Lessons learned is a theory, or conclusion, based on evidence at a given time and describes what went wrong (as well as what went right) throughout the lifecycle of a project. Although it’s completed during the project closeout process, it should occur during the entire project lifecycle to ensure all information is captured and documented.
The consequences of not having a project review of lessons learned are the increased likelihood of repeating actions that might have caused:
- Project failures
- Budget overruns
- Scope creep
- Reduced quality from expectations
- Missed scheduled deadline
Lessons learned provide their greatest value when they are (a) documented, (b) communicated, (c) archived, and (d) fluid and adaptable to allow evolved conclusions. Documentation of lessons learned should include naming the issue, a brief description of the problem or success, the impact on the project (e.g. time, cost, scope, quality, schedule), and the process improvement recommendations (lessons learned).
Next, it’s important to communicate these lessons to the project stakeholders. The stakeholders should be a part of the project review so it’s a logical step to communicate lessons learned to them. You should also archive and communicate this project’s lessons learned to all project managers with internal processes for capturing lessons learned thru the span of the project.
Steps to capture Lessons Learned
Step 1: Identify Lessons Learned
Identify comments and recommendations that could be valuable for future projects. The two activities for identifying lessons learned are:
Prepare for the lessons learned session
The person who will be facilitating the lessons learned session should document throughout the span of the project & the firm needs to have a process in place for capturing lessons learned. Suggested categories include project management methodologies, resource assessment, technical, communication, internal processes, requirements, design and build, testing, implementation, and external areas. These categories can be subdivided into more detailed categories. For example, project management can be divided into the process groups: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. Planning can then be further divided into project schedule, risk analysis, etc. A simple approach is to begin with a few categories such as project management, resources, technical and external areas, and then add more categories as needed.
The project survey should also include specific questions for each category. These responses will be used by the lessons learned facilitator to guide the discussion during the lessons learned session. Three key questions should be included as part of the survey:
- What went right
- What went wrong
- What needs to be improved
Step 2: Document Lessons Learned
Document and share findings. After lessons learned are captured, they should be reported to project stakeholders. The detailed lessons learned report consists of the data captured during the lessons learned session and any additional input from participants who were not able to attend. The facilitator should distribute the detailed lessons learned report to all participants and participants should be given time to respond to the accuracy of the report. After the report is finalized, the entire project team should receive a copy even if they did not participate in the lessons learned session. The final report should be stored with the other project documentation.
The facilitator should prepare a summary for leadership. This report should present an overview of the lessons learned process and a summary of project strengths – what went well, project weaknesses – what went wrong, and recommendations – what we need to improve. The detailed report can be included as an attachment or made available in the event leadership needs more information.
Step 3: Analyze lessons learned
Analyze and organize the lessons learned for the application of results. During this step, the team decides what can be done with the lessons learned. Information is shared with other teams during organizational meetings. Project management process improvements or training needs are often identified as a result of lessons-learned recommendations.
Step 4: Store lessons learned
Store the lessons learned in a repository. Lessons learned documents are stored and readily available for all departments to make improvements for future projects, normally on a shared drive or in some form of project library. There are no easy means of retrieving the lessons. At Maxx Builders our lessons learned documents are documented and available on our project management software.
Step 5: Retrieve lessons learned
Retrieve lessons learned for use on current projects. Although lessons learned reports are stored on our project management software, without keyword search capability, it is difficult to retrieve the appropriate lesson.