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The Art of Conducting a Project Debrief

The debriefing stage is often one that is overlooked but trust me, after a big project, there’s nothing better than conducting some sort of retrospective. Actually, a debrief is great after a small project, a successful project, or even a not-so-successful one! I’ll admit, it can be a bit uncomfortable to sift through a recent project failure. But you can learn just as much from your failures as from your successes!

The Importance of a Project Debrief

Why even carry out a project debrief, you ask? Internal project debriefs (or post mortem meetings) can be highly effective for agencies because we, strangely enough, learn more after the fact than we do during a project’s execution.

Giving your team an opportunity to reflect on lessons learned is a way to uncover project management lessons which you can apply in the future. You want your team to improve, right? So as soon as a project wraps up, set a time to talk about it. There’s no better time than immediately following the completion of a project – when everything is still fresh in everybody’s mind – to reflect and recap.

And the same logic applies on the client side of things. Why not debrief with the client to hear directly from them what worked…or didn’t. Discuss with them how they feel things could have been different. Even if it’s painful, the insights could be useful.

Powerful Debrief Questions

Start your debrief with a quick introduction and recap of the project and outcome. Reiterate the goals of the project and what you were trying to do. Keep this section brief as it should be fresh in everyone’s minds (as you’ll be conducting the debrief directly after the project is finished – right??).

Plans don’t alway happen the way you intend so address that. What actually happened during this particular project? Ask leading questions such as:

1. What happened? Did we achieve our objective?

  • Did we deliver the best work we could? (Does the client agree?)
  • Did we hit all the deadlines or did the timeline have to change?

2. What can we learn? What did we do right and wrong?

  • What was successful?
  • What went wrong? (Be sure not to gloss over both the good and the bad.)
  • What could have been prevented?

3. What should we do differently next time?

  • In the future, what changes would you make?

This last one’s is critical. Knowing what you know now, would you approach the project differently, given the chance? Where would you make changes moving forward? Don’t just brainstorm – put pen to paper and create a new framework for starting future projects.

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After every project your team should take a bit of time to be reflective. Clients should hold a project debrief with their agency and agencies should hold internal post mortem meetings to learn from the recently completed project process. Allocating time to reflect means you’ll be better positioned to ensure issues aren’t repeated. Debriefs are a great way to encourage your team to alway be improving!

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