Lessons Learned

One of the hallmarks of a quality culture is learning from our past experiences, to eliminate repeat mistakes and to reproduce success. The more times you do an activity, the more you learn, and the better you get (within limits for simple activities).  Knowledge management is an enabler of quality systems, in part, to focus on learning and thus accelerate learning across the organization, and not just one person or a team.

This is where the” lessons learned” process comes in.  There are a lot of definitions of lessons learned out there, but the definition I keep returning to is that a lessons learned is a change in personal or organizational behavior as a result from learning from experience. Ideally, this is a permanent, institutionalized change, and this is often where our quality systems can really drive continuous improvement.

I've written and spoke on Lessons learned a lot lately. The Team and Workplace Excellence Forum has a job aid (attached) that distills a lot of these best practices.

What are your experiences with Lessons Learned? What are the best practices you apply? What tools do you use? Share your lessons on lessons learned! 

1 Replies
There are a lot of excuses given of why Lessons Learned are not more widely adopted, here are some I hear a lot. How would you answer them?
Way Lessons Learned can go wrong or people say they don’t want to do it My answer
Focus is only on what went wrong Use a tool, like a FLAP activity, that stresses the entire project. FLAP activities are a 4-quadrant where you ask participants to record:
  • Future Consideration
  • Lessons Learned
  • Accomplishments
  • Problem Areas
Time ratio is way off
  • Have these at key milestones of a project or even daily stand ups
  • Always schedule more than enough time you’ll need (never an hour, always more)
The people who were there originally are gone because of the length of the project, or if no importance has been placed on attendance. This is really two problems. For the first, hold the lessons learned regularly so you get the benefit.
For the second, build a culture where people see value in this and they will

Utilize break out sessions and have topics on specific parts of the project.
The goal is just to find people to blame By focusing on more then what went wrong you will dispel this attitude. Building a blame-free culture is critical.
Everyone knows that no one will ever talk about this project or the lessons-learned again Every lessons learned has an action plan. Every lesson leads to tangible changes (see job aid)
There is no celebration Celebrate your accomplishments!
People are being treated like resources instead of humans Build a culture of excellence that is people centric.

When folks see value coming from lessons learned you’ll help shape this.


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