A solid lessons learned session is usually a great way to close out a project. However, a lot can be learned from a good old-fashioned customer evaluation. I may not always be positive, and you may not always agree with the customer's responses, but you will LEARN from it ... I guarantee it. No, you can't turn around and evaluate the customer - save some of those thoughts and spin them a better way in the lessons learned session.

Let's look at the process of conducting a customer evaluation of the project and how your team performed. Remember, don't be too defensive ... .go into it as positively as possible. Here are some thoughts on questions you could include on the evaluation from itself. Read on ...

After the customer has accepted the final deliverable, it's time to have the customer evaluate the project. This is best done through a survey form. What you'll want to include on the survey are statements that the customer can rate on a 1 to 6 or 1 to 10 scale of strongly disagree to strongly agree. (It's best to use an even-numbered scale so that the customer is forced to pick a number that is not in the middle. This will give you a better idea if he or she is positive or negative, rather than neutral.)

Here is a list of 12 statements to explore customer opinion on project results:

  • The final deliverables met my acceptance criteria.
  • The final deliverables met my expectations.
  • The delivery date met my needs.
  • The cost met my needs.
  • Overall, I was satisfied with the results of the project. You will also want to include statements that explore the project management process, such as:
  • The project plan was complete and effective.
  • The scope of the project was well defined.
  • The change-management process was effective.
  • My level of involvement in the project fit my needs.
  • Status reports were clear and complete.
  • I was kept informed on the progress of the project.
  • Overall, I was satisfied with the project management process.

Also add statements specific to your project to the list. For example, if you did a software implementation project, you might ask if the software training program was acceptable and what, if anything, could have been improved.

So far, we examined sample questions that you might suggest the customer rate you, your team, and the project on. Next, we'll discuss completing an actual project evaluation form for the project where the customer can address - through an interview process - what went well and what didn't go so well. It's not specifically a lessons learned - it's still going down the customer evaluation vein, but it's somewhat similar (though fairly one-sided still at this point).

After the customer completes the survey, it's time to sit down for a one-on-one interview. You may want to invite the sponsor to this meeting as well. During this meeting, there are two questions you'll need to explore: what went well (plus) and what could we do better next time (delta)? You can record their answers on a plus/delta form (see the figure below).

As you can see, the topics on the form mirror the statements on the survey. The interview is your opportunity to probe for more detailed information from the customer relative to the survey. For example, if the customer rated the statement, 'The scope of the project was well defined,” as a three out of six, ask the customer what they liked about the scope definition and what they would suggest you do differently next time. Record the responses on the form.

It's important not to get defensive or to try and justify what did or did not happen during the project. Your job during this interview is to simply ask questions and record the customer's answers, not to defend your actions. Think of yourself as an impartial journalist who is just trying to gather information. If you want a chance to explain what happened, ask for a follow-up meeting.