This is the learning gained from the process of performing a project. Facilitated sessions can be held near the end of the project. However they can be identified and documented at any point during the project's life cycle.

Why use lessons learned?

Lessons learned can bring together insights gained during a project to usefully apply on future projects. You can share and use the knowledge derived from the experience to:

  1. promote the recurrence of desirable outcomes
  2. preclude the recurrence of undesirable outcomes

What is lessons learned?

Lessons learned is the learning gained from the process of performing a project. Sessions are usually held during project close-out, near the completion of the project. However, they can be identified and documented at any point during the project's life cycle. Utilisation and incorporation of those processes includes identification of applicable lessons learned, documentation of lessons learned, archiving lessons learned, distribution to appropriate personnel, identification of actions that will be taken as a result of the lesson learned, and follow-up to ensure appropriate actions were taken.

The lessons learned document serves as a valuable tool for use by other project managers within an organisation who are assigned similar projects. The document should not only describe what went wrong during a project and suggestions to avoid similar occurrences in the future, but should describe what went well and how similar projects may benefit from this information.

How do we do it?

While this is primarily the project manager's responsibility, everyone on the project should be aware they can provide ideas and insight into the lessons learned. This truly needs to be a collaborative effort in order to succeed. Recording lessons learned should be a regular part of project management and needs to be included in the weekly and monthly processes.

It is important that once lessons learned are collected and documented that the organisation approves and implement any process improvements identified. It is important for organisations to strive for continuous improvement and this portion of the lessons learned process is an integral step. In addition to the categorisation and description of the lesson, state what the impact was and provide a recommendation for project managers to consider on future projects.

The following are recommended best practice approaches to capturing lessons learned:

  • Include all experiences — Lessons learned should draw on both positive and negative experiences.
  • Act quickly — Obtain feedback as quickly as possible to avoid people forgetting the challenges faced during the course of a project.
  • Document — Store lessons learned throughout the project in a central repository.
  • Make accessible — Make lessons learned accessible to other projects.
  • Archive lessons — Lessons learned should be archived as historical project data and incorporated into the organisation's lessons learned.
  • Disseminate lessons — Disseminate lessons learned to the project management community.
  • Reuse lessons — Reuse lessons learned from past projects to help better manage current projects.
  • Involve stakeholders — Involve all project participants and stakeholders in the lessons learned process.
  • Solicit feedback — Conduct a post-project survey to solicit feedback on the project from the project team, customers and stakeholders who were well acquainted with the management of the project.
  • Identify lessons learned — Convene a lessons learned session to promote the success of future projects.
  • Archive data — Archive all project data in a central repository. Include best practices, lessons learned and any other relevant project documentation.

Example

The lessons learned should document the cause of issues and the reasoning behind any corrective action taken to address those issues. When thinking about how to effectively document a project's lessons learned, consider these questions:

  • What was learned about the project in general?
  • What was learned about project management?
  • What was learned about communication?
  • What was learned about budgeting?
  • What was learned about procurement?
  • What was learned about working with sponsors?
  • What was learned about working with customers?
  • What was learned about what went well?
  • What was learned about what did not go well?
  • What was learned about what needs to change?
  • How will/was this incorporated into the project?

You should also draw on both positive experiences (good ideas that improve project efficiency or save money) and negative experiences (lessons learned only after an undesirable outcome has already occurred). Every documented lesson learned should contain at least these general elements:

  • project information and contact information for additional detail
  • clear statement of the lesson
  • background summary of how the lesson was learned
  • benefits of using the lesson and suggestion how the lesson may be used in the future

See also