Project Management ABC: L for Lessons Learned

How to avoid repeating mistakes and recognise best practices

Project Management ABC: L for Lessons Learned

A project is completed and the next one starts immediately? This is just how we often experience it, because time is usually short. This is how we often experience it, because time is usually short. Yet you could save yourself a lot of stress and aggravation as well as significantly improve team cooperation if you regularly deal with the Lessons Learned.

What are Lessons Learned in project management?

Lessons Learned is about learning from the experience of a project, recognising mistakes or successes and applying the gained knowledge in the future. In this way, you can apply Best Practices in the long term as well as reduce risks and mistakes.
The goal of Lessons Learned is therefore to be able to handle projects more successfully in the long term. In addition, a knowledge archive is built up over time, which makes the experience gained accessible.

When should you deal with the Lessons Learned?

Of course, it makes sense to identify the Lessons Learned at the end of a project. However, important lessons are learned every day, i.e. also at other phases of a project. In order to be able to use these insights quickly, it is therefore advisable to deal with the Lessons Learned again and again during the project, e.g. at the end of phases, retrospectives, reviews, audits or when you have an important insight. If you generally wait until the end of the project, important lessons may be forgotten.

Introduce Lessons Learned in the team

If you want to benefit from Lessons Learned, you should inform your project team at the beginning of the project that you want to work with this method. Also explain the approach you want to use. In this way you create transparency and your team is optimally prepared to perceive new insights as such. Also use this opportunity to discuss with your project team who will actively participate in the Lessons Learned. This can be the whole team, but also individual members, depending on the size of the team. In the latter case, put together your team from different parts of the project in order to get as many different points of view as possible and make sure that the Lessons Learned team is not too large. In addition to the project leader and the project team, or parts of it, a facilitator should also take part in the Lessons Learned. To achieve an optimal result, this person should not be the project leader, as the project leader might be biased. Depending on the project, it may also make sense to include important stakeholders, such as the client.

Methods for Lessons Learned

There are many ways to apply Lessons Learned, depending on you, your project and your team. In any case, it is important that you approach Lessons Learned in a planned and structured way.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) has designed a five-step process that can help you introduce Lessons Learned:

1. Identify

The first step is to identify and collect Lessons Learned. A Lessons Learned Workshop is often held for this purpose.

You should invest some time in the preparation of this workshop, as a questionnaire should first be prepared and filled out by the members of your project team. This way, the participants of the workshop are prepared and can contribute to it even if they cannot attend themselves. To understand the context, according to PMI, the questions should be structured with categories, such as project management, resources or communication. With the help of the questionnaire, three questions should be clarified:
1) What was successful?
2) Where did mistakes happen?
3) What should be improved?

Before the workshop, all participants should have answered the questions so that the facilitator can summarise the results and on this basis create an agenda for the meeting. For answering the questions, it is helpful if your project team immediately notes down positive and negative findings throughout the project so that they do not get lost. This can be done in a log book, for example.

In the actual workshop, the summarised results can be presented and then discussed. At this point, you should clarify the underlying causes of an error and how similar situations should be handled in the future in order to avoid a repetition. Also determine what measures can be taken to establish positive findings in the future.

 

2. Document

After all Lessons Learned have been discussed, the findings should be documented and prepared for different target groups. A detailed report should be distributed to the whole project team so that everyone is informed about the results. In addition, relevant stakeholders should receive a report that is adapted to their interests, and management should also receive a summary with the most important findings as well as measures. It is also important not only to distribute these reports, but to store them with the existing project documents.

 

3. Analyse

In the next step, the results are analysed again in detail for future application and open questions are clarified. Thus, for example, it is defined where the greatest need for action exists and what specific measures are taken. This information is shared with other teams so that it can be determined, for example, whether the project management process should be adapted in general or whether training is needed. In other words, clarify what improvements might look like and who is responsible for them.

 

4. Store

In order to make the results accessible to everyone, they should not only be filed with the respective project, but also stored in a structured Lessons Learned database. This way they can easily be used by the whole company and for different projects.

 

5. Retrieve

The last step is to make the findings accessible to the employees of your company in such a way that they are actually used. This step goes beyond simply storing the data in the right place. Rather, employees must also be motivated to engage with the Lessons Learned. Set a good example and take the time to look for suitable experiences and incorporate the findings when planning a new project.

Advantages of Lessons Learned

  • Efficiency can be increased and risk reduced during implementation of a project
  • Systematic saving, documentation and provision of the knowledge acquired through the work on the project, i.e. what has proved successful, where mistakes have occurred, and what measures have been taken
  • Findings are made visible for the whole company and future projects
  • Potential for improvement is exploited: Errors are avoided in the future, quality and efficiency of project work are increased throughout the company

Challenges

Despite all the advantages that Lessons Learned can have, there are still difficulties in implementing the method in many companies. For example, if a Lessons Learned workshop only takes place at the end of a project, the project team does not benefit from it at first, but only has an additional workload. In addition, it often happens that the team is not very motivated to talk about the project again after it has been completed – especially about the negative findings. If there is no positive error culture in a company, there is a great danger of drifting into blame during such discussions. Another difficulty is not only to make the findings accessible to all employees, but also to encourage them and motivate them to actively deal with them.

Conclusion

Lessons learned is initially additional work for your project team, but it is also a valuable method for sharing project management experiences with others and thus sustainably improving the work. It is important to deal with Lessons Learned not only at the end of the project, but also during the project, so that insights gained can be incorporated at an early stage. Furthermore, the findings should not only be discussed in the team and measures derived, but they should also be neatly documented and made accessible to all employees so that the whole company can benefit from them.

Project management software with integrated document management, Lessons Learned Log and other collaboration functions such as a team room or comment areas can provide valuable services for this documentation. This way, you can not only record the Lessons Learned from the respective project and share them with your team, but also define who has access to them. Findings that have been recorded within the framework of Lessons Learned can, for example, also be directly included in the planning and control of future projects by taking specific tasks and risk entries with suggested measures into account in existing project templates.

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