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Why And How To Document Lessons Learned (With Bonus Lessons Learned Template)

Lessons learned template

Projects can teach many valuable lessons about teams and processes over time. Those insights can then be used to create process change, run more efficient projects, and work better as a project team. Project failures can also say a lot about processes and communication when those failures are analyzed to determine where a project when wrong. But a commonly asked question is, ‘How to document lessons learned?’ It can be hard to keep track of lessons learned without a formalized system to make use of these insights. The best part about learning a lesson from a project is the potential to improve on the next project—and this is where a lessons learned template can help!

But a commonly asked question is, ‘How to document lessons learned?’ It can be hard to keep track of lessons learned without a formalized system to make use of these insights. The best part about learning a lesson from a project is the potential to improve on the next project—and this is where a lessons learned template can help!

Reviewing lessons learned with your project team is similar to running a retrospective on an agile team. Recording lessons learned is more in-depth, though, in that lessons learned are documented over all projects and can then be added to a shared lesson database among your team.

After a project launch, it’s good practice to run reviews and look at the successes and improvements needed (or happening) throughout the process. By taking the insights that come out of these post-launch discussions and applying them to global lessons across your team, you can pave the way for more prlessons learned template exceloject success on each new project you and your team take on.

We’ve put together a lessons learned project management template complete with lessons learned template examples to help you put all of this project information to good use. This lessons learned template helps look back at projects and teamwork to understand what you did well, where you can improve, and what the team took away from the project overall. These debriefs can be both educational and therapeutic—and almost always result in a lot of useable data that’ll stop you making the same silly mistakes again! Our project management lessons learned template takes this into account and gives you the tools you need to document lessons learned, filter out the most actionable pieces of information, and then document that information in a multi-project directory that you can sort and review whenever you need to.

Check out these free, downloadable lesson learned template as well as the example lessons learned report and then carry on reading the article to learn how to put them to use in your projects!

FREE Lessons Learned Template

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1. Lessons Learned Report:

The Lessons Learned Report template is used to gather personal and team recommendations throughout and after a project. We suggest holding at least one quick meeting to run through these lessons learned questions with your team midway through a project. These debriefs are often left until project launch, but so much information can be lost before that happens. For the most accurate, insightful data, use this template as a lessons learned checklist with your team to discuss these questions at least once before the project ends.

Capturing Successes

“Lessons learned” tends to refer to improvements that need to be made on a team. But it’s just as important to capture the successes throughout a project—and not just to celebrate! These successes can identify best practices to apply to future projects and processes, and can be shared across your company so that everyone benefits from the lessons on any project.

It’s also helpful to record successes that should be carried through to the next project. Whether that was a short-term process change, a commitment to existing process, communication tweaks, or something else, it’s worth documenting this to realize what can and should be carried on to the next project you work on as a team!

Improvements Needed

Recording the reasons behind project improvements or issues is also important to documenting lessons learned. Identifying a project issue isn’t enough—understanding where the issue originated and the impact it had gives more context to the issue and helps set up recommendations for improvements moving forward. This is why we suggest reviewing project improvements by breaking down the Problem, Impact, and Recommendation. Your team might have felt the Impact of a problem before identifying the actual Problem—which is why it’s helpful to break down these pieces as you talk through this document.

For example: A project Problem might be that the project schedule was too tight and did not allow appropriate buffers for client review and edits before the planned launch date. The Impact from that problem might have been that everyone on the team was stretched thin, working late nights and long hours to meet a project deadline. The Recommendation could be to include the stakeholders in project schedule sign-off, or to add an additional round of edits into the overall project process. If you were able to find a solution to this problem during the project (for example: utilizing a clause in the contract to add more time to the project), that should also be recorded.

Post-Project Lessons List

After you and your team capture all of this data together, the lessons might need to be edited or reworded to be applied throughout future projects and added to the Lessons Learned Database. We’ve created a Post-Project Lessons List template to easily condense down the insights you’ve gathered with your team into actionable, easy-reference items. The most useful lessons are 1-2 sentences long, are succinct, and clear. They should also be specific to indicate the lesson learned, why this is relevant, and when it can generally be applied.

For example, “Additional buffer should be built into the schedule for large stakeholder groups to review work” is a to-the-point, actionable lesson learned that can be applied across projects that relate to this issue (large stakeholder groups). An example of a successful lesson learned might be “Daily team check-ins over Slack facilitated proactive communication and removed blockers efficiently.”

We’ve also recommended you identify which part of the process or what category this lesson falls into—once you input this into the Lessons Learned Database, the lesson can then be referenced easily by category. That way you can more easily search for lessons when reviewing parts of your project process, suggesting improvements at project management meetings, or looking for improvements to be made as you start a new project.

2. Lessons Learned Database

Once all of the hard work is done in the Lessons Learned Report, the rest is pretty simple to fill out and use as needed! The Lessons Learned Database template is a multi-project directory that you can edit to fit your team’s needs. This lessons learned Excel spreadsheet acts as the main holding ground for all of your lessons learned across projects and throughout your project management team. It can be used as reference as you start new projects, as your team looks for process improvements to make throughout the company, and to document successes and recurring issues throughout projects as they happen.

To use this template, just input the Lessons List from the Lessons Learned Report template, add info about the project, and any other notes that are relevant. Once you’ve input your lessons, you can filter and sort using the process categories and project type. You could even remove or add categories for simpler or more comprehensive sorting capabilities. Encourage your project team to utilize this template, add their own team insights in, and reference these lessons on future projects.

By using templates like these Lessons Learned Reports, you and your team get the chance to learn and improve on observations you’ve already made on past projects. This data is not only useful to project planning, but process improvement and evaluation as well. Documenting your learnings means that you now have instant access to information that doesn’t have to be learned the hard way anymore. Recording lessons—which include successes—gives you and your team a roadmap to success on every project you work through in the future.

What Do You Think?

How frequently do you reflect on your experiences and projects? What was the most important lesson you learned in your career? Have you checked out the lessons learned template Excel file – find it useful? Share with us in the comments!

Natalie Semczuk

About Natalie Semczuk

Natalie is a consulting digital project manager working remotely and living in the Southwest US. Her work focuses on helping small-to-medium size agencies and in-house web departments manage digital projects, clients services, and implement processes that help design and development teams work better together. She also specializes in implementing project systems across remote teams. Natalie runs the PM Reactions blog and enjoys dystopian fiction, yoga, and drinking too much coffee. Find her elsewhere on Twitter @talkanatalka or her site, talkanatalka.com.

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