Are you learning from your mistakes? If you had it to do over again, would you do LessonsLearnedSecondImage-1.jpgit differently? That question is at the heart of a Lessons Learned program.

We apply Lessons Learned to our lives every day. Example: there is a traffic backup at a particular intersection at the same time every day, so you learn to take a different route to work.

Simple. This is Lessons Learned. You identified an issue and you changed your behavior to bypass that issue. You have learned from your experience.

So why don’t we do the same in our work lives? Why do we see the same problems across projects over and over again? Why do we run headlong into new work without first learning from those who came before?

How a Lessons Learned Program Can Benefit the Organization

A healthy Lessons Learned program provides an opportunity for an organization to learn from its collective experience to identify potential issues before they cause unwanted effect. Lessons Learned can also proactively work to achieve defined goals that are tied to an organization’s strategy, such as reducing costs, saving time, mitigating risk and improving quality. It is a valuable Knowledge Management tactic that can be utilized by any organization regardless of size.

Lessons Learned is a structured program that encourages teams to analyze their work process as soon as it’s completed. Lessons Learned includes look-back events that are generally referred to as “after action reviews,” “retrospectives” or “postmortems.” The goals of these events are to uncover what didn’t go as planned and why, and to document recommendations on how it might be done better. These recommendations are then actioned and/or shared with others so that they can bypass the same mistakes in the future.

What Makes a Good Lessons Learned Program?

A good Lessons Learned program generates valuable recommendations and encourages behavioral change.

  • Recommendations: Standards are needed to guide teams to uncover and document strong recommendations. Similar recommendations across teams or departments can indicate systemic, hidden issues in the organization.
  • Change: Recommendations need to be actioned to have value. Recommendations can and should correct deficiencies in existing processes. They should also be shared broadly and be made searchable so others can apply past learnings to their future work.

Some organizations also look for missed opportunities in their retrospectives and ask themselves not only, “If we had to do it over again, what would we do differently?” but also, “Were there any opportunities we missed along the way?” using their reviews to promote innovation. And retrospectives often generate positive recommendations on what went well, allowing others to build on past successes.

Standing up a meaningful Lessons Learned program will require dedication to fold the practice into an organization’s culture. Lessons Learned works best when knowledge workers feel comfortable with the process and when retrospectives become a routine milestone within or at the end of any project. A good Lessons Learned program is managed centrally and executed locally, and has active support from leadership to promote consistency across the organization. If structured thoughtfully, a healthy Lessons Learned program can have a direct and measurable positive impact on the business.

How has your organization benefited from a Lessons Learned program? Let us know in the comments below.