Professional project management for your long-term growth and success

Get future articles with tips like this one delivered directly to your inbox!

Don’t Underestimate the Value of the Lessons Learned

By Veronica Thraen / May 1, 2017

In a previous article, I wrote about the importance of a kickoff meeting for project success. But how do you really know that a project was successful once it’s complete? Because it was completed on time?  Not necessarily.

Not everything is going to go smoothly during the course of the project. The team will be strong in some areas and may need improvement in others. So project success is more than just delivering on time. You have to look at overall project performance.

The “lessons learned” (also called a “post-mortem” or “retrospective”) is a great way for a project leader to help motivate the team, both by highlighting successes and providing the opportunity for collaboration and continuous improvement. 

There are various approaches. Some project leaders gather a list of items as they go along to discuss once the project is complete. Others will schedule discussions with the team on a more frequent basis throughout the project. Regardless of the approach, it should be a collective team effort and not driven by one person’s opinion or observations.

Here are some questions that might be asked to uncover information during a lessons learned:

Project Team Performance

Did the team have the right skill level for the project? Was there appropriate communication with one another and with the project leader? Was the project leader able to effectively remove roadblocks or distractions for the team? Did the sponsor or product owner provide ample support throughout the project? These are the types of questions the project leader should ask themselves.

Schedule Performance

Were there major variances between what was estimated and the actual completion dates? You may find that similar tasks are being over or under estimated during every project. Or maybe there was a significant amount of work that was overlooked and not originally included in the project plan. Why did this happen and how can you prevent it from happening again?

Change Management

Were there many changes to the scope throughout the project? Did these changes follow any type of approval process or did the team just make changes as they went along? Was the schedule negatively impacted because of this? You might find that implementing an approval process for requested changes is necessary. 

Customer Satisfaction

Was the ‘success criteria’ identified by the project sponsor or product owner met? Did the project leader effectively communicate status, changes and issues to internal and/or external customers throughout the project? Was there a customer sign-off process when the project was delivered? If not, is a process required?

Taking the time to reflect as a team before moving on to the next project—and making small improvements along the way—will only provide better results in the end.

Do you schedule lessons learned, post-mortem or retrospective meetings with your teams? If so, what approach works best for you?

Back to Main Blog Page