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How to Facilitate an Effective Lessons Learned Discussion

February 19th, 2012

What is a Lessons Learned Discussion?
A lesson learned is defined as a good work practice or an innovative approach that
is captured and shared to promote repeat application or avoid recurrence. Well-
documented lessons learned enable us to further mature our project management
capability and our ability to deliver projects that leverage repeatable processes.
Both advantageous and adverse consequences within a project can result in lessons
learned and those that are particularly positive may be communicated outside of
the team and promoted as a best practice. These lessons learned should become
part of your organizations process assets to provide future project teams with
valuable insight into previous projects that were similar in nature aboutwhat went
well and what did not go well or had unintended consequences.
Lessons learned should be documented throughout the life of a project

Lessons learned captured at the end of one project should be reviewed at the
initiation of a similar projects
Lessons learned provide invaluable insight to project managers and team
members of new projects
Why Facilitate a Lessons Learned Discussion?
When project managers pull together members of a project team, they should invite
all who contributed to the overall effort. The objective of meeting is to have a
discussion and collectively identify lessons learned during the previous phase or
project closure so that future projects may benefit from and usefully apply those
insights that were gained on past efforts. During the course of the discussion, the
objective of the exercise is to recognize and document those insights so that the
future project efforts incorporate more of the successful things and less of the
unsuccessful things encountered by this project team.
Additionally, lessons learned exercises give members a chance to reflect on events
and activities during the project and helps bring closure to the project. It should
provides attendees a safe and open opportunity for team members, sponsors, and
stakeholders to talk about:
Successes that happened during or because of the project

Unintended outcomes that happened during or because of the project

Other things that, in retrospect, might have been better handled if done
Recommendations to others who might be involved in future projects of a
similar type
How Do I Facilitate and Effective Lessons Learned Discussion?
To help guide the discussion, try to focus on major categories including people,
process, and technology and then further define the lesson learned by type wheter
the lesson is beneficial, detrimental, or simply a good practice.
Capture lessons learned that address the following:
People Project and organizational staffing and training (e.g., loading,
availability, skill mix) and training (e.g., available, required, provided, needed,
Process Defined process and the organizational standard process (i.e.,
processes, procedures, standards, methodologies, templates, and guideliness
Tools/Technology Organizational tools and equipment (e.g., statistical
analysis/reporting tools, version control systems, simulators, databases,
hardware, etc.)
Consider the impact/outcome of the lesson and how future projects may be
Beneficial Lesson learned from an actual project event with advantageous
outcome. Communications relating to beneficial lessons learned are normally
limited to project personnel
Detrimental Lesson learned from an actual project event with adverse
consequences. Communications relating to detrimental lessons learned are
normally limited to project personnel
Good Practice Practice promoting or resulting in a positive outcome (i.e.,
success story) that should be considered as a best practice within the
organization. Communications relating to good practice lessons learned are
extended to personnel outside the project (e.g., natural team, firm-wide, etc.)
Before you begin your discussion, it important cover a few ground rules that will
help to set expectations of all participants and ensure a productive meeting:
The point of the exercise is to recognize and document lessons so that the
future project efforts of others do more of the successful things and less of
the unsuccessful things encountered by the project team
Remain focused on discussions that will yield lessons learned within the
define amount of time you have scheduled
Focus on behaviors or tactics that were successful or problematic, rather than
people who were successful or problematic
Hear from everybody and recognize that everyone who contributed to the
project may have input regardless of their amount of project/deliverable
Most importantly, lets keep the conversation positive and productive
What Types of Questions Should the Facilitator Ask During the Lessons
Learned Discussion?
Here are some questions to consider before you begin your lessons learned
1. Were the project goals attained?
2. What went well? Provide examples of successes that happened during or
because of the project
3. What didnt go well? Discuss unintended outcomes that happened during or
because of the project
4. What might have been better handled if done differently?
5. What recommendations would you give to others who might be involved in
future projects of a similar type?
6. What was beyond your control?
7. What things surprised you on the project that were not planned?
8. What things did you anticipate happening that did not happen?
9. What mistakes did you successfully avoid making?
10.What could we automate or simplify that we do repetitively?
11.What skills did you need that were missing on this project?
After your lessons learned discussion be sure to thank your participants for their
time and participation and them that results of the discussion will provide valuable
insights into future endeavors. Offer your attendees an opportunity to
provide additional input (i.e. something you did not want to share in front of the
group, or something that comes to you later) and provide an email address to send
these comments.
Now That You Have Facilitated a Great Lessons Learned Discussion, What
happens next?
Now that you have facilitated your lessons learned discussion, here are some
helpful hints for next steps:
Fully capture the essence of the discussion and finalize a formal lessons
learned document
Validate lessons learned, seek clarification when/where necessary

Summarize lessons learned and provide teams with a summary deck

Socialize and refine; disseminate lessons learned within each project team

Ensure your lessons learned are stored within your project management
system to serve as project assets for future endeavors