Before we talk through the importance of lessons learned and how they can be used as tools to improve project management efforts in your business moving forward, let’s first establish the definition of “lessons learned.” We define lessons learned as useful project or organization information gained through experience that can be relevant to future projects or organizations and should be retained for future reference. Identification, tracking, and consistent communication of lessons learned can save organizations time and money when embarking on similar efforts by preventing recurrence in other areas of the business or in other projects.
Communication and Record-keeping
By communicating lessons learned early and maintaining effective, accessible record-keeping of said lessons, teams can:
- Promote the recurrence of desirable outcomes, and
- Preclude the recurrence of undesirable outcomes
Lessons learned processes should include steps for:
- Identifying the event and subsequent lesson learned
- Documenting the lesson learned and associated events
- Acting to resolve or mitigate the situation
- Communicating key information to relevant stakeholders: when the event occurred, as it is mitigated, and post-project close out
- Maintenance or tracking of the lesson learned for future reference during other projects or by other personnel
Accounting of Affected Elements
Problems or improvements will likely cut across more than one project management element. Make sure you’ve accounted for whether the problem or improvement affects:
- Integration management: the processes and activities that integrate the various elements of project management and that are coordinated within the project management groups
- Scope: the processes involved in ascertaining that the project includes all the work required
- Time: the processes concerning the timely completion of the project or any of its components
- Cost: the processes that ensure the project is completed within the estimated budget
- Quality: the processes that ensure the project will satisfy the objectives for which it was undertaken
- Human resources: the processes that train, organize, and manage the project team
- Communications: the processes concerning the timely and appropriate generation of reports and project information
- Risk: the processes concerned with conducting risk management on the project
- Procurement: the processes that purchase or acquire products and services
Identification and Documentation
Effective identification and documentation of lessons learned is event-sensitive. When formulating your medium or mechanism for documenting and tracking lessons learned, consider the following characteristics:
- Title: What will you call this lesson learned?
- General Background: Provide brief background information that summarizes the project or task intent and the organization’s mission in order to better understand the context of the event, its trigger, and the ultimate lesson learned.
- Categorize the functional or process area and project name, then identify other classifying descriptors.
- Group or organization: Who owns the event and lesson learned?
- Discussion: Provide detailed observation information about the event. Describe the situation. What happened? What was the trigger or root cause of the event?
- What activities took place to resolve or mitigate the situation?
- What future recommendations could prevent the same incident from recurring?
- What other organizations or projects could the lesson/s apply to?
- Conclusion/summary of event
Traditionally, lessons learned are documented throughout the life of a project and formally reviewed at project close-out. Establish your capture-and-review approach early and be consistent. Remember, it is more effective to review and communicate early to facilitate identification and resolution of similar situations before they can be repeated.