How to Conduct a Lessons Learned Session

We all know that gathering lessons learned is a best practice and part of our professional responsibility. But that doesn’t mean that we all do it. If the reason you do not is because you don’t know exactly HOW to conduct a lessons learned session or you think conducting a lessons learned session is too complicated, here is an easy and effective approach for you to use. When I was a new (and accidental) project manager I was taught this approach by a consultant who had been hired to teach a group of us how to be project managers. I still use this approach today!

Invite your team to a lessons learned session. You want them to know the purpose of the session in advance, so that they can come prepared to share. If you believe that your team will not be able to speak freely in front of you, you should recruit someone else to facilitate the meeting and you should NOT attend. I don?t think this will happen to you, it has not happened to me yet; but you really do want your team to be able to openly and honestly share their thoughts.

Now it is time for the lessons learned session. Consider following this process:

  1. Start with ?Things we could have done better/differently?.
  2. Explain to the team that each of them will have an opportunity to provide their ideas. Lessons learned are NOT meant to be personal. The lesson is NOT that JOE should not go on vacation. The lesson is that key resources should have back up resources in order to allow for absences such as vacation, sick time etc.
  3. Let the team know that each person can speak, but does not have to speak. If a team member has nothing to contribute, they may say, ?pass?.
  4. Go around the room three times. Each time each team member has the opportunity to provide their lesson learned OR to pass. Write the lessons learned on a white board or a large piece of paper, do NOT list names next to each lesson. It does NOT matter who said what, in fact you want some anonymity.
  5. Usually after three times around the room, everyone has exhausted their ideas. If not, keep going!
  6. Once all the lessons have been called out, it is time to select the lessons which are the most significant. Each team member receives 3 votes. They can ?spend? these votes all on one lesson or on three lessons, however they see fit. I usually accomplish this by having team members come up to the whiteboard and place check marks next to the lessons they are selecting as the most significant.
  7. After everyone has voted, review the results. Most of the time you will have some lessons which the majority of the team has selected as the most important lessons learned. If not, you can vote on any items that tie. You are not going to get rid of any of the lessons that do not make it into the top three or top five, you are just going to pay more attention to the lessons that are voted as the top three or top five.

Repeat steps 1 thru 7, this time using ?Things we did well or should repeat?. NOW you have your lessons learned. Documenting these lessons should be easy, start your document by discussing the process and then provide your results. Emphasize the top three to five things that could have been different as well as the top three to five things that should be repeated; but do not throw out the items that did not make the top three to five spots, keep them and place them later in the document so that these lessons are not lost.

There you go, an easy and effective way to conduct a lessons learned session.