From Lessons Learned to Standard Operating Procedure

PMI Southern Ontario Chapter

Bruce is the founder of, a resource for growing IT project managers.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) tells us that lessons learned are an important part of project management. There’s just one problem: There’s no follow through the process to drive value from lessons learned. It does not have to be that way.

Why do lessons learned exercises fail?
There are a few key reasons that lessons learned exercises fail over and over again. This activity typically occurs at the end of the project when everyone’s energy and enthusiasm is low. If you have already shipped the project deliverables, it is easy to think, “Well, the project is done. I would rather move on to the next assignment than do a lesson learned exercise.”

Let’s assume that you are focused and follow through on lessons learned activities. You run the meeting, gather the insights and then move on. That last point (“and then move on”) is the essence of the problem. There is no systematic way to share those insights with other people in the organization. Unless the lesson was especially painful, you and your project team might forget the problem as well.

A significant part of the solution comes down to constantly creating—and revising—standard operating procedures.

Not another boring corporate document: How to think about standard operating procedures
At first, I rejected the idea …

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"Education is an admirable thing. But it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught."

- Oscar Wilde