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Lessons Learned - Submission Form and Instructions

What is a lesson learned?

A lesson learned is useful project management information gained through experience that your organization should retain for future use and that can be relevant to other organizations. Depending on the lesson, it could be a valuable technique or an outcome that you wish to repeat or it could be an undesirable result you wish to avoid. Often, identifying your lessons learned is as simple as asking the question, “What worked well or what didn’t work so well?” Lessons learned can be categorized as:

  • something learned from experience,
  • an adverse experience that is captured and shared to avoid a recurrence,
  • an innovative approach that is captured and shared to promote repeat application, or
  • the knowledge acquired from an innovation or an adverse experience that leads to a process improvement.

Why are lessons learned important?

Ultimately, lessons learned are a matter of improving the productivity and efficiency of a process. Individuals or teams can benefit from the knowledge gained through the experience of those who have gone before them. Many organizations that label themselves as “learning organizations” often overlook their own experiences as a platform for learning. They assume that their collective experiences are passed along to the next person or group. To be considered a learning organization we must be proactive, capture lessons learned, and “cross-pollinate” the concepts through training or other techniques that expose the information to others who may benefit from it. The application of lessons learned helps produce project teams which operate with less risk of failure, increased efficiency, and more awareness of their surroundings.

What does a good lesson-learned look like?

Documenting a useful lesson-learned requires a clear understanding of the purpose and importance of documenting the successes and/or failures of a project. Because lessons learned serve as an important management tool in retaining organizational knowledge, reducing project risk, and improving project performance, they must have relevance to future projects. To build relevance into your lesson-learned and make them of value to others in addressing similar situations, you must:

  • identify the project management element in which the problem arose
  • describe how the problem arose and define the problem or positive development encountered, and
  • provide concrete, practical solutions or recommendations based on this experience.

Statements such as “Clearly defined roles and responsibilities, along with a strong focus on communication channels, are essential to project success.” are not effective lessons learned. There is no context for the statement, and without context such a statement serves only as a basic Project Management best practice. While requiring more effort to develop, the examples in the appendix make the same statement, but do so in a context that defines what project management element is affected by the lesson learned, what the problem was that led to the lesson being learned, and how the lesson learned can serve future projects before a problem arises.

What is required for a Department of Commerce lesson learned?

In order to be easily accessible and beneficial across the Department, lessons-learned should have the same look and feel. Just as it is important that project managers have a common understanding of the practices and terminology employed in their profession, it is equally important that the lessons learned they contribute be presented in a manner that is easily understood by their peers.

The appendix below contains a table and directions for recording lessons learned for your organization and for the use of others:


Lessons Learned and Process Improvements

Operating Unit:


Project Name:


Point of Contact (POC): Name, phone, email.


Which project management areas are involved?

* (Integration, scope, time, cost, execution, quality, human resources, communications, risk, procurement.)


Briefly describe the problem or situation including any relevant context such as stage of project.


How was the problem resolved or the process improved?


Lesson learned: How can this problem be avoided in the future or how can the process be improved?


Identify the project management area or areas in which the problem occurred or improvement was made.

*The project management areas identified below are based on the PMBOK project management areas and project management processes:

    Integration management: the processes and activities that integrate the various elements of project management that are coordinated within the project management groups.

    Scope: the processes involved in ascertaining that the project includes all the work required.

    Time: the processes concerning the timely completion of the project or any of its components.

    Cost: the processes involved that assure the project is completed within the estimated budget.

    Quality: the processes involved that assure the project will satisfy the objectives for which it was undertaken.

    Human resources: the processes that train organize and manage the project team.

    Communications: the processes concerning the timely and appropriate generation of reports and project information.

Risk: the processes concerned with conducting risk management on the project.

Procurement: the processes that purchase or acquire products and services.

It is likely that problems or improvements will cut across more than one of the above project management elements.

Brief description of the problem or process

This description should include all relevant information including the context. Context could include the project phase, nature of dispute, or type of redesign. To maintain uniformity among these descriptions it is preferable to use the PMBOK definition of project life cycle phases: initial phase (idea, charter, team formation), intermediate phase (project plan, baseline, progress acceptance), and final phase (approval, handover). The impact of the problem on project cost, schedule, and scope should also be considered and described. The goal of Lessons Learned is to offer information that will be useful to managers in outside organizations in addition to managers within the organization under discussion. Therefore, descriptions should be written to be comprehensible to any project management professional. To achieve this result it is recommended that all descriptions should be free from insider organizational jargon. Acronyms should be spelled out.

How was the problem resolved?

Provide a brief account of the steps that were taken to solve the problem or improve the process.

An example of a filled-in lessons learned table appears below.

Lessons Learned and Process Improvements

Operating Unit (OU):

Operating Unit (OU)

Project Name:

Hardware Installation

Point of Contact (POC): Name, phone, email.

John Q. Public, 202-111-9999,

Which project management areas are involved?

(Integration, scope, time, cost, execution, quality, human resources, communications, risk, procurement).

    1. Communications.

    2. Time, execution.

    3. Scope, integration, quality.

    4. Execution.

    5. Human resources.

Briefly describe the problem or situation including any relevant context such as stage of project.

    1. There was a lack of reporting even at agreed upon levels. Consistency was not maintained among the reports.

    2. The OU used too much time to accompany the vendor during the execution phase.

    3. The OU’s technical design is inadequate.

    4. Implementation activities were not carried out within the selected parameters.

    5. A lack of technical training prevented the government from performing effective monitoring of vendor.

How was the problem resolved or the process improved?

    1. It was agreed to add the maintenance of a project management (PM) workbook as a task in future versions of the statement of work (SOW).

    2. Assurance was made to channel all communications through the prime vendor only. Data was uploaded to a sharepoint on a timely basis. The role of the contracting officer’s representative (COR) was strengthened and assurances made to coordinate work through the COR.

    3. Assurance was made to hold vendor to specifics of design detail. Implementation and design tasks were both delegated to a single vendor. Emphases were placed on the significance of the presence of key personnel.

    4. Assurances were made to maintain a single point of contact on site during the execution phase. Therefore, no work was performed at any site that did not have a designated point of contact.

    5. Decision was made to increase budget for training and to place greater emphasis on government employee personnel skills and abilities.

Lesson learned: How can this problem be avoided in the future or how can the process be improved?

    1. Ensure consistency of report. Use project management workbook on a daily basis as needed. COR should gather information for PM workbook. PM workbook maintenance should be tasked to vendor in the SOW.

    2. Ensure vendor’s awareness of role in SOW. Communicate only with prime vendor. SOW should specify single POC. SOW must specify line of communication between PM and COR. Vendor staff must coordinate work through COR. Payment to vendor must be timely. Establish accounts payable process. Immediately upload data to sharepoint. Audit deliverables on monthly or quarterly basis.

    3. Maintain adequate expertise. Specify that design and implementation be performed by the same vendor. Balance between flexibility and level of detail. Vendor should explicitly define solution. Vendor should provide adequate detail into design. Vendor should ensure that proper personnel are used.

    4. Base SOW on design. Prime contractor should have POC on site at all times during execution. POC should be PM or technical manager. If execution is at multiple sites, work should only be done on the site at which the POC is available. Vendor staff must have proper security clearances.

    5. Allocate budget for training and request in SOW.