The Basics: Skills for a Successful Lessons Learned Session

From the Voices on Project Management Blog
by , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with--or even disagree with--leave a comment.

About this Blog


View Posts By:

Cameron McGaughy
Marian Haus
Lynda Bourne
Lung-Hung Chou
Bernadine Douglas
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Roberto Toledo
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rex Holmlin
Christian Bisson
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Jess Tayel
Ramiro Rodrigues
Linda Agyapong
Joanna Newman

Recent Posts

Project Management Triangles and Integrated Reasoning

Best Practices for Managing Project Escalations

Questions from Project Management Central - Interviews

The Ying and Yang of Resilience

3 Tips For Simplifying Complexity

Categories: Lessons Learned

Project professionals wear many hats. As writers, you prepare the project's charter to initiate the project. As leaders, you manage project teams. And as an accountant of sorts, you control the project budget.

With the many skills you must possess to oversee a project, you should also be cognizant of the basic skills you'll need when conducting a lessons learned session:

1. Time management

The session should be arranged with a specified meeting start and finish time. Team members will have other projects and tasks to work on, so it is imperative to respect the time they give you during the session.

Start on time and keep the meeting moving. Pay attention to the clock to control the lengthiness of the discussions. This way, the meeting ends when it was arranged to end. To keep the meeting on track, you may have to tell team members when to close on a discussion point or ask them to discuss it more in-depth at a later time. If needed, schedule an additional meeting to talk about that point, or add it to the meeting notes and solicit feedback when you circulate the document.

2. Ability to engage

As the facilitator, you must be able to persuade everyone to participate — from team leads to database administrators.

You should also detach yourself from ranking attendees by their titles. After all, the goal of a lessons learned session is to collect details and feedback on a project's activities and decipher what may or may not be relevant to the next project — no matter the team member's position.

3. Shared vocabulary 

Many times, project teams use jargon that only they know. For example, the word "call" could refer to a programming term or simply to describe a customer service method. If you have not been a part of the project all along, make a point to familiarize yourself with some of the terms that may have been used on the project or may be mentioned in the discussion.

What other basic skills do you use for conducting effective lessons learned sessions?

Posted by Bernadine Douglas on: December 18, 2012 01:10 PM | Permalink

Comments (5)

Please login or join to subscribe to this item
Mike Leisegang
Bernadette, I get the impression that this article is written as though the lessons learned "session" is conducted at the end of a project. This is a misconception, as lessons learned should be collected and documented throughout the project lifecycle. For this simple reason: while the lessons we learn in doing something right or wrong are still fresh in our minds, we document them. If this is done through the life of the project, it should be unnecessary to hold a lessons learned "session" at the end of the project, unless it is done to collect the final lessons learned from closing the project down

Bernadine Douglas
Mike, you raise a good point. Not all lessons learned are at the end of a project, but the article is not about when the sessions are done. It is more about how to run a session with the skills a project manager would use. These type of skills are used throughout managing your project, but if not, they are especially important when you have your lessons learned sessions. Thanks for your comments. Bernadine

Saket Bansal
The agile retrospective structure suites any retrospective meeting... and lesson learned sessions are also one of those , specially when we are doing this during the running project (may be at phase end ). In my view the second step engagement is very important and for that the facilitator has to design good set of activities like time series , mute mapping etc....because in absence of such activities may not be able to extract the lesson from team members.

Ikechukwu Omeoga
Lesson learned is arguably a sure way of improving the efficiency and productivity of a process. It provides an invaluable input into the planning process of a new project. In a learning organization, lessons learned provides a veritable tool for knowledge transfer , by applying lessons learned in project management, project teams can operate with less risk of failure , more productivity and increased efficiency . It is pertinent that the following are not left out: Kick off: The process usually begins with a brief discussion of the purpose of the lessons learned meeting. The project manager facilitates the meeting and information gathered from survey helps the project manager determine the key areas to focus on in the meeting Capture ideas: Ideas are generated to cover the key process areas, these ideas should reflect things that worked well and those that did not work well. Group into opportunities: The ideas are arranged into groups depending on their improvement opportunities Prioritize: The opportunities are prioritized based on the impact of the opportunity on future projects Assign action parties: Action should be identified for selected opportunities (high priority opportunities) and ownership assigned to someone in the team who will ensure that agreed actions are taken. Finally create a Lessons Learned Knowledge Base (Excel. Word Document/Excel Spreadsheet) and update in the organization knowledge base and ensure that everyone the information is accessible for everyone in the in the project team and across the organization.

Bernadine Douglas
Ikechukwu, thank you for your comment which gives a good elaboration of how to handle lessons learned once they are stored. One of the things many companies don't focus on much is how to incorporate the lessons back into the business. Doing that helps tremendously. Thanks again for taking the time to give input on the article.

Please Login/Register to leave a comment.


"It isn't pollution that is harming the environment, it's the impurities in our air and water that is doing it."

- Dan Quayle