Effective Management Practices and Technologies for Lessons Learned Programs (Best Practice)

RT-230 Topic Summary
RT 230


Lessons Learned (LL) is knowledge gained from experience, successful or otherwise, for the purpose of improving future performance. In an effort to promote success and achievement, each company should develop a Lessons Learned Program (LLP). A LLP involves the people, processes, and tools that support an organization’s collection, analysis, and implementation of validated lessons learned. People possess the organizational knowledge. The processes must be structured to allow people to easily collect, analyze, and share knowledge. The program tools must then allow the knowledge transfer between individuals.

Despite the fact that many engineering and construction organizations recognize the importance of LLPs, few have been successful in systematically identifying and transferring knowledge from current projects to future projects. However, many organizations outside of the construction arena have successfully implemented LLPs, such as the U.S. Department of Energy; United States Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines Corps, and Coast Guard; the Environmental Protection Agency; and the Federal Highway Administration.

This research showed that LLPs are probably more prevalent and more formal today than the previous research demonstrated. Collection was found to be collected electronically with analysis usually occurring at the end of project execution. Implementation typically occurs in meetings with changes to work processes. A distinct difference was noted between organizations with formal LLPs versus those with informal LLPs.

Overall, LLPs are essential to the construction industry. The key to achieving an effective and sustainable LLP is the degree of continuing commitment and leadership from the organization’s top management. LLs will become even more important as employees age and retire and turnover increases. Additionally, globalization also increases the need for LLPs to ensure that an organization is able to address critical issues such as culture, language, distance, and diversity.

Key Findings and Implementation Tools

1 : Tenets of Success for a Lessons Learned Program

Every organization should move forward in developing or improving a lessons learned program. (RS230-1, p. 22)

  • Leadership, top-level and tactical, is the most important prerequisite for success of these programs.
  • Organizations should become “teaching" organizations, rather than organizations that only collect or learn from the past in an ad hoc or passive manner.
  • Organizations should adopt an active implementation strategy for ensuring that lessons are used.
  • Although technology is important in developing and using an LLP, the importance of organizational culture should not be underestimated.
  • The quality of lessons learned is more important than the quantity of lesson in the database.
  • Both owners and contractors can benefit from lessons learned programs. Necessarily, the captured lessons learned will be focused in different areas based on the business needs of the organization.
Reference: (RS230-1)

2 : Lessons Learned Process

LLPs are prevalent among many construction organizations with 94% of the evaluated organizations using some type of lessons learned process to facilitate improvement within their organizations. (RS230-1, p. 5)

An organization benefits from lessons learned most when they follow a documented, formalized three-step process; collection, analysis, and implementation. Implementation is typically less advanced than collection and analysis.

  1. Collection involves gathering data and information on the experiences of individuals and teams in the organization. Collection can occur at multiple stages of project execution.
  2. Analysis can be performed by a team or a subject matter expert (SME). This step is necessary to ensure the information gathered is relevant, correct, and easily understood.
  3. Implementation can involve changes in practices and procedures or changes in the project execution. Lessons learned should be implemented quickly to ensure they are helpful for the organization. 
Reference: (RS230-1)

3 : Key Characteristics of a Lessons Learned Program

There are 7 key areas that affect the success of lessons learned programs:

  • Leadership
  • Lesson collection
  • Lesson analysis
  • Lesson implementation
  • Resources
  • Maintenance and improvement
  • Culture

All of these areas must be addressed by an organization to effectively implement a lessons learned program. These 7 characteristics are the basis for the Maturity Model. (RS230-1, p. 17).

Reference: (RS230-1)

4 : Special Considerations

Before a lessons learned program can become successful, an organization must recognize some special considerations such as legal issues, metrics, cultural and globalization issues, and implementation challenges. (IR230-2, p. 17)

Human resources and IT resources are important in making sure a lessons learned program is successful. None of the surveyed organizations used “off the shelf” technology. Instead, the organizations generated similar, yet customized IT tools to facilitate their program. Additionally, none of the surveyed organizations currently dedicates a full-time employee to facilitate their lessons learned program, though their effort is typically beyond one full-time equivalent employee at any time.

Hard metrics are not commonly used to assess the performance of lessons learned programs. Most of the surveyed organizations implement a lessons learned program because they understand the fundamental importance of lessons learned and do not try to quantify the value of lessons learned.

Reference: (IR230-2)

5 : Timing of Benefits

Owner organizations are able to draw the most value of lessons learned during front end planning, whereas a contractor organizations reaps the benefits of a lessons learned program generally during project execution. (IR230-2, p. 21)
Reference: (IR230-2)

6 : Implementation Tool #1

IR230-2, Implementation of Lessons Learned Programs

Can help organizations put these recommendations into action and includes 4 tools.
For organizations that have already developed a lessons learned program:

  • Maturity Matrix Model The Maturity Model identifies the seven key characteristics of a Lessons Learned Program and classifies each characteristic into four progressive levels of development. Levels 1 and 2 are usually representative of an informal Lessons Learned Program while Levels 3 and 4 are typical of a formal Lessons Learned Program.
  • Self-assessment Questionnaire – To determine its effectiveness with respect to the seven key program characteristics.

For organizations without a current program or those wanting to re-examine their existing program:

  • Jump Start Guide Recommended steps for the development of a program 
  • Transactional Work Flow Diagram Serves as a roadmap for typical lessons learned transactions. 
Reference: (IR230-2)

Key Performance Indicators

Improved productivity, Improved cost, Improved quality, Improved performance

Research Publications

An Analysis of Lessons Learned Programs in the Construction Industry, Second Edition - RR230-11

Publication Date: 11/2007 Type: Research Report Pages: 251 Status: Reference

Implementation of Lessons Learned Programs - IR230-2

Publication Date: 07/2007 Type: Implementation Resource Pages: 39 Status: Tool

Effective Management Practices and Technologies for Lessons Learned Programs - RS230-1

Publication Date: 05/2007 Type: Research Summary Pages: 34 Status: Supporting Product

Supporting Resources

Education Materials

Lessons Learned Programs: Sharing the Past to Shape the Future - WS230-01

Publication Date: 03/2012 Type: Video Pages: 0 Status: Supporting Product

Presentations from CII Events

Plenary Session - Lessons Learned About Lessons Learned

Publication Date: 07/2007 Presenter: Number of Slides: 23 Event Code: AC07

Implementation Session - Lessons Learned About Lessons Learned

Publication Date: 07/2007 Presenter: Number of Slides: 43 Event Code: AC07

Session - Marshalling the Evidence: Effective Management Practices for Lessons Learned Programs

Publication Date: Presenter: Number of Slides: 43 Event Code: PIW408