It’s a beautiful July morning. Birds are singing, bees are humming, and it seems that all of nature is trying to convince me to get out of my office, jump on my bicycle, and cycle to a park…
But, instead, I must stay indoors to complete the final report for an EU project I’ve been managing for the last 12 months. Not exactly exciting, is it?
Everyone who has had to write such reports knows just how tedious they can be.
I would like to share a couple of ideas and tools with you that have worked for me in making this process easier and more meaningful.
The key tip is to treat the reporting phase as an opportunity to reflect on and assess what you and your team have learnt.
After a couple of years of managing a project, you probably feel ready to move on to the next challenge. But, before you do, it can be very valuable to spend some time with your team to analyse what worked and what didn’t in your successfully completed project.
What was effective and what could have been done differently to save time, money, or resources?
This phase, called “lessons learnt”, is often unjustly overlooked by project managers. If you take a bit of time, you can learn so much from your experience and draw conclusions that will make your work easier in the future.
1. Take your time – don’t do it in one go!
For most of us, writing reports is not our favourite task, and so we tend to try and get it done as quickly as possible. The obvious reason for this is that the sooner we submit reports, the faster we get our final payment from the EU. So, of course, do not postpone it! However, you should take your time to analyse what worked and what didn’t because whatever you’ve learnt from this process will possibly make your life easier when you manage your next project.
2. Reflect with your team
While writing a report is usually a lonely process done by a project manager, reflecting on what worked and what could be improved is most impactful when done with the whole project team. If your team members are spread throughout your or other organisations, it can also be a great opportunity to meet and celebrate the success of the project. During such a meeting you can conduct a “lessons learnt” workshop. Below, you’ll find some tips on how to do this!
However, if your team is spread throughout different countries, Skype or other virtual meeting software might be a better and more cost-effective option.
3. “Lessons learnt”
“Lessons learnt” is a powerful tool to get feedback from the whole team on what worked in your project and what processes could be improved in future projects. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on challenges that were successfully dealt with.
So, how does one conduct a “lessons learnt” workshop?
There are several options. I would like to share with you my favourite way.
I get my project team members together. I ask them to be open and honest and tell them that the reason we run the workshop is not to punish anyone for mistakes, but to identify challenges we might be able to avoid in the future.
On a piece of flipchart paper, I draw the following table:
I give everyone post-it notes and ask them to brainstorm individually on challenges they have encountered over the course of the project. Then, each of us stick the post-it notes on the chart under the relevant category. Some issues will be repeated but by giving people time and space to reflect on their own, they will produce a list of issues that the team might not have thought of if it were a group activity.
We then have a look at the flipchart together and identify if some challenges overlap. If they do, we group them. If the project was complex or difficult to implement you might need more space than just a piece of flipchart paper. You can always use a white board or wall instead.
Then, as a group, we think about recommendations and solutions that either worked in our project or might work in future.
The last step is to document the workshop and use the results when we plan subsequent projects.
You can learn more about “lessons learnt” at our project management courses.
4. Before you submit final reports
Coming back to the formal requirement of the EU project – before you submit the final report, ask someone else to check it! It is good practice. A colleague could spot some mistakes or ask for clarification that will be save you time if you correct them at this stage, rather than after submission.
Project Management Institute. (2013) A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK®) (5th ed.). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
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