How often do you conduct lesson learned sessions?

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Lesson learned sessions can be a great way to document the things that went right and wrong on a project - especially when you can gain the insight of your project customer. What we can learn from these sessions - things that were obvious and things that we didn't even realize were positives or negatives from our customer's perspective can be invaluable going forward on other projects.

However, many project teams quickly disperse at the end of the engagement...already assigned to their next project which is kicking off or may have already started. Likewise, the customer is often busy and hard to rein back in for post-project meetings.

What I would like to know is....
  • How often do you conduct lessons learned sessions
  • In what format do you conduct such sessions (one session, a series of meetings, by phone, in person, etc.)
  • How do you document, store, and share the results?
These sessions are important, but often overlooked. One survey I conducted indicated that 57% of PMs either conducted these on 0-10% of their projects. I've found it hard, many times, to circle back and perform these so I've gone to trying to incorporate lessons learned sessions throughout the project - usually at the point of a phase ending or a key deliverable being passed to the customer. That way: 1) they actually happen, 2) we get to learn and incorporate during the current project rather than only on the next project, and 3) customer satisfaction usually remains higher or can be raised through corrective action on the current project.

Thanks...I look forward to some discussion on this's an important process but most of us - including me - often fail to take advantage of this process and learn from what our successes and mistakes.
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Hi Brad,

Probably not enough, having said that I've got two coming up this week, the first for a while. Both projects were a success, not to say there weren't things we couldn't have done better.

The risk management for one of the projects was not seen as satisfactory, although as project manager I was happy with the risk mitigation. The project has attracted criticism for not utilising better risk management, even though there were robust processes in place to prevent failure. It's a strange situation to have a project success with so much criticism. I'm looking forward to doing the lessons learned session and giving the problems an airing.

A key lesson I'm taking from this project is to make sure there is better communication of risks. Even though I thought they had been properly communicated, people involved in the project said they weren't aware of all the risks. They hadn't read the documentation and had made assumptions based on previous experience. In addition, one careless remark caused serious concern a few hours before go-live. I kick myself now for not communicating better, but people must take some responsibility to find out the information they need and not sit back and wait for others to deliver it.

Of course I've got the usual people imbued with 20/20 hindsight telling me what I should have done. Funny, they didn't mention any of this at the beginning of the project. 

The key thing I've found with a lessons learned session is not the drawing out of lessons that counts, but acting upon them in the future. A common mistake is to file lessons learned in inaccessible documents and file systems. I prefer to write them into processes, always asking, 'how are we going to implement these lessons?' It's best if you can change working practices now and not rely on people remembering the lessons or finding them in documents later.

Finally, I don't worry about finding every possible lesson from a project. I pull out the main ones and use them to improve -- incremental improvement is what you need. Do it better next time. Or as Gerry Rafferty would say, Get it right next time and yes, I'm listening to the song while writing this.

There is a useful topic about running lessons learned sessions here: Lessons Learned: It's Déjà Vu All Over Again


Thanks for the reply, Duncan. And you're right...everyone has perfect hindsight. Also, great statement "The key thing I've found with a lessons learned session is not the drawing out of lessons that counts, but acting upon them in the future." So true.


Duncan- tell us how the sessions went. Seriously, between a survey I conducted a couple of years ago and the fact that I get lots of requests for my lessons learned template, I get the feeling that not very many PMs do these (or are allowed the budget and time to do these) or they are just finally starting to do these. So sharing recent experiences might be helpful.

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