Nancy Dixon gives an in introduction to Lessons Learned (which is a theme of this blog) which includes these general guidelines:
- Meetings to construct lessons are held as soon as possible after the outcome because memory fades quickly
- If the project is lengthy, lessons learned meetings are held at milestones along the way
- Meetings focus only on the team/project lessons learned, not on other issues the group may be facing
- Meetings are brief – it is not a meeting to solve a problem only to tease out what was learned
- They focus on what went well as well as what could have been improved.
- Everyone involved in the action is there to contribute to the lessons – no one is too junior or to senior to participate
- It is framed as a meeting to learn, not to judge – so no recriminations
- Meetings have a structure and a standard set of questions the group will address
- There is a facilitator to keep the group focused. Often it is a team member who has had some training in that organization’s lessons learned methodology. Typically the group’s leader participates but does not facilitate.
Transferring lessons is also discussed:
The transfer part is very tricky. What organizations found is what we already knew as individuals: that although lessons, that are learned first hand, are incredibly impactful, it is very hard to transfer those lessons to someone else. From our own experience as parents, trying to share our lessons from the past with our children, we know how difficult it is to make that transfer. As our children tell us, “But Mom, things are different now than when you were growing up.”
But it is critical that we not overlook the most important way lessons learned are useful, which is for the group that has achieved an outcome, successful or not, to really come to understand how that happened. In the end, unless the originating group has gained a thorough understanding for themselves, anything they transfer to others will be inaccurate.
The issue of accuracy certainly rings a bell with me. Successful projects that I reviewed often had an unduly optimistic slant to them and unsuccessful ones were similarly often overly negative. It’s important that a balanced and honest appraisal comes out or as near to it as is possible.