How to Do a "Lessons Learned" Meeting


The purpose of a "lessons learned" meeting is to analyze what went right in a project, as well as what went wrong. Team members can draw from good experiences when they tackle their next project, and learn from bad experiences to prevent a repeat of mistakes. The key to a successful meeting is to make sure it drives action.

Act Fast and Invite the Right People

  • Plan to hold the meeting immediately after a project ends or at targeted milestones, so activities and events are still fresh in people's minds. Schedule a firm meeting time well in advance to help people plan their schedules accordingly and ensure attendance. Invite both hands-on team members and stakeholders whose input will add value to the results, such as project auditors and management personnel responsible for the project's success.

Gather Information

  • Prepare for the meeting throughout the project by keeping a running list of good and bad experiences or results. Categorize items to simplify a pre-meeting review. Use a matrix format with column headings, such as budgeting, team communication, status reports, success indicators, tools, equipment and resources. Identify each item as something that went right or something that went wrong. Ask team members and key stakeholders to add items, either directly or through a central coordinator.

Prepare Meeting Materials

  • Before the meeting, prepare a consolidated report of issues. Lump similar items together to reduce complexity. The goal is to zero-in on the heart of the matter -- or, to use another analogy, to focus on the meat rather than the gravy. Use clear, short and concise statements about each category of items to provide a starting point for discussion. Minimize visual materials to avoid information overload, and stick with simple charts and graphs.

Promote Creativity

  • Select a comfortable environment for the meeting and establish ground rules, such as no blaming or complaining. The goal is to encourage discussion and emphasize that all opinions have value. Put meeting materials on posters rather than using projectors and slide shows. Get people standing up and moving around. Sedentary meetings in darkened rooms are less likely to result in creative discussion than active meetings that get the blood flowing.

Make the Agenda Count

  • Make sure that the meeting drives action. Create an agenda that follows the formula RAP = Action. For "R," review information that you've gathered to present at the meeting. For "A," ask meeting participants to adjust the materials by adding new items to the list of lessons learned. For "P," get agreement on a short list of prioritized items. For "Action," close the meeting by establishing an action plan that, at a minimum, identifies what to do, who's going to do it, and when it's going to get done.

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