Irrespective of the success and failure of the project, each process teaches lessons. Analyzing, capturing, and documenting the lessons for future use is a small step toward success and growth. The article documents the breakdown of those lessons into components for deep insights.

Experience is a great teacher. The lessons learned in project management can be surveyed and utilized by the same or other project managers to understand things to avoid. The findings or steps of lessons can be categorized into Identify, Document, Analyze, Store, and Retrieve.  

What are the Lessons Learned in Project Management? 

The lessons learned in project management refer to the encounters with the issues, and the solutions candidates drove to solve them. Each lesson imparts knowledge that can be discussed in sessions and documented to make it usable. The report thus created in the session while educating others can be circulated for applicability purposes. It could also involve devising different sections based on the types of problems and enlisting the used solutions and alternatives. 

Benefits of Lessons Learned in Project Management

The problems may or may not be similar. However, the project members can use the solution. In specific scenarios, the solution may be customized or provide a lead, bringing up employees' creative side. Additionally, it encourages the will to improve and move on from failures. Instead, learn to rectify or solve the problems. Attitude change is the step to growth. 

Going through the lessons learned while planning the project aids in recognizing areas of inefficiency, dividing the team's responsibilities better, and establishing best practices. Lessons learned reports are an excellent way to track the growth of the project and its members as well. 

Different Types of Lessons Learned Sessions

Lessons Learned in project management depend on different departments: the method of analysis and based on their mindset. It may refer to the cause of project failure, looking back to problems encountered or post mortems at the end of projects. Irrespective of the names, each session looks to extract the maximum possible data for future use. 

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5 Steps to Conduct a Lesson Learned

Categorize the learned lessons into five headings to understand and utilize them better. 

1. Identify

Consisting of three steps, one needs to recognize the possible areas imparting lessons and finding the option for improvement and emphasis while handling the project. 

Step 1: Send lessons learned survey

This step involves sending a properly framed questionnaire separated into categories to extract the maximum possible summarized approach of encountered problems and lessons learned. The categories may include technical, communication, design and build, business processes, resources, project management, implementation, and testing. The appropriate time is during the project and just after the end when the experience is fresh and in memory. Then, the gathered information can be further summarized and organized for better use. Comments and recommendations from participants are the most crucial part gained from this survey. 

Step 2: Schedule the lessons learned session

It should be ensured that a session facilitator, someone different from the project, should be brought forward for a comfortable session. The next most important thing is preparation for the survey. The facilitator is responsible for ensuring the project specifications are revised by participants. Also, the lessons learned session organizer should communicate the location and time details. 

Step 3: Conduct the lessons learned

A brainstorming and interactive session would give a fruitful outcome in identifying lessons learned. Apart from category-wise questions, the three questions should be focused on: 

  • best, easy, and most friendly experiences
  • worst, resistive and hard experiences
  • how the latter can be improved.

2. Document

Step 1 will generate enough data to curate the report on lessons learned, including data from all the participants who were present or absent in the last session. Therefore, it is significant to cross check the accuracy of the report by circulating it to each participant. The report can be of different types depending upon the target audience. The final report should be stored and summarized based on the following format.

Format of a lessons learned report

Executive summary stating the overview, summary findings stating what went wrong and right along with weaknesses of the project, lessons learned survey which will inform participants perspective on the project, and recommendations obtained from each member in detail. 

3. Analyze

An analysis is crucial to receive the maximum output of all the efforts. It is of utmost benefit if performed during the project, as it is key to improving and getting the project back on track. The end analysis is equally advantageous in providing the mistakes to be avoided while planning a new project.

4. Store

Lessons learned in project management can be helpful to any project, irrespective of the departments. Thus access should be available to all the members of the organization. 

5. Retrieve 

Keyword search facility or proper labeling along with a brief detailed description of the project can ensure appropriate usage and retrieval of the lessons learned documents. 

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Challenges with Lessons Learned in Projects

Regarding the report preparation and future usage of lessons learned, both processes might encounter a few challenges that we have discussed with possible solutions. 

Future Implementation

All projects are different, and so are the solutions. However, taking help and finding a striking chord will help in this situation. In addition, it will be better to visualize the picture as a whole rather than focusing on smaller fragments of the problem. 

Time Management 

With numerous project members, going through each survey and summarizing is tedious. It requires extra time and effort. Setting up criteria or factors to filter out will be helpful in such situations. 

Organization 

Irrespective of whether criteria are set or not, the organization is essential in facilitating data retrieval. In case of the absence of set criteria, the organization is highly recommended to avoid creating a mess.

Blame

Lessons learned might come along with blames. The facilitator must remove any grudges and bring forth different aspects of the situation to receive honest feedback. 

How to Capture Lessons Learned in Project Management

The best method and time to capture lessons learned is during the projects. The mode can be any, either survey or lessons learned meeting. It is preferred in ongoing projects, as it can prevent problems. It may be identified beforehand and solved eventually. The survey can focus on progress status, currently facing difficulties and best experiences, and requirement of additional resources. Meetings can be based on similar topics, but the opportunity can be utilized for open and detailed interaction among members regarding their experiences and views.  

How to Run a Lessons Learned Meeting

See it as a team-building opportunity, and ensure to revise the project's objectives. Make it a collaborative session where each individual gets the time to bring forward their valuable suggestions. A discussion session will be highly beneficial to solve some of the problems or reallocating them. The host should ensure critical analysis of the points discussed for further strengthening the project and its members. Further, the compulsorily discussed topics should be achievements, downfalls, and allocation requirements for the further success of the project. 

How to Write a Lessons Learned Report in Project Management

Follow the mentioned steps to write an effective report based on the different requirements.

Determine the audience for your report

The focus of the report will depend on the target audience. The problems encountered by project members will not be relevant to the stakeholders, who would rather be expecting a broader picture. The complexity and technicality will also be determined by audience level, thus requiring different frameworks for each report. 

Identify your audience

Categorize the surveys and findings from interactive sessions based on the reports for the different target audiences. Provide the required material to the audience accordingly. 

Summarize lessons learned

Ensure the summary includes strengths along with weaknesses. Ask for suggestions and how they can be implied to get more realistic opinions.

Distribute and store the report 

Distribution is essential for using suggestions and hard work in creating the report. Storage should be centrally accessible. 

How to Share Lessons Learned?

Based on the target audience, there must be multiple reports created. Sharing should be done accordingly. However, in the case of the production of only one report, a different perspective can be utilized to segregate the information.

Know Your Audience

While writing and sharing the report, understand that the significance depends on whole problems and their complexity. Stakeholders need the overall project with emphasis on the financial part of the project, accomplishments of goals, and objectives. However, team members will be concerned with daily problems regarding resources, tools, deadlines flexibility, team communication and cohesion, stress management, and the project's overall success. Ensure they get to know the outcome of their efforts to encourage them. 

Store Reports in a Central Repository

Reports can be made centrally accessible via storage on a drive or cloud with an easy retrieval option.

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Create a Project Lessons List

Outlining the constituents will aid in deciding the project's significance and report based on current situations. It will provide an overview and be suitable for sharing among members of the organization.

What Are Examples of Lessons Learned in a Project?

As the project is handled and worked upon by each participant, everyone has experienced some lessons. They differ for individuals based on their responsibility and position. For instance, project managers learn the consequence of clear communication, support imparted to the team, and the significance of praise. Team members know the importance of taking and following a piece of advice, a regular update on their status, and workplace improvement. Lessons learned for a company's growth, and success are a requirement of defined goals and expectations, risk analysis, and the need to upgrade the team's skills. 

Why are Lessons Learned Important in Project Management?

Past mistakes are the best teachers. Avoiding the probable points of downfall and routes that may result in less efficiency contributes significantly to the success rate of the project and company. To learn from such experiences, a summarized document reporting the deep analysis of previous projects is highly important. Of utmost importance is the division of reports based on the user level. 

Best Practices for Lessons Learned in Project Management

The most effective method to intake the lessons learned is to schedule meetings more often and collect and document the findings in an organized manner. Make it a mandatory part to review past lessons along with the team. Avoiding blaming for the wrong goings, as there is always a different perspective with the actual root cause. If someone is responsible, enlighten them with corrective actions instead of making them guilty. 

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Conclusion

Lessons learned in project management are a great way to ensure success for individuals, teams, projects, and companies. It is a combined effort requiring a little hard work. However, in the long run, the benefits of documentation from this process are numerous and worthy. Learn all the project management skills and concepts in our PGP Project Management certification course. Attend live online interactive classes, masterclasses from UMass Amherst, Harvard Business Publishing case studies, and capstone projects. Enroll today! 

About the Author

SimplilearnSimplilearn

Simplilearn is one of the world’s leading providers of online training for Digital Marketing, Cloud Computing, Project Management, Data Science, IT, Software Development, and many other emerging technologies.

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  • PMP, PMI, PMBOK, CAPM, PgMP, PfMP, ACP, PBA, RMP, SP, and OPM3 are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.
  • *According to Simplilearn survey conducted and subject to terms & conditions with Ernst & Young LLP (EY) as Process Advisors