As a project manager, you recognize that there are a lot more responsibilities for you to consider that go beyond what happens day to day on various job sites. The past efforts of your organization will have a major impact on your current abilities to get work done properly, on time and within budget. Failure to meet job milestones (absent some kind of a natural disaster or otherwise unavoidable incident) could not only mean the loss of a client and a hit to your company’s reputation in the industry, it could lead to your own competency coming into question.
This is where lessons learned meetings come in. Part of your job as a project manager is to dig into what happened during projects once they have been completed. During lesson learned meetings, you’ll find out what worked and what didn’t work so well, with indications of how you can improve things, going forward.
Getting Started With Lessons Learned Meetings
For your first meeting, it’s prudent to plan ahead as far as you can. Schedule the lessons learned meeting with sufficient warning time to your crew and make sure that the meeting actually takes place in the room you reserved on time.
Assign someone to take notes. You want an accurate account of the meeting, since valuable discussion will be taking place about how to improve the way the company develops projects.
You want each person to be prepared, so ask them in advance for feedback. This is helpful for getting information from members of the team who might be wary of speaking out in a group. In fact, if you collect preliminary feedback from your team by email or survey, you might be able to analyze the information ahead of time to detect patterns to discuss during the meeting. Advance access to key facts about the latest job will make the lessons learned meeting all the more productive.
Begin the meeting by explaining that it is designed to help us benefit from what went well during the last project and to help assess what didn’t go well, so we can avoid repeating mistakes.
Sometimes team members will resist going to meetings because they view them as a waste of time. You can address that concern from the start by noting that the lessons learned can help each member of the team to do a better job, such as working more efficiently so they can finish the job done in less time than they were previously capable of.
After the lessons learned meeting, your next task will be to review the notes and produce a summary of the key points for distribution to the team. Then, your organization will have this information to refer to when starting a similar project.
Questions to Ask During a Lesson Learned Meeting
Try asking questions like these (tailor them to your own company as needed) to get the ball rolling:
- Did our team meet all project goals?
- What did we do right?
- What went wrong?
- What ideas do you have that could prevent the problem from recurring?
- What was under your control and what things were out of your hands?
- Are you aware of any information that we were lacking or training that staff should have undergone before the project began?
- Are there processes that we could automate now, using new technology and software?
- Is there any training that members of the team would benefit from now to avoid any of the issues that came up during this meeting?
Brainstorm with your colleagues about questions to ask during these lessons learned meetings. You might be surprised by the ideas that come up when you ask others for their input, especially given the experience that they bring to the table from their previous jobs in the industry.
Remember that the point of holding lessons learned meetings is not to assign blame or try to find faults in people or processes. Your goal is to get a better sense of what happened on the job, to learn what your team did especially well so they can replicate the successful aspects. You will also use the meetings to figure out what went wrong, so you can learn how to better avoid these problems from occurring again.
Mistakes are bound to happen no matter how prepared the team is. So it may seem that sometimes you are stumbling, going ahead two steps and then falling back a step, but as long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other and pledge to take seriously the lessons learned during these post-mortem discussions, your company stands to be in a much better financial position, since you will be actively avoiding errors of the past and holding onto solutions proven to work within the organization.