Capturing lessons learned should be an on-going effort throughout the life of the project and should be encouraged by the Project Manager from the start of the project, to finish. Lessons learned are the documented information that indicates the positive and negative instances of a project.
Lessons can be identified at any point during the project. A ‘lessons learned session’ should be conducted at key times within the project. For example, at the end of the project, at the end of each phase and real-time – when you learn the lesson. If you are working on a large project and wait until the very end, you miss some of the key lessons. Because of the time that has elapsed, project team members may forget some of the things they learned or team members assigned to the project in the early phases may no longer be part of the project during the later phases.
The purpose of a lessons learned process is to define the activities required to successfully capture and use lessons learned. The process includes five steps: identify, document, analyze, store and retrieve. It is important for the team to view lessons learned as constructive and leadership should encourage project stakeholders to use the process, tools and results.
Step 1: Identify
Step 1 of the process is to identify comments and recommendations that could be valuable for future projects.
Lessons Learned Session
A session focuses on identifying successes and failures and includes recommendations to improve future performance on projects. The most important questions to be asked are
- What went right
- What went wrong
- What needs to be improved
Step 2: Document
After lessons 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 the entire project management team should receive a copy even if they did not participate in the session. The final report should be stored with the other project documentation.
Step 3: Analyze
Step three of the process is to analyze the lessons learned for application of results. 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
Step four of the process is to store in a repository. Lessons learned documents are stored along with other project documents.
Step 5: Retrieve
Step five of the process is to retrieve for use on current projects.
Evaluation of Repository
Although organizations are consistently capturing lessons they are not fully utilizing them. What organizations need are effective tools and the beginning of the analysis of stored lessons learned. Why collect lessons learned if the valuable information is not shared within an organization to either avoid reoccurrence of lessons learned or repeat best practices lessons learned.
Process for Evaluating
The identification of lessons learned from each project is the primary responsibility of each Project Manager. Organizations need to dedicate a resource(s) to begin the analysis of documented lessons learned. The purpose of the analysis is to identify actions that can be taken within the organization to strengthen weak areas of knowledge and implementation during each project. This can be done through enhanced training of project managers and/or team members including project sponsors and champions.
Types of Reports based on Lessons Learned Data
Reporting options include:
- Detailed Report – organized by key fields from the lessons learned template and includes responses gathered during the session.
- Summary –brief summarizing the findings and providing recommendations for correcting the findings.
- Findings – a summary of the issues found during the review process.
- Recommendations – recommended actions to be taken to correct findings.
It is important to be able to take the analysis and convert that data to metrics that are important to the organization’s executive-level action approvers.
The most successful graphical presentations display either pie charts or bar charts with easily understood x-axis and y-axis titles. The graph legend should also be concise and easily understood.
Achieving the Next Level
Capturing lessons learned should be an on-going effort throughout the life of the project. By not learning from failures we are doomed to repeat similar situations. By not maximizing on successes, we miss opportunities to implement good processes and practices to successfully complete existing and future work. Make sure that capturing project lessons is part of your procedures and an expected deliverable from your project management and product methodologies.
The final important step to ensure commitment from senior-level management.
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