Lessons Learned: What's the Best Way to Capture Them?


As a small business owner (SBO), you should be capturing lessons learned from all facets of your business operations.  This allows you to spot areas where you can improve, as well as those areas that you're doing well, so you can continue with those processes.  Utilizing the appropriate technology makes this easy for you. Cloud project management tools tend to be the best mechanism for doing so.

Capturing lessons learned is only good if you plan on taking action in order to better your process or procedures, however.  If you don't do this, then capturing the lessons learned is a waste of time (in my opinion). Let's first define what lessons learned is: The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a lesson learned as, "Lessons learned is the learning gained from the process of performing the project (PMI, 2004, p. 363). We learn from our own project experiences as well as the experiences of others. Project managers, team members, and leadership can all participate in the lessons learned sessions, review the lessons learned reports and make decisions on how to use the knowledge gained." (source: pmi.org)

The key part of that phrase is "make decisions on how to use the knowledge gained." I can't count how many times I've seen lessons learned captured, yet nothing is done with them, only to see the same issues revisited down the line. What's the definition of insanity? Doing the same things over and over again, yet expecting different results. Lessons learned are simply "continuous process improvement." We learn our lesson from either a bad (or good) situation and strive to improve from it or continue following an efficient process.

Now, how you capture lessons learned matters immensely! Merely writing down points into a Microsoft word doc or PowerPoint slide, then saving to a network drive folder is inefficient and most often gets forgotten  about (out of sight, out of mind). The best method is to utilize a project management tool which can capture lessons learned on the fly throughout the business operation (not waiting until the very end of a quarter) and capture them in a format which can be easily analyzed, such as a spreadsheet or exported grid of the sort.  Along those lines, creating categories such as phases, critical segments can assist you in identifying trends.  Focus on the trends, not anomalies and you're off to a good start in improving your processes.

I can't count how many times I've seen lessons learned captured, yet nothing done with them, only to see the same issues revisited down the line. 

The following is a cloud lessons learned template I've used, which is basically columns and rows (or variables and records in data speak), but it works well to quickly capture data to be exported into a business intelligence (BI) tool. After doing so, I was able to quickly view the high spike categories that had a trend of issues where a lesson learned for improvement was encountered.