No project works out exactly as planned. There are generally plenty of examples of things that could have gone better. On the positive side, there are also often examples of things that went better than expected.
Unfortunately, companies and teams often feel like they don’t have the time to sit down and review a project once it’s completed. Instead, they feel the need to quickly move on to the next pressing obligation.
We strongly encourage all companies and teams to implement a “lessons learned” meeting as the final step in any project. A lessons-learned meeting is an opportunity for the team to get together and formally close out the project by reviewing what went well and what didn’t go well to improve going forward.
Here are some lessons-learned steps that can be applied to any project closeout:
If there isn’t a formal project manager or team leader, assign someone to collect feedback from the rest of the team (the feedback collector should also include his or her input) and compile the information.
The length of time between project completion and the collection of feedback should be short enough so that the experience is still fresh in everyone’s mind but long enough for team members to reflect on that experience.
After feedback is collected, hold the actual lessons-learned meeting. The lessons-learned meeting shouldn’t serve as a venue for finger-pointing and shaming, but it is essential to address shortcomings and areas where expectations were not met. It’s also an opportunity to identify what went well or better than expected.
A lessons-learned meeting often generates action items. For example, if a process is found to be deficient, it isn’t enough to simply identify that deficiency. Someone or a team should be assigned the task of making improvements to that process.
Review of Lessons Learned for Future Projects
The lessons learned from one project should be reviewed as part of the kick-off process for similar future projects. This helps ensure the team or organization is truly learning from past experiences.
All projects have a primary objective that needs to be the main deliverable or objective. But secondary benefits can also be achieved from the work a team puts into a project—specifically, knowledge and experience. A lessons-learned meeting can help teams capture that knowledge and experience and translate them into improved future outcomes.