Some call it a log, some call it a register but regardless of what name you give it, understanding how important it is to have a lesson learned tracking tool started as your project begins can make the whole exercise as easy as 1-2-3. You definitely should not have any reason for not having a strong pool of information from which to gather your final report from once the project is complete.
Very early on in my project management career, someone (wish I remembered who, because they deserve a hug or a medal) got me in the habit of having a lesson learned log created as part of planning activities with the rest of the working documents that are associated with and most of the time end up being updated consistently as the project unfolds. Think of other logs such as your decision, action or issue log and add a lesson learned log to the mix. Each will play a key role in keeping track of and following our progression while assisting in our ability to have better-defined documentation. Mapping out progress and the hurdles we encounter along the way is easy when you have the tools in place to support the process.
I had never created a lesson learned log before this early in the project life cycle and like most people believed that the lesson learned process was a late phase, near completion of the project exercise that was initiated most often by a survey or interviews with the stakeholders ending in a review meeting and documented via a closure report.
It did not take long once I had started this practice to notice a real improvement in the quality and level of detail that I was gathering to produce the closure report. It also often meant that I simply needed to follow up with the stakeholders for additional information rather than asking them to recount what might have happened weeks or months back in the project. It made sense; we were capturing in the moment information that would have otherwise been forgotten or not detailed enough to act upon when using the previous method of capture.
Going back a month or more, sometimes back up to a year, to have anyone remember what could have been done better or what idea would have made more sense in a specific situation, was a lot to ask of anyone. Another thing that comes to change the information’s perspective too, above time, is the fact that most people tend to remember past events, either way, more positively or negatively than the reality that was encountered when the events happened. Capturing the event as it is occurring takes away that bias altogether. No rose-colored glasses used.
Sylvie Edwards, PMP, MCPM, STDC, CMP has 25 years of project management experience spanning various industries and is the owner of SRE Solutions, catering to clients in need of project management course development, education, project risk management, PMO setup/evaluation or recovery services. She has worked with one of the top five consulting firm, where she led projects in the information technology, banking, government, and securities sectors as well as being a manager in the risk management practice. Sylvie writes about risk management, communication, and PMO.