Lessons learned can be a significant contributor to the overall success of a project. The experience and knowledge gained from previous projects can be brought to bear for both things that went well and those that didn’t. They can help identify approaches that have worked well and avoid the repetition of previous mistakes.
Each and every project will provide you with valuable experience and it’s important to not let these findings go to waste. It’s at the initiation stage of every project that previously recorded lessons learned should be referred to, so you gain a base knowledge from previous endeavours.
In every project or programme, capturing lessons learned should be an on-going activity throughout. This should be part of the project ethos from day one. Whether you are using lessons learned to prepare for current projects or for identifying process improvements, we learn from project failures as well as project successes each and every day.
When you come across certain activities you may think “if I was do it again, I would do it this way” or “that worked really well”, then it’s important to document these. A lesson learned session should take place at the end of a project, as a minimum. For project’s that take longer, than holding a workshop at the end of each key phase would be more appropriate.
What’s the benefit of using lessons learned for your new project?
- Increase project quality
- Reduced risks
- Avoid unnecessary duplication
- Avoidance or prevention of mistakes
- An opportunity to seize opportunities
What are the key attributes of lesson learned?
There are 5 main considerations to ensuring your project and lessons learned has the best chance of success…
Retrieval – It’s sensible to start with retrieve as it is essential that during the project initiation stage a review of past lessons learned artefacts is undertaken. This only works if previous Project Managers have identified, documented, analysed, and stored them. Where previous information and data isn’t available, initiate informal conversations with key stakeholders. Their exposure to similar projects can be instrumental in helping you develop your log and determining the direction of the project.
Identification – Lessons won’t naturally come to you unless there is structure to your initiative and all key stakeholders understand your objective, as you will be reliant on them for their ongoing input. Lessons can come through an array of different channels. Your exposure to stakeholders, working groups and steering committee’s are a great opportunity to gather information and collate feedback real-time.
When scheduling a session, because a project has come to an end or stage gate or milestone has passed, than preparation is key. Go into a session with topics for discussion, allow your audience a platform to build upon, honest and constructive feedback. It’s good practise to send out a pre-meeting survey or ask them to document key learns.
Documentation – You are dependent on your stakeholders to supply you with feedback on the project success and areas for development. Documenting these points ensures ongoing lessons, and allows other Project Managers access to this information. You will be responsible for creating, maintaining, and developing the lessons learned log so that information can be accessed at any point in the future.
Analyse – Once you have documented the feedback, remedial steps are taken to resolve problems and any feedback is shared wider through impacted operational teams, other projects or at programme level. This step is more informal as the team/recipient will decide what can be done with the lessons in question. Project management process improvements or training needs are often identified as a result of lessons learned.
Storage – Best practise is having a dedicated place for lessons learned across all programmes and projects. The lessons learned log should be stored along with that of other projects, ideally in the same format. For ease of access, this data is best placed within a database – ensuring that information is easily searchable, and items can be found through common themes. For example, if it’s a word document it would prove difficult overtime to identify and extract relevant lessons learned. However, if you use a database or excel, with various fields, then it would be far easier for future Project Managers to search.
The danger of waiting until the end of a project means team members may be focused on other activities, moved onto other roles and the momentum has come to a halt. Don’t treat it as a tick box exercise. Setting up a lesson learned log during the project initiation stage will establish this activity as a core part of ongoing project management. Encourage it’s use, do regular reviews as part of your risk management process so it is more meaningful and relevant.
If you’d like to know more about how we can help guide you through setting up and running your projects with great governance, controls and implementing best practise please get in touch with us using firstname.lastname@example.org.