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Conducting an Effective Lessons Learned Meeting

So you’ve delivered your project and you’re now in the process of going through the formal project close activities. Your PMO wouldn’t be doing a good job if they weren’t expecting a formal lessons learned document from you as part of the project close deliverables. A set of lessons learned is invaluable to other future projects both in your organization and for you professionally. I’ve often said that failure is a great way to learn so long as we learn from it. By capturing and documenting everything you learned on your project, you’re going to make yourself, your peers and your organization better off for it.

The first – and most important - step in preparing a good lessons-learned document is to facilitate a lessons-learned meeting or workshop. Regardless of the project size a lessons learned meeting is important to have as close to full stakeholder participation as possible. From executive sponsorship to team members to end user representation, it’s very important to get feedback from all of those who were involved with the project. Getting all stakeholders to attend can be tricky in itself as others may not see or recognize the value of a lessons learned so it’s important to emphasize the value of attending when you are inviting people.

So what are you going to talk about at your meeting? Depending on the size of your project you may want to break out the discussion into different sections (ex. Phases of your project, functional areas of your project, etc.) so that the discussion can be somewhat focused and not too high level. For each section of discussion there are three key questions that should be asked and answered. The first one is “What went well?” We like to know what we did well on this project, what the client perceived as well executed that we might not have been as in tune with. It’s important to not be gratuitous with praise to the point where it’s not of value but it’s absolutely important to deliver credit where credit is due. It’s a nice feel-good exercise while also providing insight to what worked well during your project. Next it’s important to ask what didn’t go so well. This one needs to be prefaced by the facilitator saying that the purpose of this is to not point fingers but to illustrate what could have been done better. The third and most important question is a part-two to the “what didn’t go well” question and that is “What action will we take and who will be responsible for it?” Without action to remedy what didn’t go well, you are not realizing any value from the missteps on the project. It is absolutely crucial that definitive action items be defined and owned by individuals.

Conducting a lessons-learned meeting requires a lot of up-front planning but also great facilitation skills. Keeping participants on-point and ensuring that they are feeling a sense of value from the meeting is the facilitator’s most important job. A well-executed lessons-learned meeting will yield exponential value for the project manager, the stakeholders and the organization towards improving their project delivery process.

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