Improve Future Performance through “Lessons Learned”
Nowadays, organizations need to learn more than ever to confront difficult situations, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and economic risks. Thus, they need to learn how to quickly adapt to the unpredictable in order to remain competitive.
Continuous improvement is based on learning and transferring knowledge to modify behaviors and achieve great results.
This concept of “learning organizations” was introduced in the 90s. Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization, described learning organizations as “organizations that encourage adaptive and generative learning, encouraging their employees to think outside the box and work in conjunction with other employees to find the best answer to any problem”.
In this context, “Lessons Learned” is an important tool for learning organizations. It consists of knowledge obtained during a project and should be considered in future actions to improve performance.
This knowledge should be stored in a database, such as Lessons Learned Register or via wiki.
Using this tool, the project manager benefits from a great opportunity to learn from the experience of others and help them improve the profitability of the business.
Lessons Learned reflects both the positive and negative experiences of a project and can be categorized as:
- Informational (e.g., how employees’ duties could change during times of emergencies)
- Successful (e.g., capture effective responses to a crisis)
- Problem (e.g., describe examples of actions that failed and potential ways to resolve them).
Capturing Lessons Learned should be a continuous effort throughout the life of any project and should be initiated from the beginning of the project.
The Lessons Learned Process
Specialists have different approaches regarding the stages of the Lessons Learned process:
- Capture: It refers to bringing together information or knowledge from different sources that could be valuable for future projects. Lessons learned can be captured through text, audio, video, or image.
- Store: It implies defining and deciding on the environment where Lessons Learned will be stored.
- Verify: It consists of validating Lessons Learned for correctness, consistency, redundancy, and relevancy.
- Distribute or Disseminate: It means spreading the knowledge in the Lessons Learned to a team, department, or organization.
- Apply or Reuse: It refers to making the Lessons Learned useful to current and further projects.
- Withdraw: It means recognizing when a Lesson Learned is no longer useful to current and further projects.
One option to identify Lessons Learned, is to organize Lessons Learned Sessions with the project team. During these sessions, the team members will be asked to respond to a survey which includes questions related to activities that go well, activities that do not go according to the plan, and recommended improvements.
Lessons Learned are documented in the Lessons Learned Register, which is intended to assist an organization in identifying better opportunities for improving their management practices and promote the Lessons Learned and evidence of better practices observed from a project.
Some important fields that should be included in the Lessons Learned Register are:
- Description of the situation
- Action Taken
The Lessons Learned Register may also include other fields considered relevant by each organization.
The knowledge gained and recorded in the Lessons Learned Register should be shared and used by project managers, team members, and leadership to decide on further projects’ activities.
Once the Lessons Learned are identified and documented, the organization should release the necessary resources to apply them. These can also include a change in culture.
Thus, organizations should strive to build a culture that recognizes when things go right and when things don’t go as planned. They can benefit from each experience and improve performance by using Lessons Learned.
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