Lessons Learned

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Project Management Institute (PMI) Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines lessons learned as the learning gained from the process of performing the project. Formally conducted lessons learned sessions are traditionally held during project close-out, near the completion of the project. However, lessons learned may be identified and documented at any point during the project's life cycle. The purpose of documenting lessons learned is to share and use knowledge derived from experience to:

As a practice, lessons learned includes the processes necessary for identification, documentation, validation, and dissemination of lessons learned. Utilization and incorporation of those processes includes identification of applicable lessons learned, documentation of lessons learned, archiving lessons learned, distribution to appropriate personnel, identification of actions that will be taken as a result of the lesson learned, and follow-up to ensure that appropriate actions were taken.

Lessons learned document the cause of issues and the reasoning behind any corrective action taken to address those issues. When thinking about how to effectively document a project's lessons learned, consider these types of questions:

Lessons learned should draw on both positive experiences– good ideas that improve project efficiency or save money, and negative experiences– lessons learned only after an undesirable outcome has already occurred. Every documented lesson learned should contain at least these general elements:

At any point during the project life cycle, the project team and key stakeholders may identify lessons. The lessons learned are compiled, formalized, and stored through the project's duration. Upon project completion a lessons learned session is conducted that focuses on identifying project success and project failures, and includes recommendation to improve future performance on projects.

The lessons learned session is typically a meeting that includes:

Participants in lessons learned sessions typically discuss questions similar to the following:

Lessons learned and comments regarding project assessment should be documented, archived, presented, and openly discussed with the intent of eliminating the occurrence of avoidable issues on future projects.

The ultimate purpose of documented lessons learned is to provide future project teams with information that can increase effectiveness and efficiency and to build on the experience that has been earned by each completed project. If documented and disseminated properly, lessons learned provide a powerful method of sharing ideas for improving work processes, operation, quality, safety and cost effectiveness, etc. and helps improve management decision making and worker performance through every phase of a project. They also helps validate some of the tougher times endured during the project's life and helps future Project Managers avoid similar difficulties.

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Practice Activities