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Step 1 – Identify key personnel to participate

Identify key personnel to participate in the lessons learned activity. In order to avoid asking for too much time of the team members, it may be that only selected people (project members and stakeholders) should be interviewed. For the workshop all team members are invited. For this event three key roles are identified:

  • Chair: Should be knowledgeable about the project and its issues. The Chair is usually a member of the project leadership.
  • Facilitator: Preferably not part of the project team. Unless guided by a skilled facilitator a workshop can evolve into “dumping” sessions by disgruntled team members who monopolise precious time and often fixate on a single issue at the expense of other, more critical ones.
  • Co-ordinator: Administrative support for providing infrastructure and acting as a scribe during the meeting.

Step 2 – Develop an appropriate interview guide

Using the team’s understanding of the project situation, and the people who are going to be interviewed, develop an interview guide specific to the situation.

Step 3 – Gather feedback

Gather responses from identified participants in interviews.

Step 4 – Design a debriefing workshop

Design a workshop with the project team. The key objective is to analyse and agree the key lessons learned.

In this step, the objective data to complement the subjective findings from step 3 should be prepared. Possible categories could be:

  • Cost metrics
    (e.g. person-days of effort for each of the major deliverables).
  • Schedule metrics
    (e.g. original schedule, history of schedule-slippage events, analysis of schedule predictability).
  • Quality Metrics
    (e.g. number of deliverables failing quality reviews).

Step 5 – Conduct the debriefing workshop

Conduct the workshop with the project team to analyse and agree on key lessons learned.

Despite the potential pitfalls, such debriefing meetings encourage wide participation and provide a most important by-product: By allowing team members to vent, debriefing meetings provide a cathartic, even therapeutic effect. It “clears the air” and gives team members encouragement to start the next project.

Step 6 – Publish the results

The lessons learned should be turned into actions for process improvements. It can be expected that a considerable amount of information will be gathered during the interviews and the debriefing workshop.

The project team should nominate a leadership team which will summarise all the findings (e.g. in form of an “Open letter to Project Teams”). It is crucial that the members of this team not only know the events that affected the schedule, deliverable quality, and/or resources but also know why the events happened. So this team is able to drill down to the root causes of events that determined or affected the schedule, deliverables, and/or resources.

The audience for the letter is management, project team and the other project teams in the organisation.

Such an open letter could be made up in four parts:

  • Project description: A brief project overview – this should be taken from the Project Definition Document.
  • What was good: A summary delineating the positive findings identified in the debriefing workshop (e.g. infrastructure improvements, process changes, etc.).
  • What went wrong: A summary of the three worst factors that impeded the team’s ability to meet a goal.
  • Area for improvement: A prescription for improvement. In the debriefing workshop there is typically one key issue or problem identified, the one thing that must be fixed before another project is started. It provides a clear and precise problem description so that everyone will be able to observe if and when it is truly fixed.

To aim to ensure that the organisation profits from the lessons learned here are a few general suggestions:

  • The results of the debriefing meetings should be stored in a central repository accessible to everyone in the organisation.
  • Categorise the lessons learned by functional area or by process they affect. On the next project each item should be assigned to a specific person to monitor. He should report back to the leadership team whether or not it is a risk for the new project, and if so, how the risk will be addressed.
  • Each lesson learned is assigned to a person in the organisation who will be held responsible for investigating an implementing a strategy. Ultimately, no changes will occur in the organisation unless someone is responsible.