A lessons-learned report documents important events in your project to help guide others down the road. Such reports are designed to promote desirable outcomes in future business projects and avoid having the same mistakes repeated. Crafting a lessons-learned report is one of the final acts a project manager does at the end of each assignment, but few tasks are as essential to long-term business success.
Honesty Is the Best Policy
The most important quality of a lessons-learned report is honesty. This isn’t the time to spin the facts to make yourself look good by papering over negatives and accentuating the positives. The more honest and direct the report, the more likely it will be able to help those leading similar projects in the future. Secure feedback from team members and stakeholders before everyone leaves for her next assignment, and incorporate that feedback into your report to ensure all perspectives are considered.
Record Essential Information
Describe the project objectives in your lessons-learned report and the project manager and leaders responsible for carrying it out. Also describe the client, the dates of the project and the deliverables or products produced. Structure the report to separate technical, project management and general management aspects. The technical section focuses on the work itself. The project management section assesses such areas as the work breakdown structure, risk planning and timelines, while a general management section deals with communication and leadership issues and interaction with the customer or client.
A Complete Picture
Lessons-learned reports should include information on what worked, what didn't work and what changes the project manager would make in hindsight. For example, a report might note a technical solution to a complicated software glitch that deployed successfully -- and also the process failure that caused the glitch in the first place. The project might have been completed on budget, but with some areas costing much more than expected and others less. Being specific about those numbers, and what the project revealed, can help others repeat successes and avoid similar roadblocks.
For longer lessons-learned reports, a final step might be the crafting of an executive summary that briefly describes the most critical takeaways. This can be a paragraph or a page and should be enough for a busy manager to get a clear sense of what the rest of the report contains.