How to capture lessons learned (plus a free template!)

Posted by Erika Flora on Aug 2, 2017 4:27:57 PM

In ITSM, Leadership, Project Management

Mistakes happen in every project. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to your face, which is rude. However, accepting mistakes as a part of life does not mean we all get a free pass to make the same ones over and over again. That would be dumb – and we’re not dumb. While it’s helpful to catalog our personal mistakes and lessons they taught you, there’s tremendous value in capturing those of our teammates, as well. That way, we don’t all have to slip on the same banana peel before someone gets up and throws it in the trash (not my best analogy, but you get the point). Here are some tips – and a free template – for capturing lessons learned as a team.   

NOTE: Many teams are tempted to wait until the end of a project to capture these lessons. Don’t do that. Capturing them along the way is much more productive. I’ve seen it save more than a few projects that teams wouldn’t have even known were struggling without these meetings. More on that here.

How to Capture Lessons You Learn

As I mentioned above, this should be happening continuously – not just at the end of a project. If no one on your team has taken on this role as of yet, be the hero and do it yourself. It can be as informal as you’d like. When you talk with your teammates, for example, simply ask if they’ve learned anything new that day/week/month, then write down their responses. Your teammates are (hopefully!) learning from their experiences every day – and those lessons will likely be of help to others on your team, or even other teams. This only works, though, if the lessons are shared (see what I’m getting at here?). 

Learning from our successes, and even more so our mistakes, is plays a vital role in our ongoing improvement efforts. Companies would do well to embrace this process, even when the lessons come in the form of, “WOW, that was stupid. I learned never to do that again.” Sharing these experiences, good and bad, in a departmental meeting can be extremely helpful in creating a culture of learning and improvement. It also happens to foster honestly and trust among teams, which is never a bad thing.

How to Discuss Lessons as a Team

It’s important to occasionally meet as a team to discuss these problems and their solutions. Scrum teams do this naturally as part of daily stand-ups and sprint retrospectives. Those who practice more traditional Project Management styles need to take the extra step and put some time on the calendar for it (15 – 30 minutes will suffice). The first time you have this meeting, ask your teammates to bring their thoughts on what has gone well and less than well recently, along with anything that may have gotten stuck or abandoned over the course of a project. It helps to give them notice so they have time to pull their thoughts together in a meaningful way.

Have each of your teammates share the good, the bad, and the ugly. If they’re reticent to share their mistakes at the outset, start by sharing your own ugly stories to make everyone a little more comfortable. After everyone has shared, take the conversation a step further and discuss how everyone will do things differently as a result of their experiences. This step is the ultimate point of the endeavor – so don’t skip it! If you end the conversation after, “Here are all the dumb things I did and how they worked to the project’s detriment LOL,” you’ll be helping exactly nothing and no one. Adding something like, “Welp, that happened. Here’s what I’m going to do to ensure it never happens again,” will get you on the right track.

Capture that information and share it, as appropriate, to a wider audience. Capture it where, you ask? Our handy Lessons Learned template is a fantastic place, if I do say so myself. You can download it here.