why you should take the time to debrief after a project

Did you know that Harvard Business School researchers found that among a group of surgeons learning a new operating technique, those who discussed each case in detail and debriefed with team members after procedures managed to halve their operating time — while those who didn’t discuss and debrief hardly improved their time at all?

People don’t debrief enough after a project is over, particularly when a high workload makes you harried. But as that study shows, there’s real value in it. Even when things have gone well on a project, both you’ve likely learned from the experience and picked out things that could be done differently next time to get even better results. Writing those up, even as just a quick bulleted list, can be an invaluable resource to have on hand the next time you conduct a similar project.

One small step that can help you do this is to build a brief reflection meeting into your schedule when you’re scheduling out a project. If you have it on your calendar as part of the project steps, you’re more likely to do it.

{ 8 comments… read them below }

  1. Hans*

    I'm not sure speed is a metric you really want to encourage in surgeons. Did the study mention a corresponding increase in survival rate? I agree with the principle though – debriefing can be extremely useful but is overlooked more often than not.

  2. Henning Makholm*

    Of course, elevating speed to the trumps-all performance goal would invite catastrophe. However, assuming that the surgeons are not encouraged to sacrifice safety and precision for speed, a shorter procedure generally indicates that the operation has been accomplished with less poking around inside the patient, fewer missteps that needed to be backed out of, less time under anaesthesia, and so forth. Those are all good things in themselves.

  3. Anonymous*

    AAM: Is there an online summary/report of this from HBS? Would love to provide it to the management at my place of work.

  4. Jane*

    From what I can see, Anon, it could be a reference to a report in Charles Hill's _Strategic Management Theory_. I found the paragraph by searching "harvard business school debriefing surgeons" (not with the quotes in the search, obviously) which took me to a Google Books result that summarizes the findings and includes a cite for the original research.

    However, it looks from there like it wasn't simply debriefing that gave the advantage; it was a team-process approach that included debriefing among its factors. Could mean that that's not what AAM is referring to, or it's possible that the debriefing part has been picked up more strongly than the rest.

  5. Anonymous*

    Wish my direct supervisors believed in this! When our field technicians discuss jobs before we roll out in the morning, the supervisors are wary about us taking 5-10 minutes to discuss jobs, problems and ways to handle them. I see the advantages of group coheasion and the information transfered can help find solutions for problems or speed up some jobs by making the techs aware of equipment locations and access problems. I firmly believe forewarned is forearmed…

  6. Anonymous*

    I think a lot of front line managers don't want to know the gritty details. Most are happy the project is over and maybe they'll be promoted to middle management before the next project comes down the pipe.

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