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Lessons learned guidelines and examples. And how to automate them for project management


A lesson learned is a record of what was done, why it was done that way, and what went wrong. It is a summary of the project's successes and failures, and it helps future projects to avoid repeating mistakes.

In this blog we will explore:

An introduction to lessons learned

Often not explicitly captured, lessons learned are an important way of not repeating mistakes and shoring up “how to do it” knowledge, lending advantages and experience to the next time you undertake a similar task. Continuous improvement is an important aspect of running an efficient PMO, team, department, or business. Small but regular incremental changes add up over time and lead to greater efficiency, productivity, and in turn, revenue and Return on Investment. This is known as ‘Kaizen’, a Japanese school of thought meaning ‘change for the better’ which sees improvement as gradual and methodical. 

Inefficiencies in any form, whether it is delays, shortcomings, quality control, poor communication, can impact your business in any number of ways from easily quantifiable things such as productivity and revenue, to things which are harder to measure, such as reputation within the marketplace. Lessons learned are an excellent way to learn from experience, just like we do in life. If you have made a mistake or could have done something slightly better, we tend to learn from this to make it easier for ourselves next time. Lessons Learned in Project Management can be leveraged in the same way and play an important part in both PRINCE2 and PMP PM methodologies. Sharing these lessons learned with other project stakeholders and other managers will help your next projects to be even better, even if you are not directly part of them. That sounds great, but where to start? In this blog, we will explore the five stages of lessons learned:

  1. Identify recommendation for future projects
  2. Document and share findings
  3. Analyze and organize results
  4. Store the results for easy access
  5. Retrieve for use in current projects

Examples of lessons learned in project management

Scope management lessons learned:

  • Defining Clear Objectives: A project that suffered from scope creep shows the importance of having a clear, detailed project scope agreed upon by all stakeholders from the outset.
  • Change Control: Implementing a rigorous change control process is essential. Without it, unapproved changes can lead to project delays and budget overruns.

Time management lessons learned:

  • Realistic Scheduling: Underestimating the time needed for key tasks led to missed deadlines. Future projects will benefit from more realistic time allocations and contingency planning.
  • Critical Path Awareness: Not keeping a close eye on the project's critical path resulted in overlooking dependencies that later caused bottlenecks.

Cost management lessons learned:

  • Accurate Cost Estimation: An initial budget that did not account for all potential costs led to a funding shortfall. Subsequent projects should include a more thorough estimation and a contingency fund.
  • Regular Budget Reviews: Failing to regularly review the budget against actual expenses caused overspending. Continuous monitoring is crucial for keeping a project on track financially.

Quality management lessons learned:

  • Quality Assurance Processes: Skimping on quality assurance in favor of speed resulted in rework. Incorporating regular quality checks throughout the project lifecycle is vital.
  • User Acceptance Testing (UAT): A project delivered without extensive UAT faced user dissatisfaction. Involving end-users early and frequently in the testing process ensures the product meets their needs.

Risk management lessons learned:

  • Risk Identification: Risks that were not identified at the project's start materialized and caused issues. A more comprehensive risk assessment is needed during the planning phase.
  • Proactive Risk Mitigation: A lack of proactive risk mitigation strategies led to reactive firefighting. Developing and following a risk mitigation plan can prevent many problems.

Stakeholder management lessons learned:

  • Regular Stakeholder Engagement: Insufficient stakeholder engagement resulted in a lack of buy-in. Keeping stakeholders informed and involved is necessary for project success.
  • Clear Communication Channels: Miscommunication with stakeholders led to misaligned expectations. Establishing clear, open communication channels is essential.

Resource management lessons learned:

  • Team Skill Assessment: Assigning tasks without properly assessing team skills led to underperformance. Matching task requirements with team members' skills is important for efficient task execution.
  • Resource Allocation: Overallocation of resources resulted in burnout and turnover. Effective resource management and allocation prevent team exhaustion.

Communication lessons learned:

  • Effective Communication Plans: Without an effective communication plan, team members and stakeholders were often out of the loop. A structured communication plan is crucial for keeping everyone informed.
  • Documentation: Poor documentation practices made it difficult to track decisions and changes. Keeping detailed records helps maintain continuity and clarity throughout the project.


Why lessons learned is an important part of project management

Project managers can learn from past projects by analyzing where they succeeded and where they failed. This information can be used to improve future workflows, processes, and products.

Here are five stages of lessons learned:

Guideline Stage 1: Identify recommendation for future projects

This stage is a detailed examination of what happened during the project, why it happened and what could be done differently in the future to avoid similar problems.

Firstly, you need to prepare the lessons learned session. This is usually led by the designated project manager and can be done by completing a project survey. This also helps participants be prepared for the lessons learned session and provide any feedback. The survey should be made up of different categories to make sure that essential information is included. Examples of categories could be project management, resources, technical, quality, scope, communication, testing, implementation, etc. Also consider adding key questions as part of the survey such as:

  • What went right?
  • What went wrong?
  • What can be improved?

Don't wait until the end of a project before starting this phase! If you wait too long, people will forget why things happened or what caused them to happen—and then your report will be incomplete and unreliable.

Guideline Stage 2: Document and share findings

Once lessons learned are captured, they need to be reported to the project stakeholders. This report, often referred to as a ‘lessons log’, should contain the data captured during the lessons learned session and any feedback from the participants. After a final review, the report should be stored as part of the project documentation or the Project Management Office (PMO) administration documents. 

An important aspect of documentation is to action those items which may need effort applied to them. For example, if the lesson is that it took too long to book in resources, the action here is to review the resource booking process to identify improvements to reduce lead time so that this lesson is ‘learnt’ and applied to other projects in the future. Good PM methodology states that actions should be dated and owned/actioned by somebody, and then managed to meet the success criteria for that action.

Lesson logs can include an ID for each line or lesson, the related project info, date lesson captured, who logged or raised the lesson, how much of an issue this item became (1 for showstopper, 5 for negligible, as this will also help prioritize your lessons (and subsequent effort to complete actions) from most to least important), as well as if the lesson is open (still be actioned) or closed (has been actioned and completed successfully).

Atlas for easy document management

As a leading digital workplace platform for Microsoft 365, Atlas is the ideal place to create and upload project documents. Atlas makes it easy for PMO to template and provision their own Project workspaces. You could even upload your lessons log document template into the workspace template so that the same version is available within each project. Being able to upload and manage lessons learned within an Atlas Project workspace allows the project team members to view previous lessons learned from other workspaces, as well as document new lessons inside each project.

Here at ClearPeople, we have a project workspace for each implementation that our clients can access using their external user credentials. It’s here that we upload and manage previous lessons learned via our project documentation so that our clients can view shared insights and experiences.

Guideline Stage 3: Analyze and organize results

Information from the lessons learned session is shared with other teams to decide what can be done. Outcomes of the analysis could be used to improve project management processes or training.

It’s common that lessons are captured, but during project closure some of the ‘admin’ tasks fizzle out as PMs pick up newer seemingly higher priority projects. It’s essential that the lessons log is well maintained, managed, and closed as part of the project lifecycle. If the project has its own lessons log, that project shouldn’t be marked as completed and formally closed until the lessons log has been completed, reviewed, and delivered in its entirety.

Guideline Stage 4: Store the results for easy access

We often see organizations that don’t have a lessons learned repository in place. They are stored with other, irrelevant project documents on a shared drive or project library which means data is difficult to retrieve and share with the right people. Not to mention searching through different versions of reports makes it tricky for any user.

Lessons learned can be centralized so that it collates lessons from all projects, or each project can have its own lessons log which should be worked on and completed as part of the internal project closure process.


Atlas for lessons learned

Atlas helps to make sure any documentation, content, or knowledge, related to lessons learned are captured correctly. When a user searches ‘lessons learned’, everything related to lessons learned will appear for them, including notes, documents, comments, or knowledge and news pages. They do not need to go all the way to the project site documents, it can be brought back to them automatically or with one simple search from anywhere inside Atlas.

There are several ways lessons could be stored within Atlas. SharePoint lists can be created and built with bespoke columns so you can actively manage lists outside of an excel file. This can sometimes make for better sharing and reporting on granular, dynamic, items, rather than a single clunky spreadsheet.

Atlas FAQs with a simple question and answer capability can be used to store lessons learned, applying the lessons learned tag and any related tags (for example, ‘resourcing’ or ‘budget’ for quick filtering and search, and to ensure all the appropriate FAQs show up when lessons learned has been searched.

Atlas knowledge and news pages can be an excellent way to distribute news and information around lessons learned. We have seen clients in the past post PMO News Updates with titles such as ‘5 lessons we’ve learnt in PMO this quarter’ or ‘our updated process for capturing and managing lessons learned’. Tagged with the lessons learned tag, this is all good content to help inform users of both the lessons collated, as well as additional processes or guidelines on how to do this correctly.

Guideline Stage 5: Retrieve for use in current projects

For retrieval of information, it is key to have the right categories and tags applied to your reports. Without key word search capability, it is a maze to retrieve the appropriate lesson learned.

Project management office (PMO) process is important here. The lessons log should be reviewed by the PMO team and all PMs each month or each quarter to view new additions and help each other continuously improve their projects and not fall into pitfalls already experienced. This also helps reduce stress and can even improve Project Managers work life balance or leave them freer to do value added tasks.

Atlas for your lessons learned hub

The magic of the Atlas’ tagging and taxonomy functionality can be leveraged one step further.... With Atlas you can quickly and easily create a pre-configured ‘listing’ or ‘directory’ page which is pre-filtered to dynamically pull in everything related to lessons learned (that is, has been tagged with lessons learned. Additional content and webparts can also be put onto the page, so guidelines and advice about lessons learned can be easily found by anyone, including the FAQs and news and knowledge pages discussed above. This can then become the ‘hub’ or center for all things lessons learned.

Atlas for automating lessons learned

The lessons learned during a project are of immense value to the organization. But where do you store this knowledge? How do you store it? And how do you make it accessible? Create a super-highway of knowledge-based innovation and excellence with Atlas for Information and Knowledge Management.

Improve and learn from your projects with Atlas. Atlas makes it easy to find the appropriate lessons learned by correctly storing and tagging all relevant data.

Why use Atlas for your Lessons Learned?

  • Tag lessons learned content for quick searching. 
  • Users and project managers can easily find what they need from within 1 click.
  • One source of truth where all your lessons learned can be stored. 
  • Decentralized view of all lessons learned, breaking down project silos and information silos.

Why don’t you see it for yourself? Book a demo and we will show you how Atlas improves your projects with Lessons Learned.

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