Debriefing: two questions to ask when it’s all done

Most of the time, I’m more than glad when a project is all done and written up. Research projects can have this tendency to take too long and require a lot of breath towards their end. In a hurry to get it over with, it’s easy to forget to look back and evaluate what went well and what didn’t.


This post is part of the open draft for the Research Group Leader Book
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In our scientific work, we are used to progress step by step. Each time an experiment doesn’t turn out the results we expected, we adjust methods and paradigm a little and try again.

But when it comes to the way we organize our teams and our projects, we often don’t show the same scrutiny. Maybe we’re just fed up with that project. Or it’s all the new stuff that’s already piled up. Either way, we forget to sit down with the project members and evaluate or debrief.

Although there are detailed schemes available, a project debriefing can be really simple. All you need to do is ask yourself, and your team, two really short questions:

What worked? And, what should we do different next time?

That’s all. Easy. And note, it’s about the positive just as it is about the negative. Just like any good feedback should be.

The two questions can apply to any aspect of organizing your projects, but here are a few examples:

  • Communication and supervision. Did everyone know what their responsibilities were, and did the supervisor delegate well? Was conflict dealt with adequately? What kind of communication worked well (email, skype, personal meetings…)? Was help available when needed?
  • Writing. Was authorship handled properly, e.g. did everyone know early on where they would land in the authors’ order? Did manuscript reviews go smoothly between all authors? How can writing together be improved?
  • Lab handling. Did everything work out with the technical setup? Are there any procedures that need to be changed, and communicated to others? Which procedures were good, and can be distilled into workflows that others should follow?

Of course, there may be many other aspects that merit discussion. Then again, it’s not necessary to make it a therapy process. Just don’t skip the debrief all together, and identify a few good things to keep, and the bad ones to throw out.

In some cases, a project evaluation may be part of the conversation you have during the personal evaluation meetings with your individual team members. Yet, if a project involved several people, debriefing together with the entire project team will provide more valuable input, and allow clearing up any hickups that may still await closure.

Do you have a routine for project evaluation? Tell us about it in the comments!


I think there’s a lot to learn from entrepreneurs and marketers. Jeff Walker presents the two questions in his video blog here.

Photo credit: Stocksnap>


This post is part of the open draft for the Research Group Leader Book [about] [read more].

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