !

  9. ” Tear-down sounds so negative! So do some of the other names for the process, like post-mortem, or debriefing.”
    A former boss of mine called those “lessons-learned sessions”.    

      1.  @Shanna Mann Yes!  I was always completely clear on what he wanted and why it was important.  (I was actually *miserable* there – it just wasn’t that bad when I was on his project.)

  10. Happy Monday in August, Shanna! 
    As I recall, this post made *zero sense* to me at the time… unfamiliar concepts? unfamiliar terms? tangled brain?? – not sure what my problem was…
    Whatever – I’m absorbing the ideas NOW, and that’s what counts, isn’t it? (and why I love Archives!)
    The Application – that’s for another comment, AFTER I apply it to something, eh?

  11. I just *saw* this afternoon, that a lot of what I think of as “puttering” is making or improving “tools”, in order to help something else go smoother (I hope).
    Sometimes, it was worth the time-and-effort, sometimes, not so much.
    Must re-read this (after class!) and let it soak in some more!
    Bright Blessings ~ see you in a couple hours…

  12. It would be interesting to know some of the answers, for the “Telling Better Stories” call / class…
    ~ Karen-the-insatiably-nosey…

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