Today we will discuss lessons learned and their importance in project management.
Every project is an opportunity to gain new experiences. This experience provides you with fresh insights that will be beneficial to future initiatives.
Lessons learned are part of organizational process assets and assists the project management team and the project management office (PMO) gain insights from previous projects.
Lessons learned help in:
- Avoiding mistakes
- Taking advantage of opportunities
- Improving project quality
Let’s dive in.
Lessons learned are documented knowledge gained from previous projects in such a way so it can help future projects.
Lessons learned are collected throughout the project life cycle and contain all events, both positive and negative. The goal is to reuse the best practice and avoid the same mistakes in future projects.
The PMBOK Guide defines the lessons learned process as a “collection of interconnected actions and activities undertaken to accomplish a specified set of goods, results, or services.”
The lessons learned collection process involves five steps:
- Identify: Make a list of the comments and suggestions. These might be a significant source of information for future initiatives.
- Document: Note down all information in a file and allow participants to comment on it and highlight the specific lessons learned during the conversation.
- Analyze: Analyze and arrange the lessons learned to be used and shared with other teams. They could be used in training or to enhance project management processes.
- Store: Keep a copy of the lessons learned reports on a shared disk or in the cloud, so they are accessible to all project teams.
- Retrieve: You retrieve the lessons learned from the archive to be used for your current project.
Importance of Lessons Learned
Lessons learned are essential for three reasons:
- They help you learn from your mistakes to prevent issues in the future.
- They let you collect best practices or clever methods of doing tasks and pass on this information.
- They help your stakeholders and team members develop trust. Team involvement ensures support from all stakeholders.
You should clarify that this exercise is not to express personal rage.
On the other hand, you should welcome positive criticism, as the lessons learned exercise is about giving useful and constructive criticism to improve processes and avoid previous errors.
How to Document Lessons Learned
There are several methods for collecting and documenting lessons learned. Some of these methods are listed below.
Most projects have post-project reviews. Here you evaluate what worked and what didn’t. Team members will benefit from an open and honest conversation about the project, and they can use this knowledge for their next project. The results can be shared with other project teams.
Meet one-on-one with your team members and ask them about their lessons learned. You may discover that team members are more willing to offer feedback with these personalized meetings, and you may collect some valuable ideas.
Team members are delighted to discuss project accomplishments in a group environment but are hesitant to admit mistakes. In private conversation, when individuals are less concerned about others overhearing their faults, they will speak freely.
You shouldn’t wait until the end of the project to compile the project’s lessons learned. Make it a regular exercise to share and record lessons learned. Inquire about what team members have learned this week and discuss in an open environment. Make a note of it.
You may not get information worthy of recording in every meeting, but the process creates an environment where team members feel encouraged in sharing their lessons learned.
Encourage your PMO to create a wiki for lessons learned if it does not exist. They’re simple to develop and allow all team members to contribute here. Keep the wiki updated throughout the project lifecycle. You may also include copies of documents such as your post-project review minutes.
This makes a wiki a useful learning resource.
Team meetings help only team members, but lunch sessions have a larger audience.
You conduct these sessions during lunch and let team members from other projects in your organization join in. This helps share knowledge across different teams.
Lunch sessions are informal meetings.
When to Document Lessons Learned
You should document lessons learned throughout the project life cycle.
Capturing lessons learned is a continuous process. You should encourage team members to open and share lessons learned whenever possible. They should not wait for any particular time; they should record the lesson as soon as they learn it.
Team members often don’t report negative events. You should emphasize documenting negative lessons learned, as we may repeat the same mistakes if we do not learn from them.
After collecting lessons learned, you should analyze and modify them before archiving. You can add a summary of lessons learned in a few phrases. The summary can include information on the lesson learned, its importance, and how it can be helpful for future projects.
The lessons should have searchable keywords linked to them in the shared drive or wiki, such as “testing” or “specifications.” This will help searchers find the lessons learned related to particular terms quickly.
Lessons Learned Report
At the end of the project, you will prepare a report containing lessons learned with additional feedback and ideas from team members who could not contribute earlier. Send this report to all stakeholders to provide their comments.
After receiving their comments, you will compile them, and then the lessons learned are completed.
The lessons learned report includes:
- Summary: a one-page summary of the results with recommendations.
- Executive Report: a review of the lessons learned, including what went right or wrong, and how you can improve the processes.
- Findings: a summary of problems discovered throughout the evaluation.
- Recommendations: actions to be taken in the future to avoid negative events and realize opportunities.
Depending on the audience, the project manager will deliver either the thorough report or the executive report. You can use newsletters, presentations, white papers, and other kinds of communication to share the lessons learned to project stakeholders.
How to Use Lessons Learned
In most cases, the project manager conducts review meetings and presents lessons learned.
To effectively use lessons learned, your team should have access to this document while developing the project management plan.
The lessons learned should be from a similar project or a similar process so team members can easily co-relate and take preventive actions to avoid making past errors.
Things to Consider from Lessons Learned
What Went Well? (Positive Experiences)
If you don’t look at what went well, you may ignore using these proven strategies to realize opportunities in future projects.
What Did Not Go Well? (Negative Experiences)
Learning from the mistakes becomes an essential aspect. Ignoring what went wrong ensures that you will repeat the same mistake.
What Were the Anticipated Project Events?
Look at the anticipated project events and evaluate how they occurred. Learning takes place during and after each project. The most effective method is to host a meeting to discuss the lessons learned throughout the project lifecycle.
Were the Project Milestones Met? If Not, Why?
Project milestones are important events, and they should be achieved on time. You must review if the project milestones were achieved on time. If not, what were the reasons so you can take preventive action and keep it from occurring in your next project?
Lessons Learned Experiences
When preparing for a project review, you must approach it with the right attitude. Keep the following points in mind.
Don’t Get Caught up in Past Mistakes: You could be obsessing about a past project issue, such as a disagreement with a stakeholder or a task you failed to complete. While this can be reasonable, it is unproductive. Accept whatever unpleasant things have happened and concentrate on what you have learned.
Stakeholders Always Criticize: Even the finest project managers are subjected to criticism. This is because projects are constantly met with opposition and debate inside the organization. As a result, others will point out what you should have done differently. They won’t praise you for things you did brilliantly.
Be Willing to Learn: Accept that you may not always have the greatest solution. Certain project activities may be better planned or carried out more efficiently. You will improve if you are willing to learn.
Examples of Lessons Learned
The goal of the lessons learned process is to learn from mistakes and achievements.
The following are few examples of lessons learned.
Lessons Learned for the Project Manager
- Lack of Support: If your team believes you might be more supportive in client-related issues, you should make yourself more available and assume leadership.
- Lack of Communication: Some issues might arise because of your lack of communication. Be proactive and ensure that all stakeholders are well communicated and informed.
Lessons Learned for the Team
- A Lack of Team Spirit: This phenomenon is common for newly formed teams. Planning an informal gathering will help team members get to know each other and thus address this issue.
- Knowledge Sharing: When junior team members do not receive support from seniors, knowledge sharing becomes an issue. The problem can be solved by designating senior team members to mentor new team members.
- A Lack of Specialized Knowledge: Assume you’re working on an IT project in the oil and gas sector but don’t have any experts from the industry. Communicate with your organization to provide subject matter experts to support and help solve this issue.
Lessons Learned for the Company
- Lack of Organizational Alignment: Every department has its own goals; they don’t appear to be aligned with each other. This lack of alignment should be addressed from the top level.
- Weak Organization Culture: Any difficulties generated by a weak corporate culture, such as one that criticizes and instills fear in employees. Management must support an environment that fosters an atmosphere where team members can take responsibility without fear.
- Corporate Travel Policy: A corporation’s travel policy may be very restrictive. Such limitations might make an already difficult and unpleasant work trip even more difficult. Loosen such tight policies.
Lessons Learned Template
It is difficult to track lessons learned and make improvements without a defined documentation procedure. Starting with the kick-off meeting, establish a procedure. Documenting lessons gained throughout the project’s lifespan will prevent employees from forgetting what they’ve learned.
PROJECT MANAGEMENT LESSONS LEARNED
Lessons learned in project management is an effective approach for generating knowledge from experience. However, collecting lessons learned is not as easy as it seems because no one likes to pinpoint their faults and let others advise how they could have done it better.
Taking a critical review is vital for effective lessons learned in project management. Therefore, it is your responsibility as a project manager to build confidence in your team members so they can speak their minds freely. Also, make sure that no one blames other team members for any past errors.
How are lessons learned collected in your project? Please share your experiences through the comments section.