How to Use Lessons Learned Examples to Improve Your Work

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 16, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Learning from previous experiences allows us to improve many aspects of our lives. In project management, there are specific lessons learned procedures that help managers and their teams learn from the projects they complete. Performing a lessons learned evaluation at the completion of a project allows you to determine what worked well and where you can improve. In this article, we discuss how studying lessons learned examples can help you develop your own protocols, explain what the lessons learned method is, describe some of its benefits, and provide examples of lessons learned in project management.

Why are lessons learned examples useful in project management?

Studying some lessons learned examples can give you an idea of how to implement the procedure yourself. A lessons learned review can help you learn from past projects and help you build a knowledge and reference base to achieve success with future projects. There is no single, universal way to execute a lessons learned review, though and it can be confusing where to start when trying to begin a lessons learned protocol of your own. That's why looking at some examples can be helpful, as references might give you a sense of how these protocols can work.

What is the lessons learned method?

The lessons learned method is a procedure used primarily by project managers to build on knowledge and experience they've gained. Every completed project offers valuable experience. This is true of projects that were entirely successful and also of those projects that proved to be difficult or even ones that did not meet their objectives. Regardless of the success of a project, you can use it to derive wisdom and knowledge that can help you with future projects.

To maximize the chances of learning from projects, many managers use the lessons learned method. This method involves looking at what worked well and what didn't work as well during the project. To gain in-depth insights, different companies have different procedures. For example, you may want to build a team to execute the lessons learned protocol. The team can gather insights and then prepare a workshop where they can debrief everybody on their findings. These detailed strategies are great for examining every aspect of the project and carefully recording information for future use.

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What are the benefits of the lessons learned method?

People learn from their experiences, but many people learn more easily when they have an organized document that details those experiences. With a defined lessons learned procedure, increase accuracy, as you have an organized file of past errors, their causes, and ideas to avoid them. It can also help you identify opportunities and how to approach them in the future. You can also reduce risks because you can apply the knowledge you gain from the evaluation to future risk analyses. All of this often has the overall effect of improving performance.

Related: Project Lead vs. Project Manager: What's the Difference?

What to think about when doing a lessons learned analysis

Learning to perform a lessons learned evaluation is itself a leaning process. To gain valuable insights, there are several important steps to take. First, set clearly defined goals and expectations. The better you understand a project's goals, the better you can evaluate if the project achieved those goals. Second, for ease-of-use, consider creating a lessons learned document. Using the same structure or template for every analysis helps to quickly gather and assess information.

It's often beneficial to meet to discuss findings of the evaluation. Meeting in person, or virtually, allows for better communication than an email chain. Also important to communication is fostering an atmosphere of honesty. You want team members to be able to discuss what they thought worked and what didn't more freely. This is also where clearly set goals help, because during the meeting you can easily assess the results. Lastly, you can often create a future plan with a brainstorming session that identifies the causes of the problems and explore potentual solutions.

Related: How to Become a Project Manager (With Salary Expectations)

Lessons learned examples

Understanding what the lessons learned method is and why it's important is one thing, but knowing actually how to conduct a lessons learned review is still often difficult for project managers, especially those who are new to the procedure. It can help to look at some examples. Here are some examples of questions to ask when compiling a report:

  • What were the objectives of the project?

  • Was success for the project clearly defined at the outset?

  • Was the project completed successfully?

  • What were the major achievements of the project?

  • What techniques did you find effective or helpful?

  • What were the biggest challenges in executing the project?

  • Did anything go wrong?

  • Do specific processes need improving or refining?

  • What were the problem areas?

  • Are there any tasks that remain incomplete?

By sending out surveys with these questions to all team members who worked on the project, you're likely to develop an understanding of what worked and what didn't work during the project. After you've compiled this information, you can organize a workshop where the team or certain members can brainstorm potential solutions to the problems identified. You can then record any suggestions made and consensus reached for future reference.

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Examples of lessons learned types in project management

In project management, you can conduct a lessons learned review at the completion of the project, or you can do a mid-project survey. By conducting a mid-project survey, you can apply any knowledge gained from the lessons learned in the second half of the project. Implementing a formalized documentation process at the beginning of the project makes it easy to keep track of lessons learned and make necessary adjustments. For extensive projects, you can conduct multiple lessons learned surveys.

Individuals often try to discern patterns of problems so they can predict similar problems that might arise during future projects. They also typically try to deliver or elicit from their team actionable advice to avoid problems or improve efficiency for the future. The types of lessons learned differ depending on your perspective and position. Here are possible lessons to learn from three different perspectives:

Examples of lessons learned for project managers

The project manager might learn that they didn't provide sufficient support during client negotiations. Project managers may benefit from having a better idea of how their team feels in situations involving the client. If the team feels the team may have benefit from a manager being more involved in client interactions, the manager can take note to increase availability and take more leadership in the future.

An example of a positive lesson learned is if the project manager was able to motivate the team. Lessons learned procedures aren't just about learning from mistakes. Sometimes it involves simply noting what you did correctly and what worked. And sometimes an issue might be because of external circumstances. Such as if the outside consultant felt they didn't have enough time for research. Maybe the project manager wanted to give more notice to the consultant, but extraneous circumstances prevented that. Some mistakes aren't examples of patterns of error, but simply one-off occurrences.

Examples of lessons learned for teams

The team may realize that they didn't know each other's working habits and preferences. This is a common issue among newly formed teams. It takes time to build a rapport with other team members. To facilitate this, consider organizing a team event where team members can get to know one another. A positive lesson might be when junior team members benefit from the knowledge of more experienced colleagues. A gap in experience among team members can be a problem or an asset. If the experienced team members are already sharing knowledge and helping the junior members, then this is good.

Another common lesson comes from when teams lack some specific knowledge. Different teams are better suited to certain projects that are within their knowledge base. If the next schedule project is in the city planning sphere and nobody on the team has a background in that specific area, consider bringing in an expert to consult or making some personnel changes to the team for the upcoming project.

Examples of lessons learned for the entire company

Some lessons learned may even require action on the company level, such as if the company requires more cohesion. Companies often comprise different departments which each have their own priorities and objectives. To avoid potential disruption, the leaders of these departments can coordinate to ensure that each department helps to facilitate the other department's work. This may require guidance from the executive branch of a company.

A good lesson for the company to note is if the culture is positive and uplifting. Good company culture can increase motivation and unity. It can also reduce staff turnaround, as employees are more likely to stay with a company for long periods. For example, a practical lesson might be if the team members felt the corporate travel policy was overly restrictive. For projects that involve travelling, having a good budget and policy in place is important, but it's also essential for team members to feel comfortable and valued.

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