The right way to conduct a debrief

I recently came out of what was supposed to be a project debrief quite shocked. It was a complex project with a lot of moving pieces, and the result was quite amazing. But the external consultant leading the debrief was solely focused on finger-pointing. The value of a good debrief is important, but they should be conducted with professionalism in a way that allows for learning. J.D. Meier, author of Getting Results the Agile Way outlines James D. Murphy’s STEALTH Debrief:

“S. Set time / location / preparation. Let everyone know what they need to bring to the debrief. Start and end on time. Don’t let the debrief degrade into an endless postmortem. Another key is identifying objectives, such as what future actions are desired. Will you do things better? Will you pass along the good stuff to others? Are you changing future plans and/or strategy

T. Tone (Nameless, rankless, open communication; lead by example) In this step, you do an inside outside criticism. You criticize yourself first (inside) and then to your team for criticism (outside). You start by listing your mistakes. When you talk about the team mistakes you observed, you keep it nameless by using third person (you substitute roles or positions, for example, the wingman, the architect, the developer … etc.)

E. Execution versus objectives. In this step, you ask the question, how well did you execute based on what you said you were going to do? That’s it. How well did you do. Focus on results rather than objectives. What did you get done, what did you not get done? … If you did not get it done, why?

A. Analyze execution. Here you determine the underlying causes of problems or issues. Look for the root cause.

L. Lessons learned. In this step, find the prominent or recurring root cause that bridges together several errors or successes. A lesson learned comes out of a pattern of recurring root causes. Lessons learned are systemic issues.

T. Transfer lessons learned throughout your organization. In this step, you tell people what you’ve learned. The specific fix you recommend needs to be clearly written so that others within your organization can understand the issue and benefit from the solution even if they were not there.

H. High note – positive summation. End the debrief on a high note. After dissecting a mission, admitting errors, and underscoring successes, you have to end the debrief with something positive.”