Way2Go Series Article 1
Running a Lessons Learned Workshop
When invited to a Lessons Learned workshop after project implementation it can often be very difficult to attract attendees. Many project team members will have moved on to other projects but more often they will have an impression of such sessions as being tedious; and a generally negative experience. Moving on with their ‘day-jobs’, such workshops will are often regarded as an unwelcome distraction and a poor use of time fostered by having never seen any previous lessons converted into learning actions and actively considered during later projects.
Some general points:
Shortly after project implementation schedule your workshop – it is better to engage with team members while they are still actively involved in the project and while the team is still intact. Consider that for large, or lengthy projects you might want to collect learnings at the end of each stage.
If possible avoid lengthy workshops- it is better to hold two, two hour sessions than one that last a full half day.
Schedule your workshops to start first thing in the morning, your attendees will be fresh and more importantly wont be too embroiled in daily issues.
Encourage participation – A Lessons Learned session can easily become very dry and disengaging – keep your team members wondering about what will happen next.
Step 1 – Prepare for your Lessons Learned Workshop
Book your venue, ensure you have a flip chart available
Allocate attendee a number of sticky-notes, suggest no more than 6 per attendee.
On the flip chart write a column of numbers from 1 to 10 spaced reasonably apart.
Allocate someone to take notes so that you can focus on managing the process.
Step 2 – Immediate call to action
Based on each team members experience of working on other projects, similar if possible such as new product launches or store fit-outs ask each to take one sticky-note and place it against the number listed that best represents their experience of working on the project you are taking lessons from. 1 being the worst experience and 10, the best.
When done, for each number in the list, multiply it by the number of sticky-notes placed against it, add the totals for all numbers and then divide it against the number of attendees to get an average score. When you have a result, explain that the same exercise will be carried out after the next project and that the scores will be compared to see whether any general progress is being made. Note that this is an entirely non-scientific, subjective measure used to give a general indication only.
Step 3 – Explain the rules
When a team of people is critiquing a project its very easy for subjective consideration to become personal so its best to explain the ground rules:
That the objective of the workshop is to learn about what went well and what could have been done better but not to spend too much time identifying the issues. Most of the time should be spent discussing how those things that didn’t go too well could have been done better.
No names – the workshop is not an opportunity to score points, pull rank or belittle sub-ordinates.
Step 4 – Identify the topics
Using the remainder of the sticky-notes each person should list at least one thing that went well and then the remainder can be use to log either more things that went well, or things that could have been done better. In the top right -hand corner of each note either a tick or a cross should be added and in the bottom left hand corner, the writers initials.
No more than 15 – 30 minutes should be allocated to this activity
When done, each person should take their completed notes and stick them onto a fresh page of the flip chart.
Step 5 – Pick the best
Provided there are not too many attendees, ask each person in turn to go back to the flip chart and pick the single sticky-note that they created that; from their perspective had the biggest impact on the project. Then divide the remaining time by the number of attendees to work out the amount of time that should be spent talking about each persons most important learning.
Once each person has discussed their learning, the first session should close. You will probably be left with enough remaining sticky-notes to continue discussions for many hours.
Step 6 – Between Sessions
After the first session take the flip chart and re-arrange the remaining sticky-notes into categories of similar comments or comments all related to the same activity or period in the project.
Type each sticky-note into a spreadsheet or word-processor underneath its assigned grouping and print out in a large format so the when you run the final session and the paper is attached to the wall, each person in the room can read the text.
Then arrange the second session.
Step 7 – Summarise
This workshop should again last no more than two hours otherwise it will either become stale, degenerate into a general discussion or lose its momentum. Your team members should have left the first session feeling refreshed by your approach and ready for the second. Put the pages of remaining lessons up onto a wall and, taking each group heading in turn discuss all the comments. Comments should be focussed on actions that could have been taken to avoid the things that didn’t go so well making notes as appropriate.
Step 8 – Finish on a high
Within 24 hours of the final session you should type up all the notes distributing them to every member of the team regardless of whether they attended the workshops with a message thanking attendees for their valuable contribution. Finally if your organisation has a central Lessons Log then your notes should be sent to the person who maintains it, ready for review when you start your next project.