You and your team have put in months of effort, had some ups and some downs and, whatever the result, the project is over. Time to move on to the next initiative? Not so fast! A key aspect of projects that so many people overlook technically comes after the project is over; however, it is arguably one of the most important: the lessons learned meeting.
What is a ‘Lessons Learned’ Meeting?
According to Sandra F. Rowe and Sharon Sikes, “Sharing lessons learned among project team members prevents an organization from repeating the same mistakes and also allows them to take advantage of organizational best practices. Innovative approaches and good work practices can be shared with others. Lessons learned can be used to improve future projects and future stages of current projects.”
Let’s take a look at the five phases of the lessons learned process as laid out by Rowe and Sikes.
Based on the lessons learned from one particular project, what best practices can be extrapolated and applied to future projects? This discussion would be conducted in part as a brainstorming session. Include all the stakeholders from the project. Everyone has something to contribute.
Don’t assume that this must be an apples to apples transfer of knowledge. Lessons learned may be general enough to apply to a wide range of projects. Don’t limit the possibilities!
Document and share findings; don’t let the value of your brainstorming sessions go to waste. As with any other meeting, lessons learned meetings become useless once everyone has forgotten what was discussed.
Rowe and Sikes recommend analyzing and organizing results and ideas generated so ideas can be better applied. Once the dust settles, take the time to sit down and think critically about what you learned from the previous project. Look for commonalities or themes. Drill down into areas of great performance to pull out the nuggets that can be applied in other settings.
We’ve talked about documenting your findings, but you should also carefully consider how you will store those findings in some readily-accessible repository. The data you collect and the analysis driven from it should be stored where they can be easily accessed by others in the organization; where they can quickly find the answers and ideas they may be looking for.
Encourage employees to retrieve information from your repository as part of the process of starting a project. This is information that can be put to good use as part of the project kick-off process. Leverage the time and attention you’ve invested in building your repository by actively encouraging its use.
When we are swamped and moving from one project to the next, it’s easy to overlook or forego the lessons learned meeting, but companies do this at their own peril. Those that don’t learn the lessons from one project are doomed to repeat mistakes and miss opportunities to capitalize on their successes during the next project.
How might you leverage a “lessons learned” approach in your organization?