Blackboard with lessons written in chalk - lessons learned, recognise mistakes, observe what works, document them, share them
Project management

Make the most of lessons learned

Psoda blog author avatar
15 July 2014

Following on from last week’s parody blog about making sure your lessons never see the light of day, this week we look at the benefits to be gained from taking lessons learned seriously.
Projects by their very nature are transient and it is very easy to lose any knowledge and experience that might have been gained, particularly if you employ a lot of contract staff.
We’ve all heard about projects in organisations that have basically repeated the mistakes of previous similar projects and the resulting disasters that have ensued. Wouldn’t it be great if those projects had access to previous projects lessons?
How can you ensure this happens?

Project managers

1. Instead of waiting to the end of the project to collect your project’s lessons, document them as they happen. This way you capture everything while it is fresh.
2. Encourage your team to log their own lessons. By empowering your staff, you’re more likely to capture good data.
3. Make lessons learned part of the exit interview with your contract project staff.
4. Put lessons learned on the project meeting agenda. It doesn’t have to be every week, but just a quick heads up about anything new as well as a quick reminder to log them, should be sufficient. If you get information on other projects’ lessons, it would be a good place to share them.
5. If none of the other arguments sway you, how about reminding yourself that by logging lessons learned, you’re likely to save some other poor project manager from suffering the same hell that you’ve just gone through?


If you are responsible for collating lessons learned, here are some suggestions on how to popularise them and make the experience a bit less painful for all concerned:
1. Publicise them regularly to the project managers and coordinators. Consider making a list of the top 10 every so often and send them out (anonymised, of course).
2. Have a database or area on the intranet where people can go and search the lessons learned database. Just make sure you use good search algorithms so they don’t get frustrated with duff results.
3. Do trend analysis. There is likely to be a huge amount of very valuable data in the database that you might be able to use to predict future performance. For example, the number of projects that reported lessons on how to engage with stakeholders more effectively.
4. Include lessons learned in reports to senior management. You don’t need to include each one, but trend data could be very useful.
5. If you’re trying to establish a culture of gathering lessons learned, consider making it into a bit of a competition with prizes for the best, most useful, who submitted the most, who submitted the least, etc. These could be given out every year, quarter or month.


By using the lessons from previous projects, you can save yourself a lot of headache and your company a lot of money. By passing on the knowledge from your project to future project managers, you can pay it forward.
Find out how Psoda can help you manage lessons learned by registering for a free trial.

Rhona Aylward avatar
Written by Rhona Aylward
Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

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