Success Strategies

Debriefing Helps You Process Lessons Learned

Guest Writer
4 min read
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Hindsight is 20/20, yet few people take advantage of this wisdom as a regular part of their business cycle. Fewer people still apply any kind of a review process to their personal goals and dreams. How often do you take the time to do a thorough debrief of a work project or a life event? There are cycles to work and life, and if you pause to reflect on the progress you’ve made and how far you have to go, you'll put yourself in a position to be both strategic and tactical in your approach to getting things done. 
Think about the last project you finished. The immediate value of your newly gained insights might disappear if you don’t stop and document what you learned, the experience you gained and even what you’d do differently right away. Research shows details are forgotten after about four to six days. Unfortunately, many people don’t do a debrief session with their team or their family, because they’ve started planning the next event.
The purpose of a debrief process is to find better ways of doing things by identifying mistakes that were made and / or resources that were wasted. By clarifying the lessons learned, you could save time and money the next time you work on a project even remotely like the one you just finished.
Two important outcomes of the debriefing process are (1) to learn and hold onto what works, and (2) to share and teach best practices for future success. There are four main topics to address during the debrief session. Answer these as personally as possible, and sit down with a colleague or family member afterward.
1. What worked especially well? What parts would I want to repeat if / when I do this event again? What factors worked to our favor?
2. What aspects did not work? Did we miss something entirely?  What assumptions did we make that backfired? What areas needed more support than we expected? What took more time than we budgeted? What lessons did we learn? Where was there confusion?

3. What were the biggest risks we took? Did they turn out as we expected? Were they worth it? Did we take enough risks? Were there surprises we didn’t anticipate? How well did we handle them? How could we better prepare for a surprise factor?
4. If money, time and resources were not a factor, what would we do differently next time? What features, benefits or goodies would we add to the event? Describe in vivid detail this ideal scene in terms of wild success and flawless execution.
Stop the cycle of repeating the same mistakes over and over again. Don’t buy into crisis management. Most crises can be anticipated and avoided with the right planning and attention. If you’re shaking your head and saying, “No, we’re always in crisis mode,” then you need to implement this immediately and build it into your culture. You don’t have the luxury of not requiring this essential aspect of project management.
By making the debrief session part of a regular process, you add an effective planning tool to your management skill set and to your organization’s future. Process the next few projects and events for lessons learned, and build a legacy of continual improvement.

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