How Can We Help?

Search for answers or browse our knowledge base.

Documentation | Demos | Support

< All Topics

Lessons Learnt About Lessons Learnt

According to the poll taken during this session on Lessons Learnt About Lessons Learnt, only 50% of projects in our participant’s organisations have a lessons learnt approach as part of their project management delivery methods. Personally, I was surprised at how low that was.

You can’t deny that learning lessons from everything we do – in our own lives as well as at work – just makes sense. Taking the time to think about and reflect on how we’ve done something – whether that’s successful or not – should mean we come at a similar or related challenge in the future just that little bit wiser about how we’ll tackle it.

Projects and project management are ripe for insights and little nuggets that help smooth the path for future projects – after all, the methods and ways of working in project management have all come from someone’s previous lessons on what has worked and what definitely hasn’t.

In this PMO Flashmob session about Lessons Learnt, we heard from PMO professional Ken Burrell. Ken is passionate about Lessons Learnt, so much so he wrote a book on it –Learning Lessons from Projects: How it works, why it goes wrong, and how you can do it better – so who better to help PMO professionals understand more about what we can be doing to better support our organisations in this area of Knowledge Management.


Video Session

Key Takeaways

The Models

Let’s take a look at the two models that were used:

The first – the swiss cheese model – start with the project, then the dissemination of Lessons Learnt (capture and communicate) and then the application of the Lessons Learnt (adopt and implement)

The model shows that there are barriers in the lessons learnt process:

  • Learning: Churn; Time pressures, Attitude
  • Culture: Penalty for error; Knowledge is power; Politics
  • Social: No recognition; Get back to work; Silo working
  • Technology: No tools; No training; Disconnected software
  • Process: Too complex/rigid; Inconsistent; Too much analysis
  • Infrastructure: Slow network; Unreliable systems

The model highlights that holes are needed in the barriers and these could be made with things like knowledge management approaches, facilitation techniques etc

The holes need to line up (inputs and outputs match) so that something makes it through and it’s especially important between systems and people – it needs to be joined up.

The second is Ken’s model. It starts at the top:

  • Experience day-to-day events
  • Reflect, identify learning
  • Capture the learning, recording it in some persistent form
  • Storage preserves the lesson for later use
  • Retrieval, someone running future project searches for and finds lessons in a form that is useful to them in their current situation.
  • Application – taking action to improve performance. If the same organisation, shape their experience of future projects, closing loop. If a different organisation, lesson and learning transferred out of the loop.


Where the PMO Operates

The PMO tends to get involved in four key areas:

  • Capture
  • Storage
  • Retrieval
  • Application

Role of the PMO in the typical process:

  • Capture – Surveys, Workshops, Analysis, extract transferable learning
  • Storage – Set up LL repository, keep it updated relevant, indexed, available
  • Retrieval – Point new PMs to relevant reports, LL database, people
  • Application – Update framework

The Problems

  1. We don’t take time to reflect
  2. We don’t capture the lessons effectively
  3. We don’t store them in an accessible form
  4. We don’t review and apply the lessons
  5. We like to believe that we and our current project are unique

What We Can Do Better

Looking back to the swiss-cheese model we can improve the efficiency of each step to maximise lessons getting through.

We can make more holes in the swiss cheese, make them line up better or cut out some of the steps between experience and application. Or both of these at the same time.

We can also:

  • Adopt a more reflective approach
  • Articulate lessons to inspire action
  • Share our successes and scars

Two Techniques

Here are two techniques to help you think about improving a reflective approach and how to articulate lessons:

Reflective Approach

Articulating Lessons

Key Takeaway Download

You can also download and keep these key takeaways >> download


We try to do some note-taking throughout the event, you can have a look and see which bits look interesting to you.

It also includes some of the screen captures such as the polls we ran.


Virtual Lessons Learnt

Ever tried running a virtual session for a lessons learnt workshop or meeting? We tried out Miro, and you can too.

We picked up using Miro during the pandemic and it seems to be a firm favourite with PMO professionals.

Take a look around, set up a free account and have a play.

Below you can see the attempts from the session!

Further Resources

Lessons Learnt SessionKen’s book is available if you’d like to get further into the subject, easy-to-read and a nice writing style, you can get it here.

You can get access to lots of stuff directly from Ken’s website – just sign up here to access it.


PMO Competency Framework:

Take a look at the P3M Delivery Support – Knowledge Management competence.

Indicator examples;

  • Collects and collates feedback on knowledge management lessons learned from delivery
  • Designs the knowledge management formal review process for continuous improvement

  • Designs knowledge management user community events and activities

  • Drives continuous improvement in knowledge management processes and procedures


Activities, artefacts and techniques might include:

communities of practice, storytelling; reviews and peer assist workshops; stakeholder workshops to identify requirements, benefits and risks; lessons learned; retrospectives; knowledge strategy; knowledge owners; knowledge boundaries; subject matter experts; new knowledge; existing knowledge; tacit knowledge; explicit knowledge; knowledge objectives; knowledge gaps; ‘sticky’ knowledge; knowledge flows.

Was this article helpful?
0 out of 5 stars
5 Stars 0%
4 Stars 0%
3 Stars 0%
2 Stars 0%
1 Stars 0%
Please Share Your Feedback
How Can We Improve This Article?
Previous Chris Collison discusses the lessons learned in projects.
Next PMO and the Flow of Knowledge Between Projects

Submit a Comment

Table of Contents