Lessons Learned with External Teams

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Many companies only have internal projects, and therefore conduct lessons learned sessions with the same people. But what if you have an external project and you collaborate with team members outside of your organization?  

Should the project manager of the lead organization invite the outside project team to the closing project's lessons learned session?

Here are three tips project managers can use to incorporate external project teams into their lessons learned:

1. Be discreet about company information, but target improvement. Before working on the project, there was likely some type of agreement with regard to proprietary information. This agreement should still be in effect for the lessons learned session. Before you host the lessons learned meeting, talk openly about the processes with the external team to help ensure your discussions are protected.

2. Stay focused on the project. Even during lessons learned sessions for internal project teams, attendees can veer off topic. Try not to argue about which organization was responsible for the mishaps or which company fell short on delivery. Focus on the issues: How can you better prepare project plans with outside parties? How can you review risk and issue lists together? What different criteria should be included in the scorecard that will bring value to monitoring the project and measuring the vendor relationship?

3. Build camaraderie. The two organizations may want to collaborate on a future project or enhancements to this closing project. Prepare questions that will allow the groups to work as one in the future. For example, how did the quality standards benefit evaluating the finished product? If the project relied heavily on documentation, is there any additional information that could be helpful? What communication methods may need to be revisited for the two companies to reach a decision in a timelier manner?
If the third-party is holding separate post reviews on the same project, chances are valuable lessons from one group or the other are being missed. It is not uncommon for the lead organization to have an exclusive session in addition to a combined session. Having both groups present can be a favorable collaborative effort toward building vendor management best practices or improving the next project, the future vendor relationship or just a similar project situation.

Does your organization include the external team in its lessons learned sessions?

Posted by Bernadine Douglas on: September 18, 2012 10:50 AM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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Manoj Gajavelli
The subject of lessons learned session should be 'processes' rather than people or organisations; this will make sure the sessions yield fruit with minimum conflict and prevents breach of any norms!

James Clements
It's a great idea Bernadine inviting major suppliers and sub-contractors into any planning session let alone lessons learnt. Too often when you think thy're onboard, the slightest thing happens and they 'revert to type', so any opportunity for integration is great. They also view you very much like a customer does, so the feedback is helpful especially to understand why their pricing is the way it is and will help you/them reduce next time by removing some of the silly things you might ask them to do, like overly complex reporting.

Matt Rodda
Manoj, I don't agree with you about people and organisations not being open to review in PIRs. Two examples why not; 1) when working with a supplier from another country a lack of understanding of their culture will create problems, 2) when a process is well defined yet problems occurred due to a person involved then this should not be ignored. It is not to criticise the person, but to understand why they did not perform adequately and what could have been done better to deal with the situation. With respect to engaging external suppliers, they must be included. I would encourage them to do their own review and we would do our own review and then meet to present each others findings and talk about obvious disconnects.

Ron Rosenhead
There are no boundaries when it comes to lessons learned! Invite stakeholders from across the project and hold more than one lessons learned meeting. yes, invite suppliers - internal and external. Invite anyone who contributed or is a stakeholder. If you start to restrict learning to X or Y you are losing opportunities to learn and build on the positive and avoiding the negative in future. Indeed, probably THE (sorry but this does need emphasizing) most powerful learning comes from and between people and it is teasing this out, with a facilitator which can make all the difference next time. There was a great thread on LinkedIn on this topic. It went on for page after page and the issue that was top of the agenda was not identifying lessons learned but using them afterwards and sharing. Now that's real learning. But please, don't restrict lessons learned to processes. People after all deliver projects.

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