Lessons Learned, the Lifeblood of a Learning Organization

Why Lessons Learned are vital to the long-term vitality of organizations

To best discuss any topic, we must first establish a common foundation from which to build. Let’s start by defining some key terms:

1. Lesson: an activity that is done in order to learn something; also: something is taught, a single class or part of a course of instruction, something learned through experience. (Merriam-Webster (Lesson))

2. Learn: to gain knowledge or understanding of or skill in by study, instruction, or experience, to come to be able, to come to realize. (Merriam-Webster (Learn))

Learning and Testing

Learning within organizations involves the continuous testing of experiences, and the transformation of that experience into knowledge – accessible to the whole organization, and relevant to its core purpose. (Senge, Kleiner, Roberts, Ross, & Smith, 1994)(pg. 49)

The purpose of something as trivial as the defining of the words lesson and learn allows gaining the insight that every activity undertaken within a project is potentially a lesson-learned – more importantly, only if the organization actually has applied what it has learned to current and future endeavors. Sadly, in to many organizations, these lessons are, at best, merely documented and stored, relegated to the dusty project archive shelves.   Within these organizations, teams are very apt at capturing problems that arise during the day.  However, these organizations rarely determine why these problems occurred; much less remind themselves of these problems as they ponder which fork in the road to take the next time the opportunity to succeed presents itself.  

Not all learning is in the classroom.

Not all learning is in the classroom.


Learning and Ongoing Value Improvement

On the other hand, organizations who create value year after year often are the ones who not only take the time to understand why project performance is what it is, they also routinely remind themselves of these lessons – improving their decision making ability real-time. Improving performance and creating even greater value.  The Lessons Learned process is the heart of a vibrant, growing organization, pumping the nutrient-rich lessons learned to the members within the organization, when they need them, allowing them to grow.

The following series will explore how the concept of the Learning Organization within Organizational Behavior discipline can be applied to the Lessons Learned process within the Project Management discipline.  It will also provide practical advice on how the Lessons Learned process can be organized in order to maximize value for future projects.

Enter the Learning Organization.



Merriam-Webster (Learn). (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2014, from Merriam-Webster: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/learn

Merriam-Webster (Learned). (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2014, from Merriam-Webster: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/learned

Merriam-Webster (Lesson). (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2014, from Merriam-Webster: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lesson

Senge, P. M., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R. B., & Smith, B. J. (1994). The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook. In P. M. Senge, A. Kleiner, C. Roberts, R. B. Roos, & B. J. Smith, The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook (p. 593). New York: Doubleday.


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