Your “Lessons Learned” Sessions are a Waste of Time

A few years ago I sat down with a senior project manager to swap stories and the subject of lessons learned sessions came up. She said, “Useless. I can predict most of what will come out on those sessions.” The conversation moved on but her statement stuck with me.

Think about it. How many lessons learned sessions have you attended that unearthed “a-ha moments” and truly led to change. If you can think of one, you are in the minority. If you have a lessons learned session coming up, let me save you some time:

  1. Improve communications between program leadership and the team.
  2. Add more buffer to the task estimates.
  3. Don’t compress testing.
  4. Take risks more seriously.
  5. Give the business more of a heads up about changes coming.
  6. Stop to celebrate the little wins.
  7. Get managers more involved.
  8. Stop to celebrate the big wins.
  9. Hire more resources – people were overworked.
  10. Say “no” when leadership requests more changes.

Sound familiar? You now have a handy list of things to do better. But will you do better? Or will the constraints of time and money push you in the same directions again and again?

I do believe that reflecting on successes and failures is a valuable exercise, but only when it truly results in learning. As a leader, how will you help lead your team to work smarter?

In your next lessons learned, use these questions to help:

  • Boundaries: What can we agree to say ‘no’ to the next time we do this? Who do we need to approve of that principle?
  • Education: Who do we need to advise early on about scope, freeze periods, and the impact of change requests?
  • Influence: Who are the ‘rational minds’ we need on our side to help guide and defend the work in the future?
  • Embed: What ‘checks’ can we bake into our procedures now so we are better equipped to deliver next time? 

Time is at a premium. If you are going to reflect, make sure you convert it into real learning.

Thoughtfully yours,
Jeff Skipper