Reporting on "Lessons Learned"

The question asked was: "We are looking for a good format to present an executive review of the lessons learned from..." One of the most common mistakes I have observed in "lessons learned" documents is that they should be more properly titled "lessons to be learned". So, one of the most important elements to include in such a report is to go beyond the observation of what happened in the past and into what will/should be done about it in the future. For example, instead of a finding that says only something like "Project XYZ needs to improve configuration management procedures in support of pre-deployment activities..." it is better to add the corrective action that should be taken e.g. "Revise section 2 of the Configuration Management Plan as follows...". A two-column format or some comparable structure works well for this. It is often valuable to structure such a document so that their are clear distinctions between what is fact and what is a matter of analysis or opinion. For example, to distinguish a finding which you want to assert as indisputable from a suggested correction which might be but one of several possible solutions. The major benefit of this approach is that it prevents debate about how to go forward from undermining the fundamental findings or recommendations. The strongest lessons-learned reports I've ever seen were structured so that the report section was actually very small and the bulk of the lessons had been structured as change requests to the fundamental project management artifacts of the affected projects (schedules, designs, requirements, etc.). So, an important quality of these reports is that they were disposable - e.g. you didn't need to look at the report to see the changes suggested to the Project XYZ design by the '02 Q3 Technical Review but could look at the change requests for that project, and their dispositions, to see this information. This was a recurring approach of the most highly effective programs I've seen..... which may explain why it is rarely seen. - Brian

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