What is Lessons Learned

Guide: Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned sessions are an important yet often overlooked part of project management and continuous improvement. They provide a structured way to reflect on both the successes and challenges of a project, ensuring valuable insights are captured and integrated into future initiatives. By planning for, collecting, and applying these lessons, businesses can foster a culture of learning and adaptation, leading to more effective and efficient outcomes.

Table of Contents

What are Lessons Learned?

Lessons learned are a valuable process of obtaining knowledge through experience performing tasks or managing projects. They are used as evidence that informs both current and future projects. Lessons can be learned at any project stage, including insights from project management practices, technical processes, stakeholder engagement, etc.

What Forms Lessons learned?

When conducting a Lessons Learned session, you can gain insights into positive outcomes; these will be successes that you will seek to repeat. Such as, if a particular approach to stakeholder communication resulted in effective engagement and positive feedback, that would be documented as a Lesson Learned.

Areas for improvement are another form of lesson that can be learned from experiance. Maybe a process didn’t go as smoothly as expected, or an error occurred that could have been avoided. These lessons are particularly valuable because they help refine processes and prevent future issues.

Sometimes, you learn something you weren’t even looking for. Unexpected discoveries are great forms of lessons learned to be documented. For example, a workaround developed to solve an unforeseen problem may lead to a more efficient process than the one originally planned.

Finally, we should not forget to learn about team dynamics, including communication, coordination, and conflict resolution.

Why do Lessons Learned?

Lessons learned are often overlooked, as once a project is complete, people tend not to want to look back at it. They may talk about the success of the overall project and ignore any failures or challenges along the way. Furthermore, if a project fails, it is rare for project teams to analyze it to truly understand why.

Valuable insights from lessons learned can be understood to improve future project success, such as:

Preventing the Recurrence of Errors: Documenting what went wrong in a project is a proactive approach to risk management. It helps ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated in future work. This can range from technical errors to misjudgments in planning or communication. By learning from past errors, organizations can develop more robust systems and processes.

Promote Replication of Success: When teams do something well, it’s important to recognize and understand what led to that success. This could be a particular methodology, technology, or approach that proved effective. By identifying and understanding these successes, they can be replicated and adapted for new projects, which results in increasing efficiency and effectiveness across the business.

Knowledge Sharing: Lessons Learned should be shared not just within the project team but across the business. This sharing helps break down information silos and ensures that all parts of the business can benefit from individual projects’ experiences. It can also help new team members come up to speed more quickly and facilitate cross-departmental collaboration.

Support Decision Making: They provide evidence-based insights that can inform future project decisions. When faced with similar challenges or opportunities, project teams can reference the Lessons Learned to guide their choices. This not only reduces the reliance on trial and error but also helps to streamline decision-making processes.

 

The Process of Capturing Lessons Learned

The process of capturing lessons learned is important in continuous improvement and project management. It should be done as a structured approach that ensures experiences and lessons are recorded, analyzed and communicated to minimize the chances of repeating the same mistakes but also to leverage success for future benefit.

Step 1: Plan for Lessons Learned

The planning phase of lessons learned should begin at the start of the project to ensure that capturing lessons learned is an intentional part of the project lifecycle and not forgotten.

As part of the planning phase, you should consider who is going to capture the lessons. This can often be assigned to someone in a specific role, rather than everyone expecting someone else to capture lessons. This person will also be responsible for noting down observations, organizing sessions, and ensuring that the insights are documented and communicated.

Schedule sessions at specific times throughout the project to reflect on progress and outcomes. These can be major milestones, after significant deliverables, or at the project conclusion.

You may also use tools or templates that can be used to collect and record lessons, such as our lessons learned template. This will help capture information and structure it into a document that is easy to review.

Lessons Learned Template - Feature Image - Learnleansigma

Step 2: Collect Data

The next step in Lessons Learned is to capture data through observations, interviews, surveys, and project metrics. The range of methods used should be tailored to suit the project scale.

In reality, it could be as simple as the project team meeting up to discuss the project’s progress and highlight anything to be raised. But larger-scale projects with many stakeholders should seek input from as many sources as possible, making interviews and surveys a suitable method. 

Step 3: Conduct Lessons Learned Sessions

Next is conducting lessons learned sessions; these should be done at the pre-determined milestones that were stated at the initial planning phase of the project. 

Consider the participants of the sessions; this should include a diverse group of stakeholders, not only the project team but also support staff, clients, and end users where possible.

Finally, ensure you have a neutral facilitator who can help manage the discussion, give everyone a chance to speak and keep the conversation on track.

Step 4: Document Lessons Learned

Now to document the lessons learned, which can be done with the lessons learned template that we provide, When doing this, ensure to capture descriptive information about the project, including the title, dates, and team member roles.

Ensure that each lesson learned includes clear and actionable recommendations for future projects.

Step 5: Share and Apply Lessons Learned

Finally, the last step of the process should be to share and apply the lessons that were learned; capturing them is useless if they are not learned from.  To apply, you should consider if lessons learned can be embedded in processes and documents such as training materials, onboarding programs, and standard operating procedures.

When working on the next project you should ensure to review previous relevant lessons learned to inform planning and execution. Incorporate the recommendations from lessons learned into project plans and process updates, then continue to track the implementation of lessons learned in new projects to ensure they are being applied effectively. 

Conclusion

The process of capturing Lessons Learned is more than a procedural step at the end of a project; it’s a strategic tool for growth and improvement. By carefully planning, collecting diverse forms of data, facilitating structured sessions, and documenting actionable insights, organizations can turn past experiences into future successes. Sharing and applying these lessons ensures continuous advancement, embedding a culture of learning that can significantly impact a business’s adaptive capabilities and overall performance.

Referenences

A: Lessons learned are valuable insights gained from experiences, projects, or activities that provide guidance and learning for future endeavours.

A: Documenting lessons learned ensures that knowledge is captured, preserved, and can be shared with others. It allows organizations and individuals to avoid repeating past mistakes and make informed decisions based on previous experiences.

A: To define the purpose and scope, determine what you want to achieve with the lessons learned, such as improving processes, avoiding pitfalls, or enhancing future performance. Identify the specific activities, projects, or events that will be the focus of capturing lessons learned.

A: It is beneficial to involve a diverse team of individuals who were directly involved in the activities or projects being reviewed. This can include key stakeholders, subject matter experts, and team members who can provide valuable insights.

A: When capturing lessons learned, make sure to record each lesson concisely and specifically. Provide context by describing the situation or event that led to the lesson. Identify the impact and consequences of the lesson, document the root cause, and suggest actionable improvements or recommendations.

A: Lessons learned can be organized into meaningful categories or themes based on project phases, functional areas, or specific topics. This helps in easy navigation and retrieval of relevant lessons in the future and allows for identifying patterns or recurring issues.

A: Assign responsibility for implementing the recommended actions or best practices derived from the lessons learned. Establish a follow-up process to track progress and incorporate the lessons into future projects or activities. Regularly revisit and update the lessons learned repository to ensure continuous improvement.

A: Lessons learned, when shared and applied, foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement. By leveraging the insights gained from past experiences, organizations and individuals can make more informed decisions, avoid pitfalls, and continuously evolve for greater success.

Author

Picture of Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is a seasoned continuous improvement manager with a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma. With over 10 years of real-world application experience across diverse sectors, Daniel has a passion for optimizing processes and fostering a culture of efficiency. He's not just a practitioner but also an avid learner, constantly seeking to expand his knowledge. Outside of his professional life, Daniel has a keen Investing, statistics and knowledge-sharing, which led him to create the website learnleansigma.com, a platform dedicated to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement insights.

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