7 Tips for Project Lessons Learned

Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines lessons learned as the knowledge gained from the process of performing the project. Formally conducted lessons learned sessions are traditionally held during the project close-out, near the completion of the project. However, lessons learned may be identified and documented at any point during the project’s life-cycle. The purpose of recording lessons learned is to share and use knowledge derived from experience to:

  • Promote the recurrence of desirable outcomes
  • Preclude the recurrence of undesirable outcomes

As a practice, lessons learned include the processes necessary for identification, documentation, validation, and dissemination of lessons learned. Utilization and incorporation of those processes include 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 experience gained, and follow-up to ensure that proper steps were taken.

7 Tips for Project Lessons Learned

1. Review the Good and the Bad
Lessons learned should not only focus on the mistakes that were made, they should also document the desirable outcomes that came from the project. Otherwise, all of the processes and decisions that contributed to the project’s success would be lost, and that prevents repeatable processes from being established through best practice implementations. Oftentimes, everyone focuses on the mistakes that were made, and, while that is important, the project team needs to recognize what worked well and ensure that those processes and techniques can be repeated in future initiatives.

2. Create a Lessons Learned Log 
Don’t simply plug and chug and hope for results. It is important to capture the issues and provide a recommendation for Project Managers to consider for future projects. Keeping a log ensures an iterative learning process and helps avoid future pitfalls.  Make sure the log is easily searchable and can be referenced easily.

3. Start at Kick Off
Make it a point to review your lessons learned documentation before you kick-off a project. Have other Project Managers look at your Project Plan. It’s easy to get tunnel vision while other PMs can quickly detect issues that you might have missed. Remember, lessons are only learned if they are utilized for future projects. Don’t just record your lessons learned – apply them!

4. Add Lessons Learned to Your Agenda

Embed open discussions about the project as part of your ongoing process. Adding it to your project update meeting agenda will help your team think about it regularly, eventually becoming second nature.  Similar to keeping a parking lot, track all issues that could easily arise again in your lessons learned log.

5. Schedule Your Lessons Learned Before the Project Ends

Get your Workshop or Focus Group on everyone’s schedule before the project is completed! It is better to engage with team members while they are still actively involved in the project. Encourage participation – don’t let your session become disengaging and keep your agenda moving!

6. Send Out a Survey
Another way to add value to your lessons learned process is to follow up with a survey. This is a great way to gather data from Project Teams, customers, vendors, or any other participant in your project. The goal is to get the highest survey response rate to ensure more detailed results.  Help your team members brainstorm lessons learned by sending out examples of items that need to be discussed such as prior scope changes, resource conflicts, cost overruns, etc.  If something impacted your original project plan, most likely it should be discussed over lessons learned.

The idea here is just to GET STARTED on your Lessons Learned process! Be an ambassador for all your projects, take this opportunity to broadcast how the lessons learned session has impacted not only your current project but the impact it will have on all future projects your organization undertakes.

To get a jumpstart on lessons learned using Project Online, visit our Project Online app store and click on the Lessons Learned App.

To learn more about optimizing your project management processes, try Project e-cademy, an online resource and guidebook with the latest best practices.