Five steps to get the most value from lessons in your project

We’re all learning every day as we go about our lives. We mentally capture lessons from things that went well and things that could have gone better.  As a result we may choose to adapt our behaviour if a similar situation presents again.

Every project brings new experiences and challenges, and with this, there are lots of opportunities to learn. So, how can you get the most value from lessons in your project?

1. Create a lessons log and use it

It is much easier to manage a project’s lessons if they are all in one place. A spreadsheet works well. It’s helpful to capture if each lesson is a ‘worked well’, ‘improve upon’ or ‘do differently’. Equally you should capture recommendations that result from each lesson.

2. Learn from previous projects

Consider lessons learned from previous projects delivered within the organisation and ask project team members for lessons from similar projects they have been involved in elsewhere. You could even reach out to other organisations who have completed similar projects. Analyse the lessons and impact assess them against the new project. Where relevant either apply recommendations from those that worked well or record and mitigate the risk of those that were less successful.

3. Encourage your project team to be ‘reflective practitioners’

No matter how similar two projects seem on the surface, each project brings its own nuances that will only come to light as the project progresses. Encourage your team to reflect on what went well, what could be improved and ask for any recommendations. If they record lessons as they occur, they can then be fed into the formal capture of lessons at the end of each phase or sprint. There is value in timeboxing reflective activity to ensure that sufficient time is given to this important task while still enabling the team to have enough time to complete tasks and actions required to move the project forward.


4. Share lessons learned

A lesson shared is a lesson maximised. It’s highly possible that a lesson identified by one team member will be relevant to other areas of the project too and may apply to other projects or areas of the business. Provide opportunities to share lessons and discuss and decide on any improvements to be implemented. Your project approach and structure will determine how best to do this. Weekly project team meetings might be the right arena for discussions of vital lessons. Similarly, use lessons reports to inform agreed stakeholders of lessons learned.

5. Analyse and apply lessons

As lessons build over a project, analyse them to identify those that frequently reoccur and group them into themes. Report these back to Project Board at agreed intervals, so that they can understand and decide upon any strategic implications. Arguably, the greatest value of lessons learned is achieved when resulting recommendations are implemented and later reviewed to ascertain that an improvement has been made. Implementation of recommendations might initially only be applied within the project, however, the ultimate goal is for the wider organisation to benefit. This is by lessons from one project being used to inform the approach of another or by organisational standards, processes and practices being adapted.