The term lessons learned refers to the various experiences project team members have while participating in a project. Lessons are shared in a review session which usually occurs once the project has been completed, with any improvements or best practices incorporated into subsequent projects.
Understanding lessons learned in project management
In project management, the lessons learned review is held at the completion of a project where team members discuss their positive and negative experiences.
Patti Armanini, a Quality Manager at Festo USA, stressed that the lessons learned review was also important for several other reasons.
In an interview with collaboration SaaS provider Smartsheet, she called on project managers to:
“review past lessons learned to avoid making similar mistakes the next time around. But it is just as important to leverage the wins going forward, to help streamline the project, and to help remove impediments before they happen.”
To that end, the most skilled project managers can tell the difference between processes that help a team and those that hurt it.
What’s more, they seek input from every project team member irrespective of rank or seniority level and, in this way, are able to utilize the lessons learned process as a team-building tool.
The five steps of lessons learned in project management
The Project Management Institute (PMI) outlines five distinct steps in its documentation of the lessons learned process.
Step 1 – Identify
The process starts with the identification of lessons learned.
Many project teams complete surveys that assess their experiences or emotions with respect to categories such as communication, planning, resources, technical, design and build, testing, and implementation.
Step 2 – Document
Once lessons have been identified, they should be listed in a document with three columns: what the team has done well (successes), what the team has not done well (failures), and areas for improvement.
This must be a collaborative effort.
Step 3 – Analyze
The lessons learned are analyzed and a report is created for distribution to team members and other relevant project stakeholders.
This step is vital at any point of a project but is especially relevant at the midpoint as it allows subsequent phases to be improved. Feedback should be transformed into actionable improvements for future project teams.
Depending on the audience, the project team report may take several forms:
- Detailed report – these are organized by key fields from the template mentioned in step two and include team member responses.
- Summary – these tend to be shorter briefs where findings are summarized and recommendations are made to correct them.
- Findings – a summary of the issues found from the lessons learned review process, and
- Recommendations – a higher level report where actions are recommended and those approved are documented and tracked until completion. When findings require a significant amount of resources to address, the approved action may become part of the project itself.
It is important that each recommendation for action makes sense to members of that audience.
In other words, it is meaningful or applicable? For executive-level decision-makers, the data in the report must also be converted into metrics that make sense to them.
Step 4 – Store
The report is then stored away for use in future projects in a location that is freely accessible to all parties. Today, this can involve cloud storage.
Step 5 – Retrieve
To make information retrieval easier and more accurate, the project manager should assign keywords to each lessons learned review.
For example, if one of the lessons pertained to scheduling more time for the results to be delivered, keywords such as deadline and phase two delivery could be assigned to the report.
- In project management, the lessons learned review is held at the completion of a project where team members discuss their positive and negative experiences.
- Lessons are shared in a review session which usually occurs once the project has been completed, with any improvements or best practices incorporated into subsequent projects. The review also enables teams to streamline future projects, leverage wins to build team cohesion, and remove potential impediments.
- According to the Project Management Institute, there are five steps to the lessons learned: identify, document, analyze, store, and retrieve.
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