Lessons Learned: Underlying Application Issues

Lessons Learned are documents which capture proven experiences (both positive and negative) within projects or key process areas. They generate a learning experience which can be applied in the future in order to develop current processes in a more efficient manner allowing workers to avoid past mistakes and apply best practices.  In time this will allow projects to standardize their practices and this will benefit the organization in terms of competitiveness, reliability and cost reduction. It will allow an organization to maximize its learning curve and develop a culture of permanent learning and knowledge sharing.

Some of frequent problems regarding Lessons Learned Capture are:


Who must be held accountable for the capture of lessons learned? Is it contemplated in the project´s activities and schedule? Also, if lessons learned are captured only at the end of the project then there is a high “knowledge loss probability”. Imagine that a project lasts for three years: If we only capture lessons at this point, all the previous knowledge may be lost as the team members may not fully remember what happened.

Unclear Roles

who must assure that lessons learned are captured in the right moment? The project manager must assume this role and it is important for organizations to define it in the job description or profile. Furthermore, each division manager must also be held accountable for all the projects in his business area. It is important to remember that Knowledge Management´s (KM) role is to verify that the projects are registering lessons learned in a “knowledgeable time” . KM should not have to transcribe the lessons unless the company designates a specific team to do so. All workers should be aligned with KM´s objectives and understand the importance of registering and transferring knowledge. In order to gain sponsorship, lessons learned may be also aligned with the worker´s performance and job descriptions.

Lessons Learned not integrated within the company´s process

if its not institutionalized then it doesn´t have to be carried out. If we don’t support the process with policies, standards and procedures the lessons learned will not be formalized.  Furthermore Lessons Learned must be audited periodically in order to secure its accomplishment

Complex Templates and formats

Sometimes companies expect their lessons to be somewhat similar to the articles published in Harvard business review. However, if they are too complex or way too long, people simply will not read them. We must secure a simple format or template which will allow workers to rapidly register their experiences

People know more than what they put down on paper

Knowledge is tacit by nature, thus this means that a “knowledgeable” person may possess a lot of knowledge but may not possess the necessary elements to convert it into explicit. In this sense, applying mechanisms such as “storytelling” help to make knowledge transfer a lot easier

Proper Access

The “right” people must be able to access the lessons learned quickly. If lessons learned are not supported by a proper database or search mechanism, all we shall be doing is promoting a “cemetery of knowledge”

Failure to Measure  impact

It’s important to measure the impact of lessons learned application. This is why KM must ensure that a proper mechanism is applied in order to measure the impact of lessons learned. This can be done applying a simple format which project managers must fill in which they mention the lessons applied during the project and how it influenced the project´s outcome

Lessons Learned Approval

all lessons must be validated by the project manager. If this process takes too long, a stop-light mechanism can be adopted in which all lessons learning pending approval can be published with a red light. This will allow the user to identify that the project manager has not validated the lesson. It’s important to define a specific amount of time which a lesson can remain without approval in order to secure that all lessons count with the proper validation.

Here´s a couple of examples of lessons learned templates.

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