Tips for your "lessons learned" exercise
After an epic event, such as a significant winter storm in New England, many institutions conduct "lessons learned" exercises. Police Departments, businesses, utility companies and households ask "What could we have done better, if anything?" We do "lessons learned" all the time as professional project managers, so this is a routine activity.
"Lessons learned" need not focus on the negative. If you start out on a witch-hunt, then you will find witches. The analysis may reveal things that went well, such as the training sessions that prepared people to respond to the situation. In the case of Winter Storm Alfred, having daily briefings was a good thing and needs to be included in future emergency situations.
Here are lessons I have learned from conducting lessons learned exercises.
1. Do it soon after the event. Don't wait six months to get started - you lose momentum.
2. Don't try to boil the ocean. Limit the issues to five or ten issues, and go with that. Identifying 347 areas of improvement is just demotivating and pointless.
3. Get executive sponsorship. It might be the CEO or Chief of Emergency services. Make sure that the top guy/girl supports it, so that it stays on the front burner.
4. If possible, get an outsider to help you. Someone without vested interests and no emotional baggage to can think clearly and without bias.
5. Publish your results. Make the process and results visible, so that people are kept informed and buy-in to the recommendations.
6. Put plans in place, quickly, to implement any recommendations from the "lessons learned" exercise.
In general, the questions to focus on, are:
1. What went well? Why? What was the impact? How can we replicate this?
2. What did not go well? Why? What was the impact? What can be done to avoid this in future?
3. What else. In this category, simply lump things of note which are neither positive nor negative.
The key is momentum. Get started with the exercise, keep going with a high priority, and implement the recommendations. If "lessons learned" just lingers he initiative and wallows, then will die a slow death.