How to apply Lessons Learned to improve Project Delivery

Published in Project Management.

How to apply Lessons Learned to improve Project Delivery

There is no such thing as a perfect process. Ways of working can evolve to produce better outcomes. Lessons Learned is one of the tools that PMs use to identify issues and opportunities in processes.

According to PMBOK Guide 7th edition Lessons Learned is a form of internal knowledge about improvements from a specific delivery approach that can be shared and applied to the next round of work or future projects.

At the same time, Lessons Learned is a type of meeting organized during the Close phase of each project deliverable, to discuss the way how project events were addressed or should have been addressed.

These meetings provide an opportunity for the project team to review how it works and to suggest changes to improve processes and efficiency.

I recommend before the meeting to collect opinions on the project execution from the Key Stakeholders and Project team members in form of a survey. Furthermore, this survey can be made anonymous.

Part of the Lessons Learned survey

Before the meeting, a facilitator (PM or high-level manager) should summarize all the inputs from the survey into a single document that can be discussed in a reasonable amount of time during the meeting.

As a result of the Lessons Learned process, a document is created: a Lessons Learned register that summarizes all the insights gathered during the process. This document is then stored together with other artifacts for the project.

Lessons Learned document template

Ideally, historical information (including Lessons Learned) should be made available for future projects and other PMs in the organization. However, this may not be the case due to legal or compliance considerations.

Let’s discuss a particular case that has happened in my practice and find the way Lessons Learned could’ve helped there.

A University hires an agency to develop a website for one of its faculties. The development goes well as the agency implements all the requirements university collected on time. However, during the project, there was no person responsible for the deployment of the end product on the university side. After the project was finalized and the agency got its paycheck, the university discovered they have no specialists capable of deploying the website.

Even though the agency completed the project on time, the university was forced to hire another contractor to deploy the website. As this process took several weeks, the internal project deadline was violated.

A Lesson Learned from this project would be to plan the deliverable deployment prematurely and ensure that the organization has People, Processes, and Technology to use the deliverable.

To summarize, a standardized Lessons Learned process is a must for long-term growth and improvement for organizations with medium-to-large-size projects.

As a bonus, I’ve prepared for you a Lessons Learned document template and a Lessons Learned survey template you can download in my Telegram channel.