5 Easy Steps to the Perfect Lessons Learned Session

Brad Egeland Creator and Author of Top Project Management Blog: Bradegeland.com

Lessons learned on any project is a great way to learn what all key stakeholders think went right and wrong on the engagement. The key is to really make it about learning now so we can continue to improve project delivery performance on the next project, and the next project and so on.

That said, I have a simple 5 step process for conducting a very successful lessons learned session. It’s basic, but it should be. It’s not much different than any other meeting, but it can be a sensitive subject for some and hard to gather people back together once the project is over or nearly over. So simple is best. The five steps…

Plan ahead. You could just sit down at a round table with all the key stakeholders and go around the room. The problem with that is what should take 1-2 hours could go on all day so being the good meeting facilitator that you are you plan ahead rather than just phoning it in. Plan a date, time and location and get it approved by the customer. Keep in mind that for something like this co-location isn’t really necessary. In fact, seeing each other isn’t really necessary either so a conference call should do unless you’re combining it with some major project event which I would not recommend. The only exception there is I am a big proponent of multiple lessons learned sessions held throughout a project engagement – usually coinciding with a key deliverable sign off / approval so if you’re in the same place for something like that then great.

But for the one-off end of project lessons learned session, plan an agenda, come up with some of your own pros and cons as discussion starters and send off to all stakeholders as part of the information sharing and invitation giving communication. It will help get the thought process going as most stakeholders really are uneasy with the sessions as well as inexperienced with these sessions and don’t know what to bring to the table. Your advance communication and starter set will help get the ball rolling when the actual session kicks off. Feel free to gather this initial info with the team to further progress the discussion with more and deeper material – the perspective of five or six people to start things off not only serves for a better discussion out of the gate but should help shorten the meeting overall.

Send ahead. Next, send this info you and the team have prepared off to all stakeholders for review. As stated above, it will help them come to this sometimes awkward session more prepared and more understanding of the overall focus of the meeting… making the meeting and information to be shared more helpful, focused and productive.

Get feedback. Get feedback from the planned stakeholders. Many won’t need more info, but a few may still need direction or key attendees may request a date change so they can be in attendance. Whatever feedback you get – even if it’s comments on the pluses and minuses you sent out to get the party started – will be helpful to the overall goals of the meeting. The mission is to share information and do it in a timely and controlled fashion and setting.

Conduct. Next, proceed with the lessons learned session. Take great notes or have someone on the team take great notes – it has to be someone who went through the project and experienced the ups and downs so they understand the discussion and any comments being made. There will be lots of head nodding – or head shaking.

Follow up. Finally, follow up. Always follow up any important meeting or discussion with the notes from the meeting and send those out to all attendees and proposed attendees who weren’t in attendance. The key is always to make sure everyone has a say and that everyone is on the same page at the end of the day. Ask for feedback with 24 hours, revise the notes, and send back out one final time.

Summary / call for input

Lessons learned is all about understanding what you all did “right” and what you all could have done “better.” It’s not about finger pointing. It’s about learning. How do you feel about lessons learned – do you perform the session regularly? How do you feel about this list – what would you change about it?

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