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Conduct a successful project debrief by asking 4 powerful questions

Tihana Alfirević

The debriefing stage of a project is often overlooked but is a vital part of good project management. It sure can be uncomfortable conducting or sitting through a project failure debrief but keep in mind that it is a great way to learn from your mistakes and work on improving things next time around. Having a project debrief after a successful project is equally as important. It’s a great way to break down all the good parts that make the project successful and find a way to replicate the accomplishments moving forwards. You can learn both from successes and failures.

Project debrief purpose is to allow the team an opportunity to share experiences, and problems they encountered. It can become a way to evaluate whether the project has met all the requirements no matter if it did or did not become a successful one. It helps in identifying issues that may have occurred as well as help in determining what causes them.

When conducting a successful project debrief it is important to know what the goals are. The goals are usually the same no matter the size of a project. So set yourself goals for an upcoming debrief – they can be the usual ones that you have for every project debrief you conduct and even some extra ones for a situation you want to focus on a specific project. Try focusing on asking questions that you want you and your team to answer during the debrief that can help you achieve those goals.

Here are some important questions that can help you conduct a successful debrief:

  1. WHAT HAPPENED?

Use this question to find out did you manage to achieve the set objective. Even if the project was overall successful it doesn’t mean there are not things to discuss further. Focus on hiccups, issues, and conflicts that occurred along the way. Just remember to capture broad instances rather than using this question to focus on something specific that someone might have wrong. Do not just focus on your perspective on how things went. Focus on each team member and their perspective on how the project went. This question helps gather the facts but the opinions of your employees as well.

  1. WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS?

Whether the project was successful or not-so-successful it is important to learn something from it. It is easier to point to the flaws of a project, but it is sometimes more worthwhile to start with what’s been working and move from there to issues encountered. Knowing what works and then looking for answers about the aspects that are still a bump in the road, will lead you to moments of discover and help you come up with solutions. 

3. WHAT SHOULD WE DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME?

Answering this question is important because it makes the experience a part of your future decision making. Instead of doing things the usual way it makes you use the knowledge you obtained and work outside of your comfort zone, making you more efficient and even more productive. It can change your mindset as you embark on the next project and think toward the next debrief.

4. HOW SHOULD WE DO IT?

Answering this question is important for dealing with practical stuff. This is where you can decide exactly what plans to make. Set up goals and objectives, decide on actions, tasks, and determine deadlines. This part of a debrief should be very concrete and straightforward so everyone leaving the debrief knows exactly what to do and how to do it.

Project debriefing should become an important part of any project and a great foundation for future projects. Whether the project was a stellar one or it flopped you can learn something from it and with that insight work on fixing the problems and taking the good stuff and using it as a guide for the future.

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