If you want better results from your team and your work, you should regularly stop to think about what was learned at the end of each project. This will get you thinking about what’s working well and what can be improved.
To help you do this, we’ve created a lessons learned template for Excel. At the end of each project, fill out this worksheet and watch how a little bit of reflection can help you achieve better results at work!
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Why Use This Lessons Learned Template
There’s a famous quote that says “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.” This rings true in the workplace, where it’s common to see teams doing things because: “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Then they wonder why the outcome wasn’t better.
To avoid this problem, it’s important to have a project closure process that looks back at the work that was done, so you can make adjustments for the future. This lessons learned template is a great way to document the insights you learned so that you don’t repeat mistakes, especially when used in tandem with reporting software. This practice also helps you make changes to processes, teams, and systems to ensure future projects are more successful than the last.
Looking at the Good and the Bad
The phrase “learning your lesson” has a negative connotation, but not all lessons are negative. When using a lessons learned template, we look at both our successes and our failures.
In this template, we categorize each item as either a win or an issue.
A win is something that happened in your project that led to a positive outcome. Perhaps you used a new collaborative project management software to organize this project and your team was able to finish their work much faster than usual. This would be considered a win, because there was a positive outcome.
Wins should be shared with other people in your organization who might benefit from your learnings. If the new project management software helped your team, then it will likely help others!
An issue is something that happened in your project that led to a negative outcome. Maybe you needed the IT team for this project but they were busy, which caused a delay for your start date. This is considered an issue because it negatively impacted your work.
Issues should be discussed with relevant stakeholders, so that changes can be made to avoid the same problem in the future. In this example, you could talk to management about hiring more IT staff so that you don’t have to wait around for help to become available.
How to Use the Lessons Learned Template
This template is intended to be used at a project milestone. Use it at a stopping point in your project to look at one specific section of work, or use it at the completion of the project to look at the entire project. This depends on how long and how complex your project is, but most people can get away with using this once at the end of the project.
Start by downloading the template, then open it in Excel. The first section you should fill out is the project information section.
The Project Information Section
In this section, you’ll add a little bit of information about the project, so that if this document is shared, other stakeholders understand what this is in reference to. This is also helpful so that when you look back at this document later, you remember which project it was for.
- Today’s Date: Enter today’s date.
- Project Name: Give your project a name, so it can be quickly identified
- Project Manager: Enter the name of the person overseeing the project. This could be a proper project manager or any staff member who is the owner of the work.
- Notes: This field is for you to add any relevant information you’d like.
- Ideas: Client name, stakeholders, project summary, budget, etc.
Recording Your Lessons Learned
Look for the columns with a blue bar. This is where you’ll fill out the things that you learned during your project. In the template we’ve added three examples of “lessons learned” so that you can see exactly what should go in each field. Let’s break it down in detail below:
- WIN or ISSUE: Choose either WIN or ISSUE to classify the lesson. A win is something positive that happened, and an issue is something negative that happened.
- Describe What Happened: Use this field to give a detailed description of the lesson you learned.
- What Was the Impact?: Here, you’ll describe the positive or negative result, and the impact there may have been. For a win, write about the positive outcome that occurred. For an issue, write about the negative consequences you experienced due to the problem.
- How Does This Change Future Projects?: In this field, record your thoughts on how this lesson might impact future work. Think about how other people in your organization might benefit from learning this lesson.
- Action Items: Add the actionable steps that will be taken to address your win or issue. Every row should have an action item, even if it is as simple as “monitor to see if it happens again.” This is the most important part of the template because you are outlining the steps you will take to improve.
Related Lessons Learned Content
ProjectManager.com is an award-winning software, but it’s also a valuable resource on all things project management. Our website has training videos, blogs, guides and more that explain every phase, technique and method in managing a project. Here are a few related to our free lessons learned template.
- What Is Post-Implementation Review in Project Management?
- Five Steps to Project Closure (Checklist Included)
- Why Projects Fail
Going Further with ProjectManager.com
If you find this template helpful, then you’ll also love our tools. Teams all over the world use our project management software to stay organized and improve productivity. To catch the wins and issues, you have to monitor and track your progress. ProjectManager.com does that as it occurs with our real-time dashboards. You get instant feedback about the progress of your projects so that you don’t have to wait until the end to learn your valuable lessons.
The dashboard is a high-level view of the project, but often issues are simmering below the surface, which don’t show up until they’re a problem. ProjectManager.com gives users the tools to dig deep with reporting features that can filter data to get just the information you want. These reports are easy to share and archive on the software, which has unlimited file storage.
Collecting what works and what isn’t working is done on the frontlines of the project by the team. ProjectManager.com offers a collaborative platform that gives everyone the tools to comment at the task level, including attaching files and images to document the wins and issues. As each comment is added, everyone assigned to that task is notified by email. If you need to bring in another team member, just tag them. It’s that easy.
ProjectManager.com is a way to learn from the lessons of your past projects and keep historical data close at hand, but it’s so much more. Plan, monitor and report on every phase of your project and gather lessons learned. You can sign up here to try it free for 30 days.