I was interviewed by the lovely Cornelius Fichtner recently for an episode of the Project Management Podcast™ on lessons learned management techniques in project management.
It was great to chat to Cornelius again, and we shared lots of tips for the process of lessons learned.
Here’s a summary of what we talked about.
What are Lessons Learned?
Lessons learned are the bits of organizational knowledge that we pick up as we go through our projects. You’ll typically find them split into things that went well – all the things that we patted ourselves on the back about, and then the things that didn’t go so well where the team found there were issues
We need to make the distinction between ‘lessons captured and ‘lessons learned ’ because often on projects we write things down and capture them without actually learning or doing anything with them.
If you don’t use them, what’s the point of gathering them? They should feed into continuous improvement plans.
And while doing some of the bigger improvements might be a lot of effort and might put people off making changes, there are normally one or two small things that come out of a project that you can easily change for the next project to make it better.
As project leaders, we need to make sure that whatever organizational knowledge we learn as we go is processed somehow and we actually do something with it so it becomes ‘learned’.
What are Project Lessons Learned Management Techniques?
Management techniques are simply effective ways of working.
Examples of lessons learned management techniques are how we capture, record, analyze and use lessons learned for continuous improvement.
Generally, the management techniques that we can use fall into three categories:
- Things that relate to people, e.g. staffing, training
- Techniques that relate to processes, e.g. lessons learned templates or the agenda that you use for your lessons learned sessions
- Tools and technology, e.g. how you then store and recover those lessons learned once you’ve finished capturing them.
We also talked about:
- The difference in how project lessons learned are managed and approached on a traditional, waterfall-based project compared to Agile environments
- After-action reviews, and choosing the right vocabulary to set the tone for your lessons learned meetings
- Whether your meetings should be formal or informal, and whether they should involve a facilitator (spoiler alert: yes, they should)
- How to prepare for a lessons learned meeting
- How to document the outcomes of a lessons learned meeting
I also talk about a lessons learned meeting I facilitated and how that went, and the importance of facilitation skills in this kind of session.
And here’s a link to the NASA Public Lessons Learned System which I reference in the podcast. It’s a really great source of inspiration for how lessons learned can be done well:
A version of this article first appeared on this website in 2017.
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