Why bother with Lessons Learned?

A participant on one of my training courses made a very perceptive remark:

‘Why do we always call them “Lessons Learned”?
A better name would be “Lessons to Learn”

imageThe truth is that too many organisations demand a Lessons Learned Review, followed by a carefully drafted Lessons Learned Document which is then widely circulated, only to be filed on very high shelves or in very low drawers.


If your organisation studies Lessons Learned and institutionally internalises them into real change in the way things are done, then congratulations.

I am no cynic

I know it’s fashionable in all sorts of ways to be cynical.  It gives you a world weary air of experience.  But it also robs you of good judgement and the enthusiasm to make change.  so…

I always advocate a Lessons to Learn Review

Not because I am confident that the organisation will learn – I am not.  I remain sceptical, rather than cynical.

I advocate Lessons to Learn reviews for one simple reason: for the benefit of the people who attend them.  If you and your team have worked together on a project, then it is a small additional overhead to sit down together and share learning from your experience. Recognise and celebrate productive innovation, look for causes of failures and discuss how to evade them next time.  End the session by asking every participant to share their personal answers to three questions.

“From your experiences on this project, when you are next involved in a project, what will you:

  • “do more of?”
  • “do less of?”
  • “do differently?”

The “so what?”

The greatest value of lessons learned is to the people who were there to learn the lessons.  Don’t squander the opportunity.


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