28 October 2016

How to write a ‘Good’ lesson learned?

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How to write a Good lesson learned

I was recently asked how to write a ‘good’ Lesson Learned.

Many ‘lessons learned’ are merely observations, with no suggestion on how to do things differently. Two or three actionable recommendations are more useful than 20 observations without any suggestions.

So this post is about how to write up a Lesson Learned so that it is engaging and helpful to those PMs and PMO professionals who come after you.

To write a ‘good’ Lesson Learned:

  • The PM should craft a story describing what happened. This could be written, delivered as a presentation, in a face to face conversation, or recorded as a video. The thing to remember is don’t polish it too much and murder the message by suffocating it in layers of ‘corporatese’; make it Personal, Powerful and Passionate to keep it engaging. I recommend using a STARR format for your lesson, covering:
    1. Situation: This is what we were faced with (constraints, risk, issue, etc.)
    2. Target: This is the outcome we wanted to achieve
    3. Action: This is what we did
    4. Result: These were the consequences of our actions (nothing new so far I know, but here it comes…)
    5. Recommendation: (the ‘moral’ of the story) So in order to achieve better outcomes in the future, this is how we recommend that people (including us) should behave differently, or how we should change process (rules, systems, etc.) to improve future outcomes (i.e. things to do / not do; IF this situation applies THEN do this, etc.). This is the ‘so what?’ that changes the Lesson from being just an interesting anecdote to an actionable piece of advice based on real life experience.
    6. …and lastly the PM should include details of how they can be contacted to have a conversation in case they’ve left the organisation by the time the lesson is being watched / read.
  • At the ‘next level up’, the Portfolio PMO should consider whether there is more learning that could be extracted  from the lesson, and whether the learning could be transferred to similar projects / scenarios. If so, they could write a more generalised version of the lesson.

What about storage?

I was then asked this follow-up question:

“Nice and snazzy, easy to remember! Is this the same #LessonLearnt you’d store centrally?”

I would say that both the original and the ‘next level up’ versions of the Lesson could and should be stored centrally, but the word ‘store’ brings up images of a musty room containing miles of shelves of dusty folders that never get touched again, a bit like this…

The key here is that the central repository shouldn’t be an information graveyard, where Lessons go to Die.

Instead the repository should be made searchable and social (e.g. using SharePoint?) so that PMs can easily find the Lessons they need; and the PMO should be on hand to help them find relevant information if they need it (for more on this look at this excellent article by Louise Worsley).

And filing shouldn’t be the only thing that happens to Lessons, as that by itself doesn’t ensure they are acted on.

More than just filing

Lesson(s) could and should be used as material for Lunch & Learn or ‘scar sharing’ sessions, or Vlogs, or used in the ‘Call 3’ approach devised by John McIntyre of Hot PMO (take a look at this article for more explanation from John, and this article for some alternatives from me including an example Lessons Learned Vlog).

All of this helps an organisation and the people within it to learn from their collective  experience of running projects and to (hopefully!) deliver better project outcomes in the future.

So that’s what we think. Do you agree? Do you have something to add?

For loads more practical pointers like this on how to improve the way that your organisation learns from its projects, take a look at my book Learning lessons from projects, available from Amazon.

We have also created some handy templates to help you to:

  • Identify the learning in your project delivery experience
  • Capture it well
  • Articulate it in a form that is useful to others
  • Review your organisation’s existing approach to learning lessons and identify ways to improve it.

You can download the resources FREE if you sign up to our (approximately) monthly newsletter, which will bring you hints and tips on how to make your projects run more smoothly, as well as early access to our videos:

 Or if you’re coming to the end of a project and you want to make sure that your organisation learns from its delivery experience but you’re not sure how, then The PMO Professionals can help. Why not take a look at our “Learn lessons from your project” service, and if that looks interesting, get in touch to discuss how we can help you?

Image “Wimborne Minster: later books in the chained library” © Copyright Chris Downer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence