How to facilitate Lessons Learned meeting should be a question that every project manager should be able to answer. This article will provide further guidence.

Definition and Application

Project Manager generally facilitate project related meetings. It need not be the project manager however.

In fact, we can adopt agile approaches to lessons learned and share the facilitate of the meeting among the team members.

So, what does it mean to facilitate?  

We seek to evoke from the team, the myriad of perspectives that can help us improve the work outcome.

Facilitate1: to make easier or less difficult; help forward (an action, a process, etc.):

Careful planning facilitates any kind of work.

to lead or moderate (a discussion, workshop, etc.), especially as a person trained to do so: An instructor will facilitate the online discussions, providing students with the questions beforehand.

to assist the progress of (a person).

The key take aways are help forward, lead, evoke and moderate ideas and assist progress. In other words, keep the meeting moving toward the objective.  

The objective being, disseminate learning obtained during the project or project phase, and subsequently ideas for improvement.

Learning opportunities

Learning opportunities happen, if not every day, at least once per week. Learn something new every day. Usually on a project this starts happening from the release of the Business Case to the project manager.

Therefore, it is critical to establish how to handle Lessons Learned early in the project. There many areas of exploration available to our team.


  • Identify – Capture any actions that may be of value for future projects. Maybe it is a process change, a risk that did happen, or a form/document change.
  • Document – Use a template to capture Lessons Learned so that Lessons Learned are capture the same way.
  • Store – to minimize burning our hand on the metaphoric stove, repeatedly, we need to capture and disseminate what is learned.  These should be accessible to future projects as well.
  • Analyze – At the end of a project a Project Survey can be send out to the stakeholders for input on:
    • What was done correctly or well?  Can we do more of that?
    • What was done incorrectly or poorly?
    • What needs improvement? Some of these items may have been documented during execution.
    • How can we make better the areas of improvement?


The lessons learned for me for capturing Lessons Learned at the end of a project usually turns out to be a performance review rather than ‘what did we learn’. Only did this once.

From then on, Lessons Learned were captured as they happened.

The Final Review of Lessons Learned meeting was still a performance review but at least there were documents of corrected actions or items of value for future projects.


Don’t wait until the end of the project?

  • The problems with at the end
    • Cloudy recollection – trying to recall what went wrong, and ascertain the degree of negative impact on the project will be poor.
    • The boat is already sinking or sunk (too late to make things better). Waiting until the project is over meant the team had to suffer this imperfection throughout the project duration.  This is monetarily costly, and can have a poor morale impact as well.
  • A trick from Agile – the retrospective.  It is better to periodically have these reviews for improvement throughout the project. At a bare minimum, before the gate reviews (if you are a stage gate organization).

Why facilitation is necessary?

The main two problems with meetings are:

  • Staying on Topic
  • Keep the meeting moving

These two problems can be broken down further:

  • Perspectives may vary – establish a ‘Parking Lot’ list if the perspectives start to vary on one or two items. By doing this one can revisit at the end of the meeting. Assign a team member to manage this list.
  • Ensure participation of the entire team (engagement) not just the loudest voice or most dominant – With any meeting this is a challenge for any facilitator; either no one is talking, or one person is trying to control the discussion.
  • Prioritization of items to address – during the Identification phase, list the items and try to prioritize. Although, at times the lessons learned list may be very short and prioritizing may not be necessary or even add value.
  • Actions to take and measurements
    • What is the present performance of the parameter under discussion?
    • What will we do to improve that performance?
    • How much will we improve it by based upon the proposed actions?
    • How will we know that we improved the situation?


Preparation for the meeting by all team members will, from experience, produce interesting and productive results.  

Team members should think about the project and the things that they individually experienced. Those areas they believe are areas for improvement.  

The team member should write those things down on paper, including notes describing the situation. This work should happen prior to the meeting.  

Each team member will present their ideas, going around the team members one at a time. Write these improvement areas on in sticky notes and put these on a white board grouping by type (example, process, behavior, communications).  We should reduce the amount of time spent in the meeting evoking ideas.

Use this time to talk about the ideas brought to the meeting.  The meeting will uncover new things, perhaps.


There is an assumption that only one meeting is required, usually at the end of a project.

Be careful doing this as mentioned earlier in this article. It is our experience, holding more improvement meetings during execution to captures lessons is better than fewer and later.  

Review the list of performance and process improvements the team brings to the discussion.

The information presented should be used for several improvement meetings over the life of the project.

One last thought on holding Lessons Learned meetings multiple times during execution, an early meeting may identify an improvement to a process that can be applied later in the project.

 Facilitate Definition & Meaning |