When you look back over a finished project, do you look at the positive side?
Newly formed teams worked well with efficiency. Senior and junior team members collaborate flawlessly. The project was finished ahead of schedule. Post-project reviews are encouraging.
Or do you focus more on your mistakes?
Members are always on leave. Lapses in communication. The client made last-minute changes. Underestimating project costs. Delayed project timeline.
Making mistakes is unavoidable. As project managers, it is essential to examine both the positive and negative aspects of a finished project to understand the lessons learned.
But wait, what are the lessons learned?
What are Lessons Learned Meetings?
The Project Management Institute (PMI) talks about lessons learned as documented information on project experiences, covering both positive and negative ones.
When project managers capture lessons learned, chances are that they will not repeat the same mistakes on their next project. What about the excellent feedback given during post-project reviews? Yep, processes leading to that are also evaluated and reviewed for repeating the same positive response on future projects.
By capturing lessons learned, a project manager can also build a critical review to share with other project teams how they worked and improve key points for the completion of the current project.
PMI also noted that while assessing good and bad experiences is critical, there is no proper use for past lessons learned without appropriate documentation. You’ll be surprised at how you and your team discover information to establish higher productivity, not to mention better organizational alignment for your agency!
An Example Six-Step Process of Lessons Learned
So now that we know the basics, how do we apply the lessons learned in project management?
Project teams can find a way to learn from project leaders by creating a lessons-learned process. This way, you can have time for knowledge-sharing with your entire team. In addition, you can apply the knowledge from past projects to a similar project in future endeavors or new projects led by other project teams.
We know, we know. Project managers ask how the team’s experience was after the project, and it’s normal to hear every project member say, “Everything’s fine.” “Everything went OK.” Begin by including the lessons learned application as early as the project planning phase. Remind them during team meetings to have a decent answer when asked and to be more sensitive about what is going on during the entire project lifecycle.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are six steps of an example lessons learned process:
1. Identify the problems with your project team
Based on the newly completed project, past mistakes can be discussed with the entire project team, especially while this is still “fresh” in everyone’s minds. Other than the project manager, a selected facilitator may ask to complete a survey, jot down the events that may have been the crucial factor for the issue, or anything that can capture lessons learned through feedback. Start by asking questions about the causes of the problem. What happened? When and how did the issue arise? Where did we go wrong? By doing this, the team members involved in the said situations can help identify the issue’s root.
Identifying areas for improvement can also help distinguish why the project fell short of expectations or what lacked consistency in the execution of the project. It may be due to the same mistakes experienced in previous projects that caused project failure, or it may be new ones. The identified concerns and issues can have different natures and may be client-facing, internal, or both.
2. Identify the successes as well
During the lessons learned sessions, it is also essential to work on the project’s successes with the help of guide questions. What did we do right? What led to that success? How can it be duplicated? These successes are attributed to factors that can be repeated and included in future projects.
For example, if the team experienced commendations for collaborating well with unquestionable team spirit, was it because of the clear communication between members? Is it because their skills complement one another? Maybe because the project manager supports them as a whole and individually? Or it could be all of the above!
Understanding how the wins came about will ultimately help optimize the implementation of project management processes, risk management, project scope, and other aspects to make the team more efficient and productive.
3. Analyze project management lessons learned
After answering the three important questions: What went wrong? What went right? Where do we need to improve?
The next step to knowing the lesson learned is to organize the survey results and categorize them accordingly. Then, create a lesson learned report with project team members, especially key stakeholders.
You may ask why you still need to combine all these things. Here’s why: Analyzing lessons learned in project management allows you to do a project review. It should summarize the strengths of the project, the areas for improvement, the weaknesses of the project, and the recommendations. Project managers also document lessons learned to rate the project’s success and client satisfaction, and review everything with the team.
Finally, we can assess how to work on applying project lessons into action plans that answer recommendations in the lessons learned session.
4. Document or create new documents for best practices
When we share lessons learned with the project team, we let them know the survey results, feedback collated, and the lessons learned. When sharing the results, be sure to record team members’ thoughts about lessons learned and encourage them to look at what processes didn’t work this time. By doing this, team members stay motivated to learn how to improve their work in the future.
But let’s not forget to look at what processes in the pipeline did work and the notable ones that didn’t because they can contribute to creating new documents for best practices. These best practices are incorporated into existing business processes, technology, modes of communication, policies, procedures, and employee accomplishments.
Some solutions to document and apply cold include training and upskilling personnel, increasing accountability before a technology or process issue creates more damage, regular communication, consistent updating of critical stakeholders, managing strategies, and reevaluating programs as needed.
5. Store, update, or create new documents for those processes
The lessons learned template should be archived and stored in a secure place accessible to the project team, other project managers, and external stakeholders. It can also be stored in an existing project management tool, where the lessons learned report can be read and is available to share. A centralized drive or cloud storage can be a great option in today’s digital world, preferably open for access within the company’s local network.
What are the benefits of storing the lessons learned documents? First, keeping these reports available and active helps everyone become familiarized with the best practices, new team members can be acquainted with the agency’s project processes, and project managers can dig through these documents and effectively apply them.
6. Retrieve for use on current and future projects
Setting up a keyword search capability will help retrieve the lessons learned reports. Project managers must always refer to these reports before initiating the project planning phase to see if there are some projects and to avoid repeating the mistakes made in previous projects.
We can also look at the best practices involved in implementing a similar project and challenge ourselves to work on improving things. Finally, aim to discuss lessons learned reports during the kick-off meeting with the key stakeholders and project team members to help identify the risks you are about to encounter and the best mitigation plan.
Having standard processes and tools helps shape the consistency of the next project. The lessons learned template can be used as a guide, while other related documents can be categorized further to optimize the searchability of each topic in the lessons learned report.
When we capture lessons learned after each project, we are one step closer to perfecting our project performance. We develop our project management system and streamline our business operations by regularly documenting and updating what we have done well, how we will repeat the same successful procedure in the future, and analyzing areas for improvement. We also follow a lessons-learned process:
- Identifying problems and successes
- Analyzing and organizing them
- Documenting and sharing the issues with the entire team
- Storing them in an easily accessible place
- Retrieving and utilizing during the planning of the next project
Once your agency frequently captures the lessons learned in each project, it becomes a norm to continue your team’s commitment to improving themselves, the quality of their output, and the project management processes.
With ScaleTime’s Agency Project Management Checklist, you can start your way to making your project management life easier and more efficient. Check out our automated processes to eliminate bottlenecks and other project management strategies. Get your checklist today!