PMI Bangalore Chapter


PM Essence
Lessons Learned in Project Management 
                                                                                            – Sunand Sharma, PMP 

In Project Management we rarely seem to apply ‘Lessons Learned’. Lessons learned (both good and bad) can possibly be the most powerful Project Management tool available. 


When and how to capture lessons learned

We should not wait until the end of a project to determine the Lessons Learned. The danger of parking the identify, capture and analyze phases of  lesson learned until the end of a project  is risky as  most project team members will already be focused on the next project by then. Project momentum would have been slowed down and most of the team members will see this as a ‘box ticking’ exercise. As a result, only a fraction of the lessons that could be valuable to future projects are recorded and passed on. Even if an organization has an effective method of communicating its lessons and learning from them, the most important element (identifying and capturing Lessons Learned) would have been compromised. 




Projects are generally split into a number of phases, milestones or gates and will overlap with other projects that are approaching the same phase in their project life cycle. Lessons Learned Reviews should be carried out at the end of each formal phase of the project and any learning’s should be rapidly utilized both within the project being reviewed and in other related projects. 


Setting up a Lessons Learned log during the project start-up will help to establish the process as a core part of Project Management. Encouraging its use and regularly reviewing it as part of the Risk Management process will also make it more meaningful and relevant to the work of the team. Ongoing capture of what was learned “as you go” will also make it a lot easier to incorporate Lessons Learned in the end of project report.


How and when to share lessons learned 

It is not enough to close out the project and to create a Lessons Learned report – the reports have to be made available to others in a way that makes them want to read and apply the lessons. The key to this is effective communication: 


• Organizing the critical information in an easy to understand way that makes its relevance apparent. 


• Ensuring that the different stakeholder groups are aware that the information is available and that they know where to find it. 


• Presenting the information in such a way that people can quickly extract it and turn it into useful actions.



Adoption – Issues, motivation and ways to gain adoption


A critical step for new projects is the review of relevant Lessons Learned.  In problem situations, the PM is very rarely challenged as to their awareness of whether a given problem had occurred on a similar project, whether it was foreseeable and to what extent had they taken measures to avoid its recurrence. Perhaps more focus on holding Project Managers to account in this way would result in adopting Lessons Learned processes more effectively. A potential issue for Lessons Learned is that there are “personalities” involved and/or an environment which is not conducive to working this way.


There is often a perception when a new project is set up – especially if preceding projects have been problematic – that a conscious effort should be made to wipe the slate clean. This usually means an entirely new team (immediate lack of continuity and no first-hand experience of what went before) with new opinions about what will work and what won’t. Too much reference to an earlier “unsuccessful” project is generally viewed as “not a good thing”, so even if a Lessons 


Learned report does exist it may never be looked at. In such situations it is little wonder that the same mistakes are made again, and even worse, mistakes are made on the new project in areas which were successful on the earlier project.


Making effective use of Lessons Learned is a cultural trait (e.g. to ‘sweep problems under the carpet’). However, the trigger to invest in ‘learning from mistakes’ (and successes) has to be based on individual experience. One that highlights the value gained from learning lessons. We remember to go and write Lessons Learned reports far more often than we go and look at someone else’s. Experience, being the tough teacher, means that there is a good chance you remember your own lessons so well, that you are tempted to not write them down, thinking by yourself – “nobody looks at them anyway do they?”