If you don’t learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it. If you continuously make the same mistake, expect to get the same result. Both of these statements are variations of Albert Einstein’s famous words about insanity — “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” 

Let’s face it, we are all prone to doing the wrong thing again and again, even if we know it’s not good for us. There are people who consistently pair up with the wrong partner, and then there are those who constantly lose their temper and pick unnecessary fights with others. It’s like watching somebody bang their head against a brick wall — they keep causing problems, yet the solution is obvious. 

At work, making mistakes is commonplace. However, learning from them is essential, particularly in the project management space. Even if your company believes the latest project was a job well done, take the time to reflect and use the experience as a way to get even better. 

In this article, we will delve into the importance of lessons learned, what’s included in an effective lessons learned template, and how to implement them in your project management process. 

Lessons learned in project management

When it comes to project management, there is a wealth of knowledge to be gained from each project. Lessons learned are not just about identifying what went right or wrong with your team. They also involve taking note of valuable insights into the project planning process. This requires you to be thorough, as you examine every success, failure, challenge, and best practice encountered during the job. 

Remember, there’s a lot to learn from how project planning, team dynamics, risk management, communication, and stakeholders were handled during the last project. Whatever insights you gain should be documented and shared company-wide, as this is the fast track to continuous improvement and business success. 

How lessons learned boost your project

You can think of lessons learned as the feedback your doctor or hair stylist gives you after a visit. While the doctor may point out that your sleeping and eating patterns are contributing to your health issues, the hair stylist might explain how using certain products has significantly altered your hair’s texture and color. Even though the information may be a hard pill to swallow, it’s necessary to avoid the same situation in the future. 

Likewise, the lessons learned at work should be viewed as an opportunity to make your team better and boost project outcomes.

Sharing knowledge and best practices will allow project teams to learn from each other and implement suggestions in their own projects. This culture of continuous improvement spreads throughout the company, which will keep you competitive in an industry that appears to be ever-changing and evolving.

Reviewing lessons learned also lets project managers take note of what risks they took, how they can avoid certain pitfalls, and what can be done to prevent these issues in the future. The next time somebody makes a mistake, you will know how to handle the setback. There will be absolutely no need to stress and be at your wit’s end over it.

A laptop, written notes, and coffee mug on a wooden table
Photo by Isumi Daizy on Unsplash

The anatomy of a good lessons learned template

A proper lessons learned template comes with a structured format for documenting project insights. Think about it — would you rather work with an organized list of chronological bullets or have to contend with several pages of messy notes? 

Let’s get into the key elements you should consider when designing a lessons learned template:

  • Project information: Include the project name, dates, team members, and stakeholders to provide context. This sets the stage for understanding the project’s background and will give stakeholders enough context. Not including these is like trying to drop off mail without naming a sender and recipient!
  • Lesson description: Clearly articulate the lessons learned in a concise and specific manner. Be very clear when describing the main issue faced during the project and what was learned as a result. 
  • Impact analysis: Assess the impact of each lesson on project outcomes, including both positive and negative effects. The goal is to identify the consequences of the lesson and put it in the context of the project. As tempting as it may be, now is not the time to be playing the blame game — rather, this is a moment to learn something new.
  • Root cause analysis: Identify the underlying causes that led to the lessons learned. Whether it was a miscommunication issue or something to do with management, take note of these factors and vow to not repeat them in the future.
  • Recommendations: Suggest actionable steps or changes that can be taken to address the lessons learned. You can even refer to past project successes or failures as the basis of your suggestions.
  • Implementation plan: Outline a game plan for applying the lessons learned in future projects or ongoing initiatives. You need to make sure that your insights from the lessons are not forgotten but rather integrated into the company’s practices and processes. 

Customizing your template

Because every organization and project is unique, the best strategy when it comes to designing your lessons learned template is to customize it. Your team should consider factors such as industry standards and best practices, project complexity, and team dynamics.

Ultimately, the goal of customizing your template is to create a user-friendly, practical tool that remains aligned with your company’s mission statement and objectives. Try to be flexible — there are many different project scenarios that could lead to various lessons learned. Hopefully, your template is flexible enough that your employees can easily use and navigate it. When they are finished, they can simply start over and adapt it to the next project situation. 

How to implement lessons learned templates in your project management process

Now that you have an idea of what lessons learned means, let’s discuss integrating your templates into your workflow.

When to use them

Lessons learned templates can be used at various stages of a project: 

  • Project planning: These templates can help you flag down any potential risks and challenges that arise during the project. Look to past projects for ideas on how to address these issues and develop mitigation strategies.
  • After project completion: Analyze what went well, as well as what went south during the job. You can also mention the overall project experience to create a baseline for future reference. 
  • Transitions between project phases or teams: Because these often involve a transfer of knowledge and responsibilities, it is best to use lessons learned templates to preserve this information. If not, you risk leaving your staff without a ‘GPS’ to navigate themselves.

How to effectively use them

If you think these templates are like throwing darts at a board, think again. When you use these tools, you need to be calculated and systematic. There’s a lot of planning involved, so get ready to act like a chess player thinking several steps ahead. 

Here are several tips to follow: 

  • Make the template easily accessible to all project stakeholders. This encourages them to offer their opinions and experiences, which can enrich your lessons learned repository.
  • Hold reflective workshops to discuss project experiences and potential lessons. All employees have the chance to be honest about what they learned and how they think things could be better in the future. 
  • Regularly review, update, and share the lessons learned across the company to maximize their impact. The goal is to have everybody on the same page.
  • Integrate the lessons learned into your project management software or tools. Having these insights as a visual reminder to your staff will prevent them from becoming a mere afterthought after the project is long over.

How to solve problems with lessons learned templates

Since your journey to implement lessons learned templates may encounter some bumps along the way, take a look at these solutions to be fully prepared for the road ahead: 

  • Resistance to change: Some employees may perceive these templates as redundant and time-consuming. You should:
    • Highlight the benefits of lessons learned, such as improved project outcomes, enhanced decision making, and personal growth. 
    • Engage stakeholders early on in the template design process, encouraging their input and ownership of the documentation effort.
  • Inconsistent template usage: Not using the template consistently or properly will diminish its impact. To combat this, you should:
    • Create clear guidelines and expectations for completing and reviewing templates. You can even train your employees on how to use them properly, to clear up any confusion. 
    • Regularly monitor and assess compliance to identify areas for improvement.

How to measure the impact of lessons learned templates on project management

Lastly, it’s very important to have a system for measuring the impact of lessons learned templates on project management. After all, these templates are the foundation for continuous improvement. Be sure to use these key performance indicators to keep you on the right track:  

  • Frequency of lessons learned documentation: Measure how often lessons learned templates are completed and updated. You want to make sure you are being consistent with your efforts.
  • Applicability of lessons learned: Assess the extent to which lessons learned have been applied to your later projects or processes.
  • Project improvement rate: Analyze how well projects perform after implementing identified lessons learned, comparing key metrics such as cost, schedule, and quality.
  • Team satisfaction: Gather feedback from project teams regarding the usefulness and contribution of lessons learned templates to their work. If your employees are satisfied, this is a good sign!

Use Wrike to improve project management

Project management is no easy task. Make your day run smoother by using lessons learned templates to your advantage. With Wrike, you can use customizable templates to capture key insights, improve future performance, and drive project success.

Wrike product screenshot of templates gallery

An excellent choice for your project management needs, Wrike also offers several unique features that can take your company to new heights. These include:

If you would like to take control of your project management and incorporate lessons learned templates into your workflow, you can begin right away. Start your free trial of Wrike today.

Note: This article was created with the assistance of an AI engine. It has been reviewed and revised by our team of experts to ensure accuracy and quality.