in Leadership, Leading Projects, Process Improvement, Quality Improvement

5 Ideas To Ensure That Lessons are ‘Really’ Learned

Have you ever experienced the following?

You complete a project and then do a small ‘post-mortem / retrospective analysis’ of what went well and what did not. You then document these lessons in a nice looking template and share it with all stakeholders before getting onto the next project. Next project looks exciting in the beginning and then, same set of challenges are encountered. “Lessons-Learned” often end up being “Lessons-Documented-In-Last-Project-That-Are-Going-To-Show-Up-Again”.

All improvement depends on lessons you document and what you, as a leader, do about it. If you are a business leader, project leader or an improvement expert, here are five practical things you can do to ensure that lessons are really learned.

  • Assign Responsibility: If you have a quality group, great! If you don’t, you can assign the role of improvement expert to any senior member in your team. Mandate should be to improve the process and implement the improvements. Project Managers are best candidates since they deal with these challenges day in and day out.
  • Focus on “actions”: Once documented, identify a set of immediate actions to be taken to ensure that these lessons go into practice. Compile a central action log that contains lessons from all the projects / retrospectives. Assign responsibility for each action and have a deadline. Track the progress from time to time.
  • Maintain a central log of lessons learned: Unless lessons are visible, they don’t go into practice. One idea is to maintain a central log of all lessons learned, actions and resulting improvements. This is also a great way to track improvements.
  • Revisit them: It is easy to get back to your project challenges and forget the lessons learned. Revisit them from time to time. Have monthly update meetings, publish these on your intranet, create easy to view lists of Do’s and Don’ts – whatever! But make sure that lessons learned are visible to people.
  • “Lessons Learned” as inputs to Process Improvement: Convert each lesson into a process. Get the buy-in from teams and then train everyone. This is also a great way to ensure that your quality system evolves with challenges you face in your context.

Lessons are only ‘learned’ when they find their way into the future projects as positive experiences. Challenges help us grow – only when we face new challenges each time and learn how to tackle the ‘old monsters’. Unless we do that, repeating challenges will only wear you and your team out!

Lessons then, are not learned, but just documented. Not fun – I am sure you’ll agree!

    • @Deborah Fike – I have strongly believed in the fact ‘that which gets sponsored/scheduled’ gets done. Ditto with improvement. As an organization, you can either cruise along the circumstances or learn from them and improve. It is the choice that makes all the difference. Thanks for the comment and glad you liked the post!


  1. Converting Lessons learned into inputs for further actions or improvements is key idea to stay focus on some good actionable items.
    All points plotted above would make best of lessons learnt by an experience not only in professional projects but also in personal life.

    Nice to the point article. Thanks.

    Jay Chhaya

  2. Like I already said, and saying again. This is great post, the chance of improvement if they focus on this details – but I think the hardest part is the point 4, revisiting “lesson learned” is not easy thing or even if it is easy.. for some reasons its not getting possible to open those lesson again.

  3. As an always a great post again! good elaboration of Lessons Learned phase of Project. I like “Focus on actions” and “Revisit them” a most. If we don’t implement the lessons in other projects then there is no need to do this practice at all, Always we need to be in Implementing mode rather then just to be in analyzing mode, even i am also trying to learn to be in that mode.

    Again thanks a lot for such nice Post and learning !


  4. Great points – all too often Lessons Learned are so valuable but so rarely seen through.

    A difficult part of capturing Lessons Learned is making them fact-based and not about assigning blame. In your bullet about Actions, you mention assigning the actions. I have found better luck with assigning the actions to a single person versus a team. I’m curious as to your experience.
    .-= Jennifer Doyle´s last blog ..jenni-doyle- Eliciting Requirements with Priority in mind http-wpme-pxCow-1C =-.

  5. @ Ajay and @Megha – Thanks for the comment and your continuing support to QAspire Blog. #4 is the most difficult part because it calls for discipline to consistently check on lessons documented. Trainings, review meetings etc. are great ways to stay on top of these actions. Moreover, if these actions are converted in a process, the need to track individual actions go off.

    Unless real time mapping happens, lessons documented remain just that – documented, never learned.

  6. @Jennifer – Thanks for the comment. I have believed that when you review, review the process, not the person. As you pointed it rightly, improvement managers need maturity to ensure that improvement does not turn into a blame game.

    Generally, for mature organizations that have an independent Quality function, all improvement actions are owned by this group. For others, they can either assign responsibility of these actions to any senior manager within their team. While tasks may be assigned to individuals, the final ownership should stay with one person.
    .-= Tanmay Vora´s last blog ..5 Ideas To Ensure That Lessons are ‘Really’ Learned =-.

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