6 Tips For Lessons Learned on Projects
“I wish I’d known that before,” said one of my project team recently. “If Claire had told me, I wouldn’t have made the same mistake.”
As every project is different, you will learn different things as you work on it. Maybe you’ll find a great way to track milestones. Maybe someone you work with will help you discover a new way to manage conflict. While this helps your personal development as a project manager, you’ll also pick up new skills and techniques. Some of what you learn will be about being better at your job, and some of it will directly relate to how the project was run or the deliverables were managed.
A lessons learned meeting is held at the end of every project to record all of this stuff. It’s your opportunity to find out what worked and what didn’t work so well. The great thing is that it includes the perspective of your project team members as well. After all, you might think that the way you handled risk management was top notch, but they may have a different view!
Here are our top 6 tips for handling the lessons learned meeting to ensure you get the best out of your review time.
Tip #1: Do It Early
Schedule your lessons learned meeting as soon as possible after the end of your project. You can use the collaboration features of your project management software to ensure that everyone gets the agenda and has the opportunity to record their thoughts before the meeting.
You might feel that straight after the project is too soon and people won’t have had the time to gather their thoughts about what worked and what didn’t. That’s fine. You can leave the meeting later, perhaps until you have started to see the first benefits trickle through. Don’t leave it too long though or people will start to forget about how the project was managed and what could have been done differently.
Tip #2: Invite The Right People
The lessons learned meeting should include input from everyone who had involvement in the project. They’ll all be able to share their thoughts on what went well and what didn’t. However, if you have a large group of people who worked on the project – too many for one meeting – consider breaking up the groups into logical sessions. You could hold all the meetings on one day with attendees dropping in and out as appropriate, or schedule them over several days.
Tip #3: Don’t Judge
It can be quite hard to hear the feedback during a lessons learned meeting. The important thing is not to take it personally. It isn’t a reflection of your professional ability as a project manager, and besides, you can always do things better – you just need someone to tell you what those things are.
When you are chairing the meeting or workshop, make sure that others don’t judge either. All suggestions for improvements or comments about things that worked well are valid. As the facilitator, you can guide the discussion away from being negative towards being constructive criticism. Alternatively, set some ground rules at the beginning of the meeting and make it clear what sort of contribution is acceptable.
Tip #4: Capture The Discussion
At my previous company, the negative lessons learned (the things that went wrong) were called ‘deltas’. We captured positives and deltas, but essentially they were things that were a success and things that weren’t. I’m not a fan of euphemisms, but if they fit with your company ethos, use them.
Whatever you decide to call the two types of lesson, the most important thing is that you record them as they are discussed. A flip chart is a good way to do this. Draw a line down the middle and write down positive feedback on one side and things that could be improved on the other. This relies on everyone being comfortable enough to shout out their comments and if you think that your group might not be prepared to do this, you could get them to note down their feedback on sticky notes. You can then read the notes out for the group to discuss, which makes the process a bit more anonymous.
Tip #5: Share The Output
There’s no point in hiding away the lessons, even if they are quite embarrassing! Projects in your company will only get better if project managers are happy to share what they have learned so that others don’t make the same mistakes.
Use your document sharing software to publish the outputs or go one further and hold a ‘lunch and learn’ session where you brief other project managers on the feedback and lessons learned. However you go about sharing the lessons, the most important thing is that they are shared so that everyone gets the benefit and organizational knowledge is not lost.
Tip #6: Do It Often
Lessons learned meetings are typically held at the end of a project, but there’s nothing to limit you to just that. You could hold meetings at the end of every phase or include a lessons learned agenda item in your monthly review meetings. After all, the faster you pick up the lessons, the less likely you are to make the same mistake again later on during your project. Put regular review sessions on your project plan so that you are prompted to ask your colleagues for their feedback on how things are going.
Lessons learned meetings are a really important way to improve your skills as a project manager and to get useful feedback both about the processes you use and how these have been applied to your project. Only by getting feedback from your team and stakeholders will you be able to change things for the better next time, so it is definitely worth scheduling some time to learn from the good and not so good things that happened on this project.
Share your lessons learned with ProjectManager.com. The rich collaboration features let you upload documents, capture meeting minutes and gather feedback from project team members in real time. It’s the easiest way to schedule and manage project meetings.
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