Do you act on lessons learned?

by Josh

Lessons Learned by Mike Licht, via Flickr

Lessons Learned by Mike Licht, via Flickr

“Lessons Learned” gets thrown around a lot as something we should be “doing” as project managers.  In most cases however, the “what to do” here is fairly fuzzy and inconsistent.  I’m guilty of verbally recognizing lessons learned throughout a project, but never really doing what should be done to document them properly, validate the conclusions, or take action so they are implemented in the future.

In an effort to get better at this and share with everyone else, I’ve created a Google document template to help document, understand, validate, and act on lessons learned.  There is a sample filled out, and I hope you will click the link at the top to share your suggestions for improving the template.

I will update the template over time as I get feedback, because one of my lessons learned is that progressive elaboration is awesome!

Download the template here.

Suggest improvements below:

Leave a Comment

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Derek Huether May 2, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Josh, I just added a comment to your Lessons Learned template.

I’m pretty sure you get PDU credit for creating the template and facilitating a round table discussion.

Do you agree?



Josh Nankivel May 2, 2009 at 2:14 pm

Hmm…I have no idea Derek. I’ll have to look into that one!


Dina May 2, 2009 at 10:04 pm

I definitely agree with Derek, posting a template ad opening it up for review/discussion should qualify you under Category 2 – Professional Activities and Self Directed Learning:
(start at page 27)

This is the type of thing I want PMI to more officially begin to accept, the hopefully soon it will be more clearly stated that the collaboration on the web will qualify for PDUs.


Bill Duncan May 4, 2009 at 4:39 am

Josh –

Based on what I’ve seen from my clients, there are 3 major obstacles to acting on lessons learned:
– The way the info is stored. It needs to be filed by topic, not by project name, and cross-referenced. If I can’t find a lesson, I can’t apply it.
– It needs to be done at the end of every phase, not just at the end of the project. Teams will both forget the lessons from early in the project and consider them less significant.
– Someone from senior management needs to be present and needs to accept responsibility for addressing the lessons learned that require organizational responses. If not, the teams get tired of documenting the same lessons over and over again and lose respect for the practice.



Josh June 30, 2011 at 5:56 pm

I know you left this years ago Bill, but I just re-discovered your comment and wanted to thank you for it. Awesome insights from you here.


ben barnard June 29, 2011 at 2:52 am

do I need to log in to download the template, it doesnt seem to download but that maybe a work firewall issue?
please advise



Josh June 30, 2011 at 5:54 pm
Angela October 18, 2011 at 9:25 am

I totally agree with both of you! If I can’t quickly access the lessons learned when I need it, it’ll be too late. I have a very good forgetter and I am unable to pull up information in my head when I need it most unless I am practicing it and it ingrains itself through repetition. Thanks for the suggestions!


Darron Passlow November 25, 2011 at 4:54 pm

With a quick look at your template, I do not see “The Problem” listed.
As we all know the symptoms only point to a problem and you need to address the problem not the symptoms to achieve successful outcomes for future projects.


Josh November 25, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Thanks for the comment Darron. How does the combination of ‘symptoms’ and ‘root causes’ not cover it?


Darron Passlow November 26, 2011 at 1:04 am

I do not want to be pedantic, but the problem is often what you see first (the basic issue -”..matter involving doubt, uncertainty or difficulty” – Macquarie dictionary). When you want to analyse the problem, smart PM then lists the symptoms and the root cause(s). A cause is what causes the problem. We then attack the root causes of the problem (there may be a number of these) to solve the problem. Just my thoughts.
Certainly a problem will lead to a list of root causes and symptoms, so your template is good.


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