Lessons Learned

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Sharing project insights with others

Lessons learned means "knowledge gained". The term originates from knowledge management and is used in classic project management. In agile project management, however, the term retrospective (after the individual sprints) is more commonly used.

What does lessons learned mean?

This refers to the conclusions that can be drawn from past experiences made in a project or task. Ideally, these conclusions and findings can be used to complete future projects or tasks faster, easier or simply better.

The lessons learned method is based on the following question: What would we do differently today if we had to do the same task again?

In order for this question to be answered honestly, a positive error culture must exist in the team or throughout the company. Lessons identified, i.e. knowledge gained, can be both positive and negative.

Examples of lessons learned

A project team discovers that delays regularly occur during acceptance by the customer. These delays affect the start of follow-up projects, customer satisfaction and motivation within the team. Several conclusions can be drawn from this situation and several steps for improvement can be derived:

  1. If, for example, proof of completed working days must be available for acceptance by the customer, but this is created manually, one lesson learned can be to digitize or automate this process.
  2. If the customer regularly requests improvements during project acceptance, a lesson learned may be that an agile approach with partial results that must be checked by the customer before proceeding further makes sense. Or it may be advisable to introduce a stage-gate process(c).
  3. Another finding may be that the project specifications are not documented or agreed clearly enough at the start of the project. In this case, one lesson learned is that internal and external communication needs to be improved. For example, templates can be created to document the scope of the project.

These are just three possible insights that can be gained through the lessons learned method.

In project management, the following aspects are also typical sources of practical lessons learned:

  • Project management method: is an agile, a classic or a hybrid methodology efficient?
  • Project organization: Which decision-making processes are efficient, which processes are resource-intensive but inefficient?
  • Risk analysis: What project risks are there, what are their probability of occurrence and impact and what measures can be taken to minimize them?
  • Product quality: What measures can be taken to ensure or even increase quality without significantly increasing costs?

The focus is therefore clearly on practical experience that can be measured and documented.

Lessons learned documentation

Lessons learned are usually documented as part of the project completion documentation at the end of a project. The records should then be reviewed before the implementation of a new project in order to avoid mistakes from previous projects and to reapply measures that have proven successful.

One form of documenting lessons learned can be a team meeting that is recorded and transcribed. This provides both audio and text documentation that can be accessed at any time. In addition, the link to the recording or document can be stored in the project management software for all project participants during project planning. This means that the knowledge from the lessons learned can be accessed by everyone at any time and is not just in people's heads.

PRINCE2 specifies the so-called lessons learned log as a procedure. This should be used throughout the entire duration of the project to record the lessons learned. At the end of a project, all lessons learned are systematically transferred in a so-called lessons learned report. The PMO (Project Management Office) can take over the evaluation of these experience reports in order to make the findings available for other projects. If there is no PMO, this task can fall to the project management or project assistant.

Lessons Learned Workshop

Damit Lessons Learned ihren erhofften Nutzen bringen, ist ein Workshop zur Einführung dieser Methode sinnvoll. Der Workshop dient dazu, um im Team oder der Abteilung festzuhalten:

  1. welche Erkenntnisse sinnvoll messbar sind,
  2. wie und von wem die Erfahrungswerte dokumentiert werden sollen,
  3. und wann die Lessons Learned dokumentiert werden sollen.

Die Ergebnisse des Lessons Learned Workshops sind nicht in Stein gemeißelt. Soll heißen, dass in regelmäßigen Abständen diese Fragen durchdacht werden sollten. Denn Umstände können sich ändern und damit die Art und Weise wie die Lessons Learned Methode angewendet wird. 

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