A Guide to Documenting Lessons Learned in Project Management

3 Nov, 2022 | Read in 5 minutes

Lessons learned documentation is a valuable process in project management. Here's how to document your lessons learned.


Every team wants to create every project they do as a success. But sometimes, you might find failures. Both failed and successful project management give the team a meaningful experience, especially for project managers who need to know about documenting lessons learned.

The lessons learned documentation aims to reveal the insight, knowledge, and experience in the project. Capturing and consistently documenting the lessons learned can keep the project stay on track. Moreover, it can give your team improvement to do the project.

An Overview of Lesson Learned Documentation

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let's quickly touch on Lesson Learned Documentation. 

This is all about noting down what we've learned to help us do better in the future. It's like taking notes on how things went so we can improve next time.


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What are the lessons learned documentation?

According to the Project Management Institute, the lessons learned documentation will be the experience the team has gained during the project's execution. You gain knowledge from both your own and other people's project experiences.

Project managers, team members, and leadership can all take part in the lessons learned documentation meetings, examine the reports on the lessons learned, and decide how to put the knowledge gained to use.

  • The lessons learned documentation can be used to improve ongoing projects as well as in future stages.
  • The learning can start at any point in the project. It’s not usually needed until it’s complete.
  • At any stage of the project, the lessons learned can easily be found.
  • The project's goals, the conclusion of each phase, and the moment you learn the lesson are all crucial points.
  • The project meeting is the ideal occasion to start talking about the lessons learned documentation.

The importance of documenting the lessons learned

Documenting the lessons learned is to gain knowledge and make it accessible to every member. According to the Project Management Guide, here are some of the details.

  • Achieve knowledge security through project work - Experiences, both positive and negative.
  • Make the project's findings visible to others.
  • Insight visualisation for the organisation line.
  • Serve as a great foundation for the future establishment of project management standards in an organisation.

The process of documenting the lessons learned

One study from Project Managers Institute revealed how the lessons learned documentation process works. The lessons learned process are 

  1. Identify
  2. Document
  3. Analyze
  4. Store
  5. Retrieve

Step 1: Identity

The first step in documenting the lessons learned is to find valuable comments and recommendations for upcoming projects. There are 2 steps to identifying the lessons learned as you can see below.

1. Prepare the lessons learned documentation session

Facilitators should complete a project survey before attending a lessons-learned documentation session. Categories for each project must be defined and add the category specifications to a project. Moreover, categories involve the key information about the session and help to focus the discussion.

Additionally, specific survey questions must be done for each category in the project. The facilitator of the documentation session will use these responses to direct the conversation. The survey should ask these three basic questions:

  • What went right?
  • What went wrong?
  • What needs to be improved?

2. The documentation session

The lessons learned documentation session focuses on identifying project successes and problems and provides suggestions to enhance project performance in the future.

It’s the professional responsibility of the project manager to hold the lessons learned documentation meeting with significant internal and external stakeholders for every project. The sessions must be led by someone other than the project manager if you want the best results.

Step 2: Document the lessons learned

The lessons learned must be documented and then shared to project stakeholders. You can create the sorts of reports and projects depending on the audience. The complete report includes the information gathered during the lessons learned documentation session and any additional comments from participants who were unable to attend. Even if they did not participate, every project team member should get a copy of the finished report.

Step 3: Analyse

The analysis of the lessons learned documentation for results-based implementation is step three. Step 1 analysis is less formal as the team decides how to apply the lessons learned.

During the meeting, information is sent to further teams. Lessons learned recommendations frequently lead to the identification of modification processes or training needs for project management.

Step 4: Store

Step four of the lessons learned documentation process is to keep it in a repository. You don’t have a dedicated repository for the lessons learned documentation as well as step 1. Lessons learned documents are stored with other project documents, typically in a shared drive or a project library.

The lessons can be retrieved in a challenging way. Organisations need to frequently set up the lessons learned documentation folders in a shared drive to make the lessons learned reports accessible to other project teams.

Step 5: Retrieve

Step five is you can read the detailed document of the lessons learned. You can make folders for each sort of project and adequately classify them by date or project name, the team can improve the retrievability of these documents. Anyone can access the reports much more easily if the technology you use to store them has keyword search capability.

How to document the lessons learned

  • Create plans to ensure the usefulness and relevance of the information you give, and what they will do with the information you give.
  • Define the questions via team brainstorming on team communication, the project phase, and the result.
  • Identify what works well and what doesn’t, what causes the issues, what information we need to know more about, etc.
  • Interpret and point out the lessons that can be learned from the process.
  • Choose what needs to be documented.
  • Group the lessons learned documentation into categories and present them.
  • Make the documents available for the entire organisation.

Trying a project management tool using VirtualSpace can greatly enhance your ability to document lessons learned.

Wrapping up

Lessons learned is a method that is usually used in project management. Documenting the lessons learned can help the team to perform better. Project managers and team members can know insight into what works well and what doesn’t, and also what to improve.

The team can share the lessons learned documentation with all parties involved. The purpose of the lessons learned documentation is so that in the future other teams can plan a project better with references from the documentation.

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