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How to avoid a project risk

Pitfalls to avoid for lessons learned

Lessons learned: Tips from the learning

What’s your project’s bus factor?

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Pitfalls to avoid for lessons learned

Last time I looked at some tips for making lessons learned sessions run a bit more smoothly, and it made me think about some of the pitfalls we see when facilitating those sessions. My own experience is with using the model associated with predictive projects, but I imagine you could get stuck with these pitfalls if you were doing retrospectives with an agile team as well.

lessons learned meetingImage credit: ChatGPT

Here are some things to look out for once your lessons learned conversation is in the diary.

Focusing on only the negative things. Don’t let the session focus only on the negative. Yes, people like to have the opportunity to share the things that didn’t go well. If it helps the atmosphere to have a moan about the elephant in the room, then do so. But make sure there’s some time on the agenda left to discuss the working practices that were successful, otherwise you’ll all leave the meeting feeling like nothing went well, and I’m sure that wasn’t the case.

Making the sessions too long or too short. Who wants to give up an afternoon for a workshop? No one. And yet if your session is too short, you won’t have time to properly address any issues, come up with action plans or go through the agenda. The exact length of time is going to depend on what you’re wanting to cover and how much prep the team have done beforehand. Question why you need longer than an hour.

The same topics coming up regularly because they haven’t been handled. Regular lessons learned are part of the process, but too frequent and you won’t have had a chance to fix anything – and the same problems will come up again.

Listening to people say they suffered the same challenges because nothing has changed is annoying and frustrating and leaves people wondering what the point is of raising anything if nothing will be done.

People not feeling safe to speak up. Psychological safety is important if you want to get to the truth, but if no one is prepared to share what they thought didn’t go well, you won’t be able to improve. This is a hard one to address if the organisational culture is conspiring against you, but have a think about how you may be able to overcome it if it’s a risk for you. Having smaller sessions with targeted conversations, or anonymous surveys might be options.

Not doing anything with the output. Yep, this is all about leaving your lessons documented in a folder gathering electronic dust somewhere. Not good. Make sure they are turned into actions and have people responsible for doing something with them. At the very least, share them with the other project managers in your group.

Not being able to determine actions properly as you don’t have the detail to hand. So you’ve recognised you need to do something to change a process? If you don’t have the As Is process to hand, it might be hard to work out the action required to make the improvement. And that basically means the improvement won’t get done as what are the chances of someone doing the mapping and analysis afterwards? Unless the leadership team puts a lot of emphasis on follow up, you might miss that out.

These are some of the pitfalls of holding reflection sessions, but by all means I’m sure this list is not definitive. What are the other challenges you’ve found in your own meetings? Let me know in the comments!

Posted on: July 09, 2024 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Lessons learned: Tips from the learning

I taught a webinar on lessons learned recently and while I was researching it I found loads of good tips. I drew from my own experience, that of other people and published research, and I thought it might be worth sharing a few of the tips here.

Be considerate of hierarchical power in the room and split the sessions by delegates if necessary. In my experience, more junior colleagues don’t share the things that didn’t work so well, or point out successes that they were a part of if there are senior managers in the room.

This is going to depend on your organisational culture – maybe everyone is happy sharing. But I remember a workshop (not a lessons learned) where someone who did the job we were talking about shared a point about the detail and the project sponsor (who hadn’t done the job for many years, if he ever had done it at all) said, “No, it doesn’t work like that.” And consequently shut the conversation down. It’s hard to challenge leadership so split the sessions if you need to, if you think it will help you get more honest feedback.

Write up the output and share it promptly. Lessons are already ‘old’ by the time you are talking about them because they’ve happened and you’re reflecting on them. Write up what you need to write up and circulate the actions as soon as you can.

lessons learned tips

If there are too many actions, prioritize them and focus on the ones that will add most value. Lessons learned meetings can come up with loads of actions, and if you are doing the exercise mid-project, it’s likely you’ll have actual project work to focus on instead of setting up a whole new project just to fix the things you’ve identified.

Delegate actions to other people, or if you can’t do that, just pick a couple of the major points to work on during the next few months. Come back to the rest of the list later.

Avoid scheduling near holiday times. If you need key people to be in the room, make sure they are around. That might mean scheduling the lessons learned conversations now, even if you are mid-way through the project, or a few months in advance so they hold the time in their calendars.

Ask each individual/team to come with their top 3 lessons. Save time in the session itself by getting people to put in some up-front work. Invite them to come along with their top 3 lessons already prepared, either by sending out a survey or question prompts or letting them have free rein.

Be assured that some people won’t have done this pre-work by the time they arrive in your meeting, so you might want to allocate the first 5 minutes of the meeting to silent individual brainstorming. Then everyone can use the meeting time to come up with the things they feel are the most important.

Collate outcomes in groups/categories to better manage them. The suggestions and lessons are going to fall into various categories, especially if you have given the attendees prompts to think about.

If you’re meeting in person, have separate flip charts or when you are picking up sticky notes from attendees, group them together in common themes as you stick them up. It’s so much easier with an electronic whiteboard, where you can ask participants to drag and drop the stickies, or you can do it as they appear on the screen.

Hope these tips help! When’s your next lessons learned session? Let me know that you’ve got one booked in the comments!

Posted on: July 02, 2024 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

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