Every project is a learning experience…

…but how reliably does your team transfer lessons learned forward to the next project?

Reviewing and documenting lessons learned is crucial — and teams are often eager to discuss them (especially when a project hasn’t gone well). Many teams do excellent work documenting and sharing their insights.  

But even with a rigorous review process, those lessons often don’t make it into the planning process for the next project. That means teams repeat preventable mistakes.  They may miss important elements of the process or get surprised by things that they could have predicted.

That’s why it is important not to miss the final step in the project review process: applying the lessons learned to your next project.

The full process might look something like this:

  1. Create a repository for people’s thoughts throughout the process — so team members don’t forget the insights and ideas they have along the way.
  2. Add a retrospective analysis or discussion at the end of key sprints or phases during your project, so you can course correct as the project is unfolding.
  3. Use an anonymous survey to collect information from all members of the team. The survey should have some quantitative questions along with the ability to enter free-form text for more subjective feedback.
  4. Analyze the survey responses to identify key themes and impacts.
  5. Present back to the team in small group settings to have a debrief conversation and develop recommendations and an action plan. 
  6. Present the key themes, impacts, and recommendations to executive sponsors. Highlight areas where the executive team can assist in creating an environment where the team can be successful. 
  7. Create and maintain a “lessons learned” document. Ensure that this document includes the lesson, the impact that it had on the team and project, and the recommendation or action for future projects.
  8. Check the “lessons learned” document when beginning to plan for a new project, and refer back to it along the way as you execute the next project.

The whole review process is important — but Step #8 might be the most important piece. If you want to incorporate a review of past lessons learned into the planning stages of every project, you’ll avoid any number of mistakes and oversights that could threaten project success. Even better,  you’ll find yourself on a path of continuous improvement, executing each project better than the one before.

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