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Maintain Control in Lessons Learned

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In a traditional lessons learned session that is conducted face-to-face, project managers know each person who is present and his or her role on the project.

But technology today affords us the luxury of being able to do many things online -- such as holding a lessons learned session. We can engage with people across the country or someone who may be sitting right next door. Regardless of where someone is located, we must maintain a cordial and professional manner when we interact online.
When you have dispersed project teams -- and even sometimes otherwise -- getting people to stay focused and not be disrespectful to others in a lessons learned session is a challenge.
To overcome this, set the rules for participating in the session. Make sure participants understand them and agree to them. These rules should include:

  • Respect. Allow someone to make his post without experiencing sarcasm, blame or degradation. Emphasize open, honest and polite communications. Project team members will develop an appreciation for each other, the project manager and their organization.
  • Treat people as if they are right next to you. Use a tone of courtesy that can be recognized in any language. Respect the person's time and keep posts brief. Do not veer off on other conversations -- stick to the discussion.
  • Put a face to a name. Many applications allow photo uploads. When someone responds, everyone can see who is participating in the discussion.  
Setting the right tone in these sessions can lead to so many other opportunities. For example, when good feelings are engendered, it helps to build your team and other business relationships. You can learn more about each person, such as associations they may belong to or networking contacts that you can use for future collaborations and project guidance.
When you maintain control of the meeting and employ general courtesy, it keeps the discussion flowing and ensures everyone gets the information needed about lessons to be learned.
How do you maintain control in lessons learned sessions?


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Shortly after completing a coordinated project between two divisions of the corporation I wanted to conduct a Lessons Learned session with the project team members from both divisions while their experiences remained recent and fresh.
I had prepared a lot of Lessons Learned items from this experience that covered all aspects and phases of the project. As the meeting approached I considered easing into the meat of the discussion by first reviewing Things Gone Right to reflect our successes and positive sense of accomplishment. When the time came to get into Things Gone Wrong / Lessons Learned I wanted everyone to feel comfortable and honest enough to admit where we could have done better in order to build from the experience and deliver projects more successfully in the future.
We also combined the meeting with a recognition luncheon for the project team which I think helped everyone feel at ease and relaxed when discussing Lessons Learned.

We used to have fact-to-face/Q-Gate meetings with all the cross functional team members gathered in a meeting room to discuss the project objectives achieved/testing results/quality checks/failures, giving each member chance to express their opinions/suggestions to handle the failures in the next phase and documenting the suggestions given by each member as a lessons learned document along with version number for future project collaborations.

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