No matter how well planned a project is, it will undoubtedly be the case that there are some lessons to be learned and if you do not learn from projects, then you will not be as successful as you could be. Ideally a lessons learned report needs to be written at each stage of the project, especially if you are completing the project in phases, but no matter when it is done, the ideal is to use the report to do as it says; to learn lessons.

The lessons learned report needs to be as comprehensive as possible, without being so lengthy that everyone ignores it. It is important to say what went right and what didn’t go so well. It can be tempting just to write a report that tells a story about how everything went swimmingly and there were no problems and never a cross word was uttered. Yet this will not help anyone to learn from previous experience, so you need to describe what happened in very honest terms.

It is important to note any external events that influenced the project. For example, was there any natural disasters, flooding, inclement weather or even issues such as transport strikes. All these things affect the project or can affect it, so it is important to make a note of them.

You should also have a brief assessment of the technology, technical implements and the tools that you used to make the project happen. But you should also note what happened and which of these were useful and which should be used in future and conversely which you felt were not all that useful.

Then you need a section on the management as well as the quality processes and you need to analyse these and indicate which went very well, which were lacking in terms of having little effect and which went badly or very badly.

You need to include a section about which project management methods were used and how effective these were. Did they help or is there another type of project management that should have been used?

Sharing the report

Once you have completed the lessons learned report it is important to disseminate the information to all the members of the project management team so that they can learn from the experience.

It may well be that it is in your own interests to make sure that the information is regarded as confidential, so there is no risk of it being used against you or landing in the hands of your competitors.

It is also very useful to arrange a meeting of the project team, once they have had the chance to read and digest the lessons learned report. The report can then be discussed and you can learn from the experience that you all shared. This meeting will give others the opportunity to feed in to the process, because they may actually have a different interpretation of how the project went. Perhaps they think it went well when in fact it did not, or perhaps they feel it went badly, when you are of the opinion it was very successful.

If you do not talk about the report and take away lessons learned from the experience that you have all shared, then you will not be learning from practical experience and in some ways that is fundamental to project management. After all, we don’t want to keep on repeating the same mistakes; instead we should learn from them and that is why the lessons learned report is so important. We should all be striving to get things right next time, not simply ignoring anything that has gone wrong!

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