The One Flaw You Must Know About Lessons Learned Meetings

(And What You Can Do About It)

People talking at work
Regular meetings improve processes. John Wildgoose/Caia Image/Getty Images

Lessons learned meetings are an important part of managing projects. You can’t improve your project delivery if you don’t know what works and what doesn’t. You can’t streamline your processes if you never take the time to critically assess whether they are working as they should.

You build up a library of knowledge about what works and what doesn’t through taking the time to review your practices. And then acting on the output of those reviews to improve projects going forward.

However, there is a flaw with this model.

Have you spotted it?

Yes, it’s that the lessons learned review happens at the end of the project. That’s like saying, “How can I help you now that it is too late?”

Why Waiting To The End Is No Good

Waiting until the project finishes means that it’s only future projects that benefit from the wisdom gained during that particular piece of work. For your customers and stakeholders, it’s frustrating to be asked about what could have been better when you can’t do anything about it. The project is over. Finished. They’re spending their time with you talking about lessons and process improvements because they want to help other people, not because they are personally going to see any return on that time.

This is so easy to rectify that it means there’s no excuse to wait until the end of the project to have a lessons learned review.

How To Schedule Lessons Learned Meetings

The solution is to schedule lessons learned meetings as often as you can.

They should be at least at the end of every sprint or project phase, and sometimes I do them as often as once a month.

The benefit of frequent reviews is that they are much shorter. You’re reviewing a smaller timeframe so there are likely to be fewer lessons to incorporate. You can even fit a short review into the end of a normal project team meeting.

As with a full end-of-project review, preparing for your meeting is still important. Think about what you want to ask and what you want to get out of the time with your team and stakeholders. Then you can make sure you’re capturing what will give you the greatest improvement in team performance.

Acting On Lessons Is Essential

The downside – if you want to call it that – of frequent reviews is that your stakeholders will get bored of being asked to constantly give you feedback unless they see that something is happening. This is really important. No one minds being asked for their opinion if they know that you are going to take action based on it and make their lives easier as a result.

It’s also a great way to continue to make a good impression on your customers and clients.

Create a Follow-Up Schedule

The easiest way to make sure that you are acting on the feedback and lessons uncovered in your regular reviews with stakeholders is to create a follow-up schedule. This is simply a log of all the actions and tasks that fall out of your discussions. Create a basic tracker in a spreadsheet or use your standard To Do list software to record and track the actions.

[Read more on tracking your project.

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The benefit of doing this – aside from being good project management practice – is that next time you have a review you can go back to the person who raised that point and tell them that you have done something about it. This is how you build great relationships even with difficult stakeholders: someone gave you feedback, you did something as a result and you went back and told them that you’ve taken action. They should be able to easily see an improvement.

There’s a challenge here though, and that comes when you can’t improve a process or act on their feedback. That’s going to happen: it’s not possible to implement everything that stakeholders ask for especially as some of the time they are going to ask for totally unrealistic things such as scrapping the change management process. Go back to them and explain why you can’t implement or act on their feedback.

This isn’t as good as being able to do it (from their perspective) but it does show integrity and the ability to follow through. You’ll still build a solid reputation as a project manager who delivers if you keep stakeholders informed, even if the outcome is that they can’t have what they want.