40+ Sample Lesson Learned

What Is a Lesson Learned Sample? 

A Lesson Learned sample is an approach in project  management that aims to analyze and apply knowledge gained from executing a particular project. It is created to maximize learning and identify areas for improvement.    

According to a conference paper published by Project Management Institute (PMI), the lessons learned strategy is important because project teams need to be able to learn from project failures as well as project successes.   

Processes Needed In Lessons Learned 

Planning: This may also be called the pre-project stage or preparations. Before a project is undertaken, members usually hold several meetings before the actual implementation. This is to do all the necessary preparations, assign key roles, and make sure everyone involved knows the key objectives. All planning eventually has one ultimate goal: to have a smooth and ideally, problem-free program or event. Execution: During the actual project, it is tempting to think that as long as the team is in control, all will go as planned. However as we all know, things do not always go as planned, despite our best efforts and perfect planning. Leaving room for mistakes and anticipating them can also prevent unexpected problems from paralyzing the team and compromising the project’s goal. Processing: This can also be referred to as post-project or post-production, in some cases. The actual lessons learned are tackled in this stage of project management. But without the first two, there would be nothing to discuss about. Processing and debriefing are important steps and can spell the difference between sustainable success and persistent failure.

Important Skills in the Lessons Learned Approach

Critical Thinking: The ability to analyze situations and go in-depth is a skill that is needed in almost all work environments. Going beyond surface concerns, getting to the root of issues, and asking the important questions will help create a more substantial and worthwhile output.Organizational Leadership: Taking initiative and being able to propel a team together is absolutely essential. A good team leader knows the strengths of each member and knows how to delegate roles and tasks. Willingness to Fail: The cliché is that you need to know how to fail to succeed. If we are constantly held back by our fear of failure and rejection, then it will only leave us powerless, stuck and unable to move forward. You need to be willing to try and take calculated risks, in spite of your fear and perceived failures.

Parts of a Lessons Learned 

The lesson learned approach is typically used in project management or program implementation. However, the content and format can vary from industry to industry. The field of project management heavily relies on process; and spends a great deal trying to refine and perfect the process. Some of the basic parts of a lesson learned sample include the following: 

Item: Identify the items to be discussed and scrutinized. This may be a keyword or a short phrase. List all the possible items down and if possible, arrange it by order of importance. The number of items is dependent on the team and overall objective. For event-related items, keywords might include marketing collateral, number of participants, venue, logistics, social media engagement, etc.Description of Item: In another column, define each item or provide a brief description relating to it. This is important in creating a comprehensive lessons learned template. You can narrate the actual event or explain the procedure that occurred. Since the lessons learned strategy is post-project in nature, make sure you’ve gathered all the key details of what transpired and have a complete understanding of how it was implemented. Depending on the team size, usually one person is tasked to oversee one item. This makes it easier to manage and promotes better collaboration within the team. The work is distributed and the assigned roles allow the members to focus on their tasks. Label: Was the project a win or did things not go as planned? Was the event a success or a failure? Of course, these can be better measured by targets and goals- that should’ve already been set during the planning phase. Being able to evaluate your key items requires a keen understanding of the overall objective of the project. Labeling requires you to be as objective as you can be. Don’t be too modest on the accomplishments; but at the same time you also don’t want to sugarcoat the shortcomings and poor performance. Some teams opt to assign an item as either positive or negative. The main point for attaching these ‘labels’ is to rate each item in order to determine what is worth perpetuating and what needs to be discarded or refined. What processes work? What doesn’t seem to work? What produces results and what fails to deliver the targets? Results and Lessons: It is essential that you note the lessons the team has realized. This is where critical thinking is vital. It may even be the centerpiece of the entire strategy of a lessons learned approach. It is important to take the time to sit down and process the project, program, or event part by part. A team needs to gather and organize their insights and lessons in order to proceed to the next step which is eventually providing solutions and actionable items that’s used for improving the next project. As much as possible, describe in detail the knowledge gained. Consider the readability of your final output. Remember, the lessons learned are not only for the team, but for other people as well. Proposed Action: The proposed action column is where you apply the lessons to areas that need improvement. Now that you have identified and assessed what went wrong or right, add another column to explain in detail what can be done to improve the next time. This is important not only for the said project but for future projects that might use similar processes and strategies. Make sure your action items are realistic and measurable. For example, if you learned that ingress delays resulted in your event starting three hours late, your action item could be to change the call time to two hours earlier.

How to Create a Lesson Learned Sample 

The good thing about the lessons learned approach is that you can tailor fit it to your company’s needs and goals. The collaborative effort it demands means that all ideas are welcome and it is only a matter of sifting through these and choosing which ones to focus on. The step-by-step guide below will help you lay the groundwork for creating a successful lessons learned output: 

Step 1: Establish the Format 

It is important to decide on a format that will maximize the ideas and lessons gained. You could create an Excel spreadsheet or checklist, a power point presentation, a summarized report, or even an initial questionnaire that provides feedback about the project. But most teams find a simple table convenient and easy to follow. You could create any table using the basic MS applications. If your team is required to gather for a post-event processing session, then an engaging power point presentation with interesting pictures could work well. Using the right format is essential because it sets the flow of your discussion and keeps the agenda focused. 

Step 2: Brainstorm Ideas and Lessons 

Sitting down with the team is of utmost importance. It lays the ground for feedback and the discussion naturally flows when people bounce off ideas from each other. It opens the space for people to air their grievances of what went wrong and credit the achievements of what went right. Brainstorming is best conducted right after a project or event has wrapped up. The ideas and issues are still fresh and are likely to be retained and remembered accurately. A brainstorming session may be as simple as a team gathered together with a whiteboard or a more complex session involving standardized survey forms and questionnaires. It’s important to note that lessons may not be immediately learned unless there is openness and honest feedback coming from the team. Thus, creating an environment conducive to learning is critical. 

Step 3: Write Down Lessons Learned

Gradually fill in your table or slide, depending on your chosen format. Discuss as a team and process your information and insights together. Evaluating the project may initially seem like a dragging or drawn out task; which is why brainstorming is important because only then can you start organizing and analyzing the information. It’s best to do this right after a project is completed, in order to gather as much information as possible. Try arranging your items according to significance or greatest impact. Some items may have sub ideas or secondary lessons and it’s good to plot that out too in your table.  

Step 3: Assess the Positives and Negatives

After identifying and enumerating the insights, then comes the judgment. The key here is to keep an open yet objective view. Once you have a good idea of the overall success (or lack thereof) of the project, you can more or less assess and decide if a particular aspect was successful or could have turned out differently. What worked and delivered the desired results? This can be a positive indicator. On the other hand, what was implemented but did not meet the goal? This could be a negative indicator. But in order to do this, you would need some form of metrics or a concrete way to measure the success or failure. Setting the goals and targets is often done in the planning stage. These need to be set prior to actual implementation of the project. It will then serve as a reference point for you to measure it against the actual lesson learned. An example of this would be key performance indicators or KPIs that companies use to quantify performance and success. 

Step 4: Give Recommendations and Plot the Next Steps 

The notion that theory is only good if it is applied and practiced rings true here. Assessment and judgment would be meaningless without concrete action. Once you have identified both the strengths and flaws, recommend better strategies and come up with realistic solutions in order to do better next time. Outline the next steps and create an effective tracking strategy to ensure a proper follow-through. Using the lessons you learned, you can be more confident and optimistic in tackling the next project, then the next. The only thing left to do is to commit to an improved version of the project and strive for a better execution using the insights gained during the session analysis.  

Step 5: Document the Output  

To wrap up your learning session, it is helpful to have a designated person who can dutifully organize all the information. Documentation is crucial because your analyses and insights need to be within reach, if ever the need for it again arises. Having it on file could also serve other teams who may need access to the output.    

FAQs

What do you write in lessons learned?

The key is drawing from experience and being able to organize insights and lessons for the purpose of applying them in concrete ways. It would consist of the team’s targets, KPIs, results, and overall learnings. Most lesson learned templates include an action column where suggestions and solutions to problems are listed.

What are examples of lessons learned in a project?

Picture a project team of engineers. The group just finished topping off a high rise building. Preparations for the event took nearly three weeks to finalize. The next day, the lead engineer calls a team meeting to discuss the recently concluded event. During the meeting, a civil engineer points out a blunder wherein several floors were not cleaned and removed of debris. The lesson learned prompted the team to always keep an inspection checklist and assign a member to conduct final rounds, hours prior to the event.

What is meant by lessons learned?

Lessons learned is simply learning from experience. In a lot of ways, most successful programs are a result of trial and error. Especially if a project is new territory, it gives the team a lot of room to learn and come up with their own standard procedures and best practices. Further, this commitment to excellence and insatiable quest for constant growth and improvement is what fuels the lesson learned strategy.

If we were to believe Albert Einstein’s theory of insanity, how then can we guarantee or, at the very least, minimize the likelihood of repeating our mistakes? What can companies do to ensure continuous learning and sustained growth? In the area of project management, processes make up the bulk of the work. The lessons learned approach offers the opportunity to constantly learn and improve on those processes. Try any template above and craft your own lessons learned sample today!