So here it goes. Lessons learned on lessons learned.
Tips to Get Started
- Get Curious. This is a chance to play journalist and lean into what’s shared. Build a question set (see below for a starter kit) and then listen. You’ll be asking a lot of, “Tell me more about that…”
- Manage Scope. At the start, define the project or activity or time period that you’re interested in, and stay true to that plan.
- Go for Quantity. The more people you speak with, the easier it will be to see the themes. If you talk with 20 people vs. 10 people, you will spend more time in the interview phase, but your report will be MUCH easier to write, and much richer. The themes will leap off your notes pages. (Note that I have mostly gathered input via interviews and small group discussions, but looking though documents and written materials is also important.)
- Encourage Stories. Vague statements such as “we worked well as a team” or “we all knew what we had to do” are great, but what you need to surface are the specifics. What facilitated the collaboration? What led to people having clear direction? What exactly were people saying and doing? That's what you want to be able to say and do again, in the future. Dig for what led to those feelings of teamwork, such as daily huddles to make sure everyone’s on the same page, or written roles and handoffs. If you can ask people to take you back to a specific moment—a mishap, a point of confusion, or a point of celebration, they will likely lead you to those actionable specifics.
- Get in a Positive Mindset. This one can be hard to sell, because many organizations are laser-focused on mistakes—they perform autopsies so as to not repeat them. I get it. But there’s a whole field of study around Appreciative Inquiry—an intentional focus on what’s working—that is brilliant. Science tells us (Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1987; Cooperrider et al., 2008) that when you start with a positive mindset, you generate more ideas—and that’s the point, right? Questions 1 and 2 (below) are in this spirit.
Here’s your Questions Starter Kit
- As you reflect on ___, what’s one thing that went particularly well?
- What contribution(s) are you personally most proud of? Where do you feel you made the greatest impact?
- How did you communicate? (Meetings, emails, chat, shouting across the room…)
- What resource (could be technology, a person, etc.) did you rely heavily on?
- What was a pain point? Think back to a moment of particular frustration (if there was one). What was happening?
- What do you want to remember to never repeat?
- What surprised you?
- If you had to repeat this activity/project, what’s on your wishlist?
- What do you know now, that you wish you knew at the start?
- What can others learn from your experience?
Once you have all your notes and sit back, squint your eyes a little, and see what stands out, you’ll be in a position to write up the lessons learned. I find that the more time you spend refining the takeaways and themes, the better. And if you can get it down to an exec summary one-pager, you’re golden!