Friday, 19 April 2013

Improving Lessons Learned Sessions with MindGenius

Capturing lessons learned at the end of an iteration, release or project is a long standing project management best practice.  This typically involves a facilitator helping the project team brainstorm relevant lessons learned.  This can be captured on a flip chart or a whiteboard, however, I prefer to document lessons learned using a MindGenius mind map. By capturing the lessons learned in a mind map format, the facilitator can categorize and organize by type and resource. The facilitator can quickly communicate and share the results by distributing the map using several useful MindGenius views.

Figure 1 Lessons Learned in a Mind Map

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to use the attached MindGenius template to facilitate a lessons learned session, identify the key lessons learned and categorize them into clear and actionable tasks for future follow up.

Step 1. Review the Lessons Learned Template

The lesson learned template is organized into three main areas – People, Processes and Solution. You can add additional areas although these should get you started with what went right, what went wrong and what continued to work well for the project. The template includes a Lessons Learned Map Part node that includes additional detail for every lesson learned. This map part should be copied and pasted into every new lesson learned node (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Lessons Learned Template Map Part

The lessons learned map part includes the context, lesson learned detail, specific action item and assigned resource. The context branch is used to explain the background of the lesson learned and clarify the situation. The lesson learned detail node is use to capture the specific lesson learned and associate benefits or failures. The action item node is used to identify the specific action required for the lesson learned. Each lesson learned may not have a direct action item but it is helpful to determine next steps with the action item, otherwise, the nugget of project knowledge will simply be lost in the project archives. Finally, the assigned resource identifies who should implement or follow up on the action item. By incorporating action items and expecting assigned resources to follow up on the action items, project managers improve the benefit of lesson learned sessions.

Figure 3 illustrates a brief example of a lesson learned. The actual “lesson learned 001” node can be renamed using a title that summarizes the overall lesson. In MindGenius, additional notes can be added using the Note Editor. As you might guess, some team members will provide a lot of information about a specific lesson learned or you may only get one or two sentences. With MindGenius you can capture either level of data.

Figure 3. Lessons Learned Detail Example

Step 2. Conduct the Lessons Learned Session

One best practice is to find an independent facilitator who isn’t the project manager to conduct the lessons learned workshop. In some cases, the project manager may be the source of lessons learned that need improvement. If the project manager facilitates the session, the project team may be reluctant to share the information. A lesson learned session can be accomplished within an hour and the team members should be encouraged to brainstorm until all of their ideas are exhausted. Some project teams choose to write lessons learned on index cards while others will verbally state them. I prefer to simply identify and discuss the lesson learned so other team members can contribute to the discussion. All of these notes are captured within the mind map. The list of lessons learned can grow and you’ll quickly find the map getting bigger. By using the Map Explorer (Figure 4), you can navigate to each branch and focus on the specific node details without getting lost in the map. I’ve found Map Explorer to be a useful tool when trying to switch between lessons learned and add supplemental notes.

Figure 4. Navigating the Lessons Learned with Map Explorer

Step 3. Categorize each lesson learned

The map template has been setup with 3 lesson learned categories including Do More, Continue to Do and Needs Improvement. As you collect the ideas or after the lessons learned have been generated, you can use the MindGenius Category dropper to quickly categorize each into a logical Do More, Continue to Do or Needs Improvement Category. You can customize these categories to fix your own lesson learned categorization under the Analyze – Edit Categories menu item

Step 4. Assign a Resource to each Lessons Learned Node

In the node detail, each lesson learned included an assigned resource sub-node. I initially use this node to track who should be assigned to follow up on the lesson learned. Once the session is complete, I go back and assign the individual resource to the main lesson learned node (i.e Lesson Learned 001). Depending on the necessary task follow up, you may ask the assigned resource to pick a date when the action will be completed. Following up on lessons learned is an important step in continuous improvement and improving the organization’s project management competency.

To assign a resource to the specific resource node, use the Task – Resource Dropper menu item and click on each relevant node to assign a resource. Once categories and resources have been assigned, the raw lessons learned map can be organized by category and assigned resource.

Step 5. Generate the Category Map

One of MindGenius’s strengths is being able to capture the data in one format and rearrange the data in another useful format. Creating the category map allows the facilitator to quickly organize the map into the Do More, Continue to Do and Needs Improvement categories. Select Analyze – Create Category Map to create the category map in Figure 5.

Figure 5. Lessons Learned by Category

I recommend publishing the map in this format as a summary of the lessons learned session and then providing specific detail in a presentation. MindGenius supports exporting the map into PowerPoint so you are only a few clicks away from putting any final details or notes into a management presentation.

Step 6. Generate the Resource Map for future follow up

The next step is to organize the action items and follow ups from the lessons learned session. Creating a resource map that organizes specific action items by person is helpful for additional follow up. Project managers make the mistake of simply documenting a lessons learned session and moving on to another project. The key value of a lessons learned session are the action items that need to be acted upon to improve delivery for the organization and future projects. Select Tasks – Create Resource Map and set the Ignore these Branches option for Branches with no resources. The lessons learned by resource map will be created (Figure 6).

Figure 6. Lesson Learned Action Items by Resource

As previously mentioned in Step 4, a date can be assigned to each action item for future tracking. The key take away is to actually follow up on the lessons learned and apply them to improve the organization. In the past 6 steps, I’ve showed you how to easily document, categorize and assign action items for a useful lessons learned session. Document and incorporate your lessons learned into future project initiation phases and commit to apply past lessons learned to your project. 

Download the lessons learned template and get started!

Dr. Andrew Makar is an IT program manager and is the author of How To Use Microsoft Project and Project Management Interview Questions Made Easy. For more project management advice visit


Marcos D. Alves said...

Very good information. Thank you very much.

Jacob Brown said...

Thanks Andy, timely article for me! Just about to undertake one of these.

Unknown said...

I am trying to read this is Mindgenius and its not working I have the zipped folder and it extracts a xml file which cant be read

Kelly Robertson said...

Thanks for your comments.

The file is MindGenius 4 format. We will arrange to add a .mgmf file early next week.

MindGenius said...

Here is a link to the template in MindGenius .mgmf:

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