Debriefings - Lessons Learned

Debriefing is a process of receiving an explanation of a study or investigation after participation is complete.
"Lessons learned” is just one name for the second to last step that takes place before closing a process improvement or new development project. Other names include:

• Autopsy
• Reverse engineering the project activities
• Santayana review
• Post-project appraisal

The purpose of this step is to search out what went wrong, what went right, and why, before the team separates and the project becomes history. Its goal is to help an organization:

• Learn from the appropriate use of techniques and tools
• Learn from any poor decisions, insufficient actions or mistakes made, and also from the good decisions made and effective actions taken
• Document the findings for the organization’s knowledge base
• Focus on work done well to provide appropriate recognition

The term “lessons learned” appears commonly in the quality improvement and project management literature, almost as if it were a common tool for every organization.

There is a suggested format for capturing points to discuss at a lessons learned debriefing. One project team learned:

• Many decisions were made without carefully discussing the pros and cons.
• It had relied on the advice of a respected and experienced member.
• Members noted failing to identify root causes and potential risks.
• Members often disagreed with decisions but kept their reasons to themselves.

As the occurrence of lessons learned debriefings increases over time, project teams will learn to keep notes during the project that will be helpful in the debriefing. Holding a debriefing at the end of a project does not mean corrective actions needed during the project should be adjourned until then.

Debriefing sessions shouldn’t be viewed as negative finger-pointing exercises but as opportunities to recognize successes and challenges and empower each leader to help others in the organization and learn from their experiences.

Before the debriefing session begins, a strong discussion leader should be selected to encourage everyone to contribute but not allow personal attacks to overturn the conversation.

Debriefing sessions can be made directly without the use of "props" or with them as support tools, accomplishing highly dynamic sessions. The skill levels of professional initiators and their visions for each process will be necessary to capitalize on the experiences of experiential workshops, moments of inspiration, teachable moments that become Debriefing sessions, and turn into commitments for action.

Call Malyszek & Malyszek for more information concerning lessons learned debriefings.