How to capture lessons learned in project management

Julia Martins bijdrager fotoJulia Martins19 augustus 20215 min. leestijd
facebooktwitterlinkedin
How to capture lessons learned in project management article banner image

Summary

By accurately documenting the lessons learned during your project lifecycle, you can learn from your mistakes and share those findings with other project managers. This article walks you through the five steps of lessons learned: Identify, Document, Analyze, Store, and Retrieve. Learn how to conduct a lessons learned survey and brainstorming session, as well as how to share that information with other project managers. 

Project deliverables aren’t the only valuable things you can take away from a project. Whether your initiative is a resounding success, an unfortunate failure, or somewhere in between, there are always lessons to be learned from any project. 

Effectively capturing and documenting the lessons learned, however, can be tricky. In this article, we’ll walk you through how to conduct and capture lessons learned in project management. Here’s how. 

What are lessons learned in project management? 

You learn something new on every project, but a lessons learned session ensures you capture and codify that information to share it with other teams. When you conduct lessons learned and create a lessons learned report, you’re producing a document the entire project team can use to improve future projects. 

Documented lessons learned can be passed on to other project managers running similar initiatives or used by team members who are getting started on similar projects. Sharing lessons learned between teams is a great way to prevent the same mistakes from happening. Not only can you learn from your project mistakes—with a lessons learned report, everyone else can learn from them, too. 

You can capture lessons learned at any point during the project timeline. In fact, depending on the complexity of the project, you may want to conduct a lessons learned session at the end of each project management phase, in order to capture information when it’s still fresh. That way, you can evaluate what went well, what went wrong, and what you can learn from it. 

The different types of lessons learned sessions

You may have conducted a lessons learned by a different name. Engineering teams often do a version of lessons learned called the 5 Whys, which specifically aims to identify the root cause of project failure. Scrum teams run retrospectives at the end of a sprint session. Some project teams also do postmortems at the end of projects. 

The important thing is to capture the information and share it with everyone. No matter what you call it, aim to conduct at least one lessons learned session per project.

Read: Ask “5 Whys” to get to the root of any problem

5 steps to conducting a lessons learned

If you’re just getting started with lessons learned, use these five steps to ensure you’re accurately capturing, documenting, and sharing the project’s information in a way that everyone can access. 

1. Identify

This is where you identify lessons learned from the project to document in step two. The Identify phase is made up of three steps: 

Step 1: Lessons learned survey

Immediately after the project is completed—or at the end of a significant project phase for larger initiatives—send a lessons learned survey to every project team member. This way, you’re capturing feedback while it’s still fresh in everyone’s mind. Then, aggregate that information to get a general picture of what everyone learned from the project. 

The lessons learned survey is one of the most important parts of the lessons learned process. Below, we have a template you can use. This survey is typically general to any project, though you can adapt the questions to suit your project’s needs. 

Step 2: Schedule the lessons learned session

Before the lessons learned session, select a session facilitator. Ideally, find a facilitator who isn’t the project manager, so team members feel comfortable speaking freely. Ask the team lead or an adjacent team member to run the session. 

After scheduling the lessons learned session, the facilitator shares any pre-reading information to make sure project team members are on this same page. This could include re-sharing project planning documentation like the project plan or project objectives. Depending on the complexity of the project, you could also share a timeline of the project and accomplishments. 

Step 3: Conduct the lessons learned

In addition to the lessons learned survey, host a live brainstorming session for all team members. This is a chance for team members to expand upon their lessons learned. In particular, there are three main questions to ask during the lessons learned brainstorming session: 

  1. What went right? 

  2. What went wrong? 

  3. What could be improved? 

2. Document

The main point of running a lessons learned session is to share these lessons with the entire team. Plan to create a detailed lessons learned report with all of the project information and discussion notes, as well as an executive summary of the lessons learned for relevant project stakeholders to review. 

Format of a lessons learned report

  • Executive summary

  • Summary of findings

  • Lessons learned survey(s)

  • Recommendations in detail

Lees: Een executive summary schrijven, met voorbeelden

3. Analyze

Analyze and apply the lessons learned so other teams and future projects can benefit from it. This is especially relevant if you’re conducting a lessons learned session mid-project. Analyze the information from the lessons learned survey in order to effectively improve your project for the upcoming phases. Alternatively, if you’re running a lessons learned at the end of a project, use the Analyze phase to glean insights and opportunities before beginning your next project. 

4. Store

Store the lessons learned in a central repository that everyone can access, like a project management tool. With a central source of truth, as project leads can access shared information to best prepare for their projects. 

Probeer projectbeheer met Asana

5. Retrieve 

If you’re running a similar project, search for a lessons learned report from a past project to avoid making the same mistakes from a previous project. These reports should be shared in a central source of truth that all project managers can review before beginning the project planning process. 

Lessons learned survey template

During the first phase of a lessons learned session, send out a lessons learned survey to capture information from the project team. Though you will also discuss the project in person, the lessons learned survey is a critical part of ensuring you capture accurate information in order to learn from your projects. 

Here’s an example of a generic lessons learned survey template you can use for any project.


Please indicate your level of agreement or disagreement with each of the following statements: 

If you select Disagree or Strongly Disagree, please provide additional information to help improve our future project planning process. 

Project planning

The project plan included the correct level of detail. I had everything I needed to understand what the project was about. 

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree 

  • Neutral 

  • Disagree 

  • Strongly disagree 

  • Not applicable

The project plan clearly explained the purpose of the project. 

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree 

  • Neutral 

  • Disagree 

  • Strongly disagree 

  • Not applicable

The project’s scope was well defined. 

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree 

  • Neutral 

  • Disagree 

  • Strongly disagree 

  • Not applicable

The project schedule was clear and easy to follow. 

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree 

  • Neutral 

  • Disagree 

  • Strongly disagree 

  • Not applicable

The project communication plan clearly defined how and where I should communicate about project work. 

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree 

  • Neutral 

  • Disagree 

  • Strongly disagree 

  • Not applicable

The project plan was shared with all stakeholders and easy to find. 

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree 

  • Neutral 

  • Disagree 

  • Strongly disagree 

  • Not applicable

As a stakeholder, I’m happy with my level of involvement in the project planning process. 

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree 

  • Neutral 

  • Disagree 

  • Strongly disagree 

  • Not applicable

Project execution

I understood everyone’s responsibilities during the project lifecycle.

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree 

  • Neutral 

  • Disagree 

  • Strongly disagree 

  • Not applicable

Project stakeholders were engaged and effectively involved in the project work.

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree 

  • Neutral 

  • Disagree 

  • Strongly disagree 

  • Not applicable

The project environment was collaborative. 

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree 

  • Neutral 

  • Disagree 

  • Strongly disagree 

  • Not applicable

The project manager was available and responsive. 

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree 

  • Neutral 

  • Disagree 

  • Strongly disagree 

  • Not applicable

Project changes were manageable and fit within the project scope.

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree 

  • Neutral 

  • Disagree 

  • Strongly disagree 

  • Not applicable

The initial project schedule, documented in the project plan, closely matched the actual project schedule. 

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree 

  • Neutral 

  • Disagree 

  • Strongly disagree 

  • Not applicable

The project outcome matched what was defined in the original project charter. 

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree 

  • Neutral 

  • Disagree 

  • Strongly disagree 

  • Not applicable

The project team had a shared understanding of their goals and individual responsibilities. 

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree 

  • Neutral 

  • Disagree 

  • Strongly disagree 

  • Not applicable

Outcome

The project was realistic and achievable. 

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree 

  • Neutral 

  • Disagree 

  • Strongly disagree 

  • Not applicable

Assignments were clearly defined throughout the project lifecycle. 

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree 

  • Neutral 

  • Disagree 

  • Strongly disagree 

  • Not applicable

The project had strong performance metrics to help define success. 

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree 

  • Neutral 

  • Disagree 

  • Strongly disagree 

  • Not applicable

I believe we hit the project goal. 

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree 

  • Neutral 

  • Disagree 

  • Strongly disagree 

  • Not applicable

My involvement in the project—including workload, time, and effort—met my expectations. 

  • Strongly agree

  • Agree 

  • Neutral 

  • Disagree 

  • Strongly disagree 

  • Not applicable


Lesson learned

Capturing lessons learned can help you identify and pass on institutional knowledge. Instead of reinventing the wheel, team members and project leaders have clear insight into what worked, what didn’t, and what can be improved. 

By connecting past lessons learned to future team’s work, you can start your project on the right foot. When everyone knows exactly who’s doing what by when, what happened—and why—your team is more empowered to get their high-impact work done. 

Probeer Asana gratis

Gerelateerde bronnen

Artikel

Everything you need to know about creating a RAID log