Creating a “lessons learned” document should be a part of all your projects. While you may be tempted to close out initiatives quickly at the finish line, creating and following a checklist of lessons learned will save you and your organization time, money and credibility in the future.
Here are nine best practices when creating your “lessons learned” checklist:
- Steady as you go: it’s much easier to document a project along the way than it is to wait until the very end, when you may not remember all the specific details. Take the time during your program timeline to document notes.
- Capture both the good and the bad: it’s easy to focus on the mishaps, but remember to document what went well, too. Finding processes that work well can also help streamline efforts in the future.
- Get feedback from your task force: everyone on the team can present different perspectives. Be sure to ask and listen for feedback from your entire project team and relevant stakeholders. While you may document elements that didn’t go as planned, you might discover others had differing views.
- Align with your working team: be sure to review your project summaries and lessons learned within your working team first before presenting them, whether it’s to a client, your leadership or the rest of the company. This ensures your team is aligned and you’ve captured all the important details.
- Hold a debrief meeting: this meeting should include your clients, project managers and key stakeholders. This is the opportunity to share the output, metrics and lessons learned. And be sure to include the entire team’s feedback. This will ensure everyone is in alignment and will improve future project delivery.
- Leveraging lessons learned in future scopes: in your next project, be sure to include a “lessons learned” review as part of the project scope so consultants, clients and vendors are aware of your intentions to self-evaluate the project.
- Consider a mid-project review: sometimes your path in a program can shift if goals and objectives are being met. This could help save time and resources if you make the effort to evaluate things midway. Lessons can be acted on quickly and can result in a smoother second half of a project.
- Don’t be afraid to cast a critical eye on completed work: shying away from self-critique will prevent you from improving future actions. Be sure to approach criticism in an objective way and get secondary feedback, too.
- Back your files up: always archive all project documents in a central location that all project managers can easily access and search. Being able to reference previous work easily and quickly will give you and your team a head start on future initiatives.
Whether you’re a new project manager or a seasoned veteran, recalling lessons learned can help you improve the success of future projects. It’s easy to get started; there are many tools available for you to use. You can opt for traditional office software, such as Excel, OneNote or Word, or even go digital with project-tracking tools like Smartsheet or Trello. For larger project-management teams, align with other managers to find a single tracking tool and template that everyone can use to ensure consistency across all projects. There’s great value in simplifying procedures and using the same templates. A basic template should include the following details:
- Recording date
- What went well during each phase of the project
- What didn’t go well during each phase of the project
- Action taken to remedy what didn’t go well, if any
- Action-item owner
- What area of the project was affected — scope, cost, time or quality?
Start your next project off strongly as the project manager. Build your own “lessons learned” practice and leverage these tips to become efficient across initiatives. It’s an easy investment of time and effort that can have a huge impact on the success and efficiency of future projects. Getting started is often the most difficult part of any task, but once you’ve kicked off and fallen into a routine, documenting lessons learned can be easy. Set yourself up for consistent, long-term success with your next project delivery.