The Importance of Debriefing and How to Get Started

Sometimes I get so caught up in my work that it’s really easy to go from one project to the next, without having the time to think about how my previous projects turned out. I’m not referring to the project outcome but more to the process: what did it take for us to get to the finish line? Did we run into unexpected challenges? Did anything work out particularly well?

Projects can get chaotic fairly quickly and, quite often, one or two people end up as wranglers — sometimes that means picking up the slack, putting in extra hours, and problem solving on the fly. With enough planning, most surprises can be avoided. But even the most experienced planners know that the best thing they can do is build in contingency plans for anything unexpected.

However, equally important is debriefing at the end. A good debrief does not have to be a long, involved process. But when done regularly, debriefs can help illuminate how to refine your internal and external processes. Each time you take on a project and each time you debrief at the end, you and your team will learn lessons that you can apply toward future projects.

Here are some questions I like to use as starting points for debriefs:

  1. How did we do overall on this project?
  2. Which aspects worked well?
  3. What can be improved?
  4. How can it be improved?
  5. Which of these aspects are beyond our control?
  6. What can we do about them?
  7. What were some unanticipated challenges we encountered?
  8. Can we predict these in the future?
  9. How do we implement the changes we’ve discussed?

The last question is very important for me because teams can discuss challenges and even get to how they might address them. However, without an action plan for implementation, the changes won’t happen. It is crucial that everyone on the team is able to engage in an honest and open discussion. Otherwise, debriefing becomes moot. Debriefs aren’t meant to be personal; they’re a discussion about the process so that it goes smoother next time. It’s not about assigning blame or trying to figure out who dropped the ball, if in fact something went wrong. It’s an opportunity to collectively understand where the gaps are and fill them in as best as possible.

Does your team have a protocol for debriefing? What are some strategies that work well for your team? Please share them below!

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