What is a Lessons Learned Analysis?

I often use the term, Management is a Journey, Not a Destination, to make the point that managers must always adapt and improve their managerial skills to remain relevant in their organizations. Managers cannot focus solely on their strengths.

No matter how good a professional becomes as a manager, s/he must always improve if they want to remain relevant. An important tool managers can use for process improvement, change management, staff development, and their own managerial effectiveness is a Lessons Learned Analysis (also known as a post-mortem analysis).

What is a Lessons Learned Analysis?

A lessons learned analysis is a process improvement tool that assesses expectations versus outcomes and then identifies what can be done differently. Click To Tweet

A lessons learned analysis is an honest, no-penalty discussion with a manager and his/her team. It is frequently used for project work at strategic points and at a project’s conclusion. It can also be used to improve change initiatives and for new assignments given to team members.

A lessons learned analysis answers five questions in the following order:

1.    What did we expect to occur?
2.    What actually happened?
3.    What worked well and why?
4.    What did not work and why?
5.    What needs to be done differently?

To use this tool effectively, the manager must put on a different operational hat.  For this role, s/he must become a facilitator. The manager uses questions (primarily open-ended), paraphrasing, and summary statements to guide the team discussion.  S/he purposely withholds her/his own opinions until sufficient discussion has occurred. The manager ensures that everyone is heard and that all important issues are fully discussed.

The manager’s role is to facilitate the discussion—not dominate it or prematurely cut off team member discussion.

Managing this process can be tricky!

It is important to give sufficient discussion to what worked well and to celebrate those successes.  This helps to deal with the more sensitive discussions of what did not work well and why and what needs to be done differently.  Starting off on a positive note transitions the group into the more difficult discussions.

These more difficult discussions are where the manager needs to excel in her/his communication style and in her/his own emotional intelligence.  The manager must be open to feedback from her/his team about areas in which s/he could have supported or managed the effort differently.  S/he should acknowledge any legitimate concerns and commit to making adjustments as necessary. With proper planning, support, and execution on the manager’s part, her/his impact on a team project will likely be primarily positive, however.

Finally, there are important requirements a manager must meet to use a lessons learned analysis.

A lessons learned analysis works best when a manager is secure in her/his role, able to manage her/his emotions and the emotions of others, and when s/he has built a relationship of trust and open communications with her/his staff. If the manager cannot meet these requirements, there is an alternative s/he should consider.

An alternative to the preceding approach is to have the team conduct its own lessons learned analysis using trained internal or external facilitators to guide the effort with limited (or no) participation from the manager.  The team’s representative can present the work of the team to the manager. This is a work-around approach however. Managers are more effective when they can have open and honest communications with their team, themselves.

Finally, nothing hurts a manager’s credibility more with her/his team than to have everyone spend the time and effort on this analysis and then have her/him ignore the valid ideas and feedback the group provides.

The devil is always in the details: implementing the lessons learned analysis is just as important as conducting it effectively! Done correctly, a lessons learned analysis is an important tool for managerial success.  It should be part of a manager’s toolbox.

Nothing hurts a manager’s credibility more than to have his or her employees conduct a lessons learned analysis and then ignore their valid ideas and feedback. Click To Tweet
Written by Robert Tanner | Copyrighted Material | All Rights Reserved Worldwide

This article is accurate to the best of the author’s knowledge.
Content is for informational or educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional advice in business, management, legal, or human resource matters.

Robert Tanner, MBA

Welcome to my leadership blog. I'm the Founder & Principal Consultant of Business Consulting Solutions LLC, a certified practitioner of psychometric assessments, and a former Adjunct Professor of Management. As a leadership professional, I bring 20+ years of real world experience at all levels of management.

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