Lessons Learned

Definition of a Lesson
To explain the concept of Lessons Learned and how to manage them as simply as possible, it is first necessary to define what we mean by a Lesson Learned by first accepting that there are two types of Lesson, positive and negative, as defined below:

  • A Lesson Learned can be positive, such as an opportunity that can be taken advantage of and which should be repeated or replicated in future projects.

  • Conversely, a Lesson Learned can be negative, such as a flaw, error, oversight or omission that should be avoided or mitigated in future projects.

Potential Lesson
An error, oversight or omission in a project or project activity, that is subsequently identified or discovered by some means, cannot simply be considered to be a 'Lesson Learned' because, at this point, nothing has yet been learned.

Until it has been analysed, developed and mitigating actions identified, it is still only an idea which has the potential to become a lesson and is therefore described as a 'Potential Lesson'.

A Potential Lesson (or a Best Practice) is usually identified by one or more of the following:

  • The consequences of an error, oversight or omission are manifested in the outcome of the project (failure);

  • The consequences of an error, oversight or omission cause loss or harm (such as an incident);

  • The potential outcome of an error, oversight or omission identified by a project activity such as a health check, review or audit;

  • As a result of a good idea or an innovative concept that subsequently produced a positive outcome for the project (this could subsequently be referred to as a Best Practice, but is treated the same way as a Lesson);

  • Formally, in the context of a Lessons Learned Workshop or similar activity;

  • Informally, as part of a discussion that is not part of a formal Lessons Learned exercise.


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