You've checked off the last few tasks on your to-do list, submitted the final deliverable, and shaken hands with a group of happy stakeholders. Time to congratulate your project team on a job well done and pop the champagne!
Wait, what do you mean the project's not finished? Record lessons learned?? Groan.
It can be tough to make time for any kind of retrospective when you've got a slew of urgent new tasks and projects waiting. And if your team has already moved on to new work, it can be like herding cats to get everyone in the same room again. But the benefits of recording project management lessons learned speak for themselves: you can identify best practices for future use, sharing them with the rest of the company so everyone can learn from others' experiences. Your life gets exponentially easier going forward, and your company gets more competitive on the market.
Use this simple how-to guide, along with the downloadable "Project Management Lessons Learned Document" templates at the end, to make the process of recording project takeaways quick and painless.
How To Identify & Record Project Management Lessons Learned
1. Don’t save it all for the end of the project.
Attach quick review meetings to project milestones to support continuous learning. Periodic reviews are known to have a positive impact on team motivation, since they'll directly benefit from the lessons learned instead of altruistically passing on tips to other teams. This also means you'll get better quality insights, as people aren't trying to remember what happened weeks or months ago. Plus, it's easy to gather everyone while the project is still active. (This is especially true with contract workers or consultants, who typically scatter once a project ends.)
2. Focus on why and how.
A lessons learned document isn’t simply a report or description of the project’s results. Go deeper: what problems did you encounter and how did you solve them? What cause-effect relationships did you notice? What insights did you pick up into how work processes could be improved?
3. Emphasize successes.
Which strategies and procedures contributed to success? Knowing what worked well is just as helpful as knowing what didn't! Answer these questions:
- What should we start doing?
- What should we stop doing?
- What should we keep doing?
- What's still causing us trouble?
4. Evaluate each stage of the project.
If you're stumped on where to start, discuss these aspects of the project with your team to get the conversation going and make sure you hit all the important points:
- Project planning
- Defining scope & requirements
- Resource and budget management
- Risk management
- Stakeholder communication
- Team communication
- Quality of meetings
- Quality of final project outcome
5. Find consensus.
Your whole team should agree on the lessons learned, and everyone should contribute. The people personally involved in the work are the ones with the insights you need!
6. Make takeaways actionable and widely applicable.
Once you’ve collected lessons learned with your internal team, you need to repackage them for general use and apply them to your future work. They shouldn't be so specific that they don't pertain to new projects, or so generic that they confuse people. Create a preliminary plan: what would improvements look like, and who would be responsible for making them happen?
7. Make your conclusions accessible.
Wouldn't it be a shame to go through the process of reflecting and recording lessons learned only to have your insights lost or forgotten? Set up a knowledge base or an intranet where every team can store their lessons learned and access advice from other teams. Learning how to write a project management report will also be beneficial to not only document all of the project's details but also identify potential changes to implement in your next project.
Use these ready-to-use templates to record and share your team's most helpful project tips:
Download template #1: Project Management Lessons Learned - Periodic Milestone Review
Download template #2: Project Management Lessons Learned - Final Review
What are your tips for better project management?
We know you've picked up some project management wisdom along the way, so share your tips for recording lessons learned with your fellow readers in the comments!
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