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Throughout the duration of a project, the people involved can always encounter issues to learn something from. These are regularly discussed so team members can pick up something practical to apply should such issues happen again. These occurrences get usually recorded in a lesson learned template so that the information gathered from the experience would not get lost.

Why lessons learned are important?

Even the world’s most profitable projects have their ups and downs and generally, the downs have as great an impact as the ups. To be a successful project manager, you should always document and analyze the lessons you have learned in a lessons learned template and apply them later when needed on future projects.

Writing down these lessons learned in a lessons learned document should become a basic part of any project as it serves a number of purposes. Although the complete documentation of a lesson learned format is usually done during the closeout process of the project, you should record every lesson learned throughout the duration of the project.

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This ensures that all of the information gets documented in an accurate and timely manner. Following are the most important reasons why you should create your own project lessons learned:

  • It’s a useful and essential tool
    All the lessons learned from each project can serve as an essential tool, especially when you get assigned to similar projects. The lessons learned examples should describe the things that went wrong during the project along with recommendations to avoid a similar occurrence in the future.
    On the positive side, the document must also describe the aspects of the project that went well and how similar projects can benefit from such information.
  • It helps ensure inclusion
    You should send the lessons learned document to the project management office (PMO) and the project sponsor so it can get included in the archives and assets of the organization as an addition to the database of lessons learned. If your organization doesn’t have a PMO, then there should be some other means of communication that ensures the inclusion of all project managers.
  • It captures the lessons learned from the project
    The main purpose of the project lessons learned is to gather the lessons learned in a project into an official document that you can then share with other project managers assigned on similar projects in the future.
    The document can get incorporated as part of a new process of project planning for similar projects. Its use can determine the problems that occurred, how you resolved such problems, and how to avoid them in the future.
  • It describes everything that went well in the project
    The lessons learned format should also detail what went well with the project and the reasons why for the other project managers to capitalize on the actions taken. It would also be a good idea for other project managers to find out who the members of the project team were so that they can solicit feedback and suggestions for future project planning.

What are lessons learned in project management?

Lessons learned can become an informal discussion, especially when looking at projects in retrospect. It usually happens after the completion of a project in a meeting where you, along with key representatives from the customer’s and the contractor’s side are in attendance.

The meeting can be even more insightful with some organization. During the meeting for lessons learned, everyone involved in the project share their perspectives on their thoughts on the project, what they would like to change, the things they’ve learned, and what to improve.

What is a lessons learned register?

Each project should have a document to record the knowledge acquired during the project for use in the current project and, later, entered in the lessons learned register for future reference. This document’s primary objective is to gather lessons learned across the organization. The capture of key project-related information consistently can help other team members go through and pinpoint relevant lessons.

You can use the lessons learned register and share it through a shared drive or in the cloud. You can also customize the lesson learned format to encourage collaboration. You can adapt any values or categories in the document to suit your requirements.

How to make a lessons learned template?

Another use of a project lessons learned is as a main component of the culture of an organization that’s committed to continuous adaptive management and improvement. In simpler words, you can use the lessons learned examples to communicate knowledge in a more effective way and make sure that helpful information gets included in work processes, activities, and planning. Here are the basic steps for making a lessons learned template:

  • Define your project
    This is the first step wherein the necessity for lessons learned gets identified and you establish the process, as well as, the team through you gather the lessons. It’s essential to establish the purpose and need of the lessons, the persons for the product’s use, and the members of the project’s team.
    Choose persons to work on the lessons learned document who have specific knowledge or expertise of the project and other important skills, especially in terms of writing and communications. The members should be in agreement with the product format, strategies for data collection, methods of analysis, strategies for dissemination, and other activities the project may need.
  • Gather data
    This involves the gathering of information through unstructured or structured processes like project critiques, meetings, and written forms. There can be many sources from which you can gather data for your lessons learned template.
    You can base these lessons on both positive experiences that achieve organizational goals and from negative experiences that resulted in undesirable results. For some projects, a process of collecting collaborative lessons can be as important as recording the process.
  • Verification and synthesis
    The lessons submitted should get verified to ensure their applicability and accuracy. The process involves subject matter and domain experts who coordinate and conduct reviews to find out whether or not the lesson has:
    Relevance with other projects.
    Unique qualities in a certain department.
    Applicable features to the entire organization.
  • Storage
    This aspect of the lessons learned document is about the incorporation of lessons into a shared database for the purpose of future dissemination and sharing. The information should get stored in such a way that it allows users to search and identify lessons using keywords.
  • Dissemination
    This final element is the most important and involves the dissemination of lessons learned. There would be little, if at all no, benefit unless the lessons learned get used and distributed by those who could benefit from them. The dissemination process may include the revision of the work process, routine distribution, and training.

Using the lessons learned template for conducting meetings

Use a lessons learned template to collect team and personal recommendations during and after the project. There should be a quick meeting with your team to go through the lessons learned midway through the project.

Leaving these debriefings until the project launch might result in the loss of information even before the launch happens. Here are the main reasons why you should conduct a meeting with your lessons learned document:

  • To learn from any mistakes and avoid committing the same mistakes in the future.
  • To determine the best practices and pass this knowledge to other projects in the future.
  • To build trust with your team members and stockholders. Getting people involved in the process makes them more supportive of project management.

All of this means that lesson learned meetings aren’t just a venue for people to share their feelings of anger and frustration which is often the impression you feel when people become too negative.

But project reviews through lessons learned should always focus on sharing constructive and helpful feedback to improve. Let us take a closer look at a standard process for a lessons learned meeting:

  • When running a meeting with the whole team, you will have members who gather in small groups to presenting their findings by the end of the meeting.
  • In a lessons learned meeting where you only have a few attendees, you can discuss everybody’s conclusion without the need for presentations.

The main challenge of these meetings is that people might feel hesitant to provide candid feedback. They fear that they might come across as harsh, they’re afraid of hurting other people’s feelings or even get judged by others.

But often, there would be one member who breaks the ice and displays a braver stance. When this happens, others follow and start sharing their criticisms openly. This is the kind of atmosphere that you should promote.

If you feel that attendees have that tendency to feel hesitant in opening up, you may want to consider planning some points for discussion in advance, like for instance, placing a couple of self-jabs as a show of humor and humility. This also demonstrates that being self-critical of themselves and the members of the team is totally acceptable.

Furthermore, if you have good relationships with the team, you can have a couple of “plants” in the team who can chime in with pre-rehearsed comments from the lessons learned. This can help get the ball rolling, especially for the shy members of the team.


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