Lessons Learned Technique: What's The Point?

In a perfect world, our plans would always go according to our expectations, and nobody would ever make a wrong decision. Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world, and things don’t always go according to plan. Knowing that mistakes are inevitable, the question is how to improve our practice or reduce those mistakes the next time we get an opportunity.

Do you ignore them, or do you try to learn from them? Do you play the blame game, or do you swiftly move on, knowing that we all make mistakes sometimes?

The lessons learned process, also known as the post-mortem analysis, is a technique through which we can learn from our mistakes and successes and maximize our performance over time, as a result. Traditionally, lessons learned sessions are held near the completion of a project, but it’s more beneficial to hold them during the course of projects – for example, when a milestone has been achieved. There’s no need to wait until the end to act, especially if the lesson is something everyone can benefit from. The disadvantage of waiting till the end of the project is that those lessons will now be applied at a future and "unknown" time, if at all; some project team members may have moved on; or the session may not even hold altogether.

The objective of the lessons learned sessions is to share and apply the knowledge derived from both positive and negative experiences. Positive experiences are all the things that we would like to continue doing in the future. Negative experiences, on the other hand, are those things that we should never do again.

Structuring A Lessons Learned Session

To get the most out of every lessons learned session, it’s best to establish a consistent structure from project to project.

·      Initiation – Start with a brief discussion during which you outline the purpose of the session and explain its benefits to those who are not familiar with the technique.

·      Record ideas – Following the introduction of the main objectives of the lessons learned session, encourage participants to share their knowledge, experience, and ideas regarding the project under review.

·      Organize the recorded ideas – Some ideas are likely to fall in the same category as others. You should group such ideas together to aid understanding and reduce confusion.

·      Look for actionable opportunities – From the recorded ideas should emerge actionable opportunities for improvement. Identify them, prioritize them, and assign actions.

Top Tips For Organizing Lessons Learned Sessions

1.   Have lessons learned sessions frequently.

2.   Tell everyone in advance the purpose of the session so they can come prepared to share their ideas.

3.   Tell everyone that they can speak freely, but don’t force anyone to speak if they don’t want to.

4.   Create an open environment where nobody fears criticism or retaliation.

5.   When putting ideas on a whiteboard, avoid listing names. Keeping everything anonymous encourages people to openly share with others.

6.   Have at least three rounds of discussions to give participants enough room to express themselves.

7.   Select three to five key ideas that everyone wants to take action on, but avoid selecting more than that to maintain focus.


When used on a regular basis, the lessons learned technique can keep a project on the right track and help the organization avoid repeating the same mistakes over and over again. At the same time, it encourages the implementation and enforcement of beneficial practices.

Business Analysts should take advantage of these sessions to hone their skills, share knowledge and most importantly, keep a record of best practices to adhere to.