You’ve launched the new product or went live with the software upgrade. The team completed the mission. So, what happens next? Do you forget the work of the last several months and move on to the next project?

That’s the simplest thing to do since, after all, there’s always another project to jump into. However, what about all the lessons the team learned along the way? You don’t want to lose those and repeat the same mistakes with the next project.

This is where a lessons-learned session comes into play. You’ll need the full team at the meeting with one person designated to facilitate the discussion and another assigned to take notes.

Here’s how the meeting should go:

Step No. 1: Celebrate!

The project team just spent months planning and preparing to make this new product launch, upgrade, or process implementation a huge success for your organization.

They worked hard (and probably long hours) to pull it off and they’ve earned the right to celebrate. Bring in bagels or cater lunch and let the first part of the meeting be time to relax and relish the joy of a completed, successful event.

Step No. 2: Discuss what went well

Kick-off the lessons learned portion of the meeting by asking the team what they liked about how the project went.

What worked that teams should repeat for future projects? Was the planning process organized and information communicated well? Did launch/go-live day run smoothly? Keep going for about half the time allotted for the meeting or until the team is out of comments (whichever happens first).

Step No. 3: Set the ground rules

Before you ask what didn’t go well, you need to make sure the team knows how to handle this part of the meeting. This isn’t about assigning blame or pointing out shortcomings; this is about making the team and future projects better.

Ground rules include:

  1. Comments should not be directed at a specific person (Susie should have done this part differently…) but at the process or results.
  2. Don’t take comments personally. This can be hard to do but remember that the goal is to help everyone improve. If a comment is about part of the project you were responsible for, trust that the person making the observation isn’t calling you out. He/she is just trying to make the next project even better.
  3. Comments about problems should be paired with possible solutions. Don’t just say that testing took too long; suggest ways to fix the issue. You don’t have to provide a detailed analysis here — general suggestions should be sufficient.

Step No. 4: What didn’t go well?

After you’ve set the ground rules, ask what the team could have done differently and/or what didn’t go well for this project. Keep taking notes during this part of the meeting and continue the discussion until you’re about 5 minutes before the designated finish time.

Step No. 5: Wrap-up

Once you’re near the end of your meeting time, summarize the key points made during the discussion. Afterward, email the meeting notes to the participants within one business day.

Retain the notes in a location that will be easy to find when you start planning the next project. Bring out the notes at the first planning meeting to remind the team of what was successful and what you may want to do differently this time.

The team is probably exhausted after a big project, so meeting to discuss it may not sound too exciting. However, if you combine this with a celebration and use it as a chance to learn from what you just accomplished this can be a beneficial and fun time.