Project Management Institute

Being in the know

VOICES | In the Trenches

Structure your lessons-learned sessions for the ultimate in knowledge transfer.

IN PROJECTS, the speed of work does not always align with the stakeholders' varying levels of knowledge. That's one of the main challenges in project environments: transforming tacit knowledge based on employee experience into explicit knowledge that organizations can pass on to other employees in a timely manner.

Lessons-learned reviews are the best opportunities to make that knowledge transfer happen. To get the best out of those meetings, I recommend following this process:

1. Define the project team and key stakeholders. Before the lessons-learned meeting, define the main players who hold the tacit knowledge to be extracted. The team members who participate in this review should be defined based on their active participation throughout the project. For example, if the project required major investments in technology, key players such as legal, tax and technology experts (beyond those in sponsor roles) should be invited to attend the session.

2. Begin every meeting by inviting each individual to report real experiences that happened on the project. Now is not the time for participants to share ideas or opinions. Each report should strictly answer these four questions: What was expected to happen? What really happened? What were the differences? What can we learn? Such standard questions can generate clear conclusions for processes and procedural changes established by the organization.

At my company, I do this through an exercise we call “brain writing.” We distribute colorful Post-it notes, and participants write their answers to the four questions. This approach fosters structured thinking.

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3. Classify the lesson. Next, everyone in the session categorizes the Post-its on a wall according to the 10 Knowledge Areas in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Fifth Edition. I believe this facilitates the classification of knowledge in a playful manner that enables creativity. It's also a simple way to organize knowledge.

Classifying knowledge this way helps us improve our best practices and ensures we are covering the full scope of project management standards.

4. Assign a group of experts to a Knowledge Area. The Knowledge Area groups are registered in the overall system, and their duty is to analyze the written lesson learned, validating it or not. The experts should have experience in project management in addition to acting assignments in their Knowledge Area. They may request participation in the validation groups or be nominated by project managers.


5. Once validated, make the knowledge available to other project teams. Ideally, the knowledge process should be supported by an information system. At my company, we register the knowledge on a form, classified by the Knowledge Areas and stored in our intranet, which facilitates distribution and retention.

In the lesson learned, you should document any best practices created, a description of a methodology adopted and the positive results achieved. Documenting the multiple gains will likely help disseminate knowledge.

Beyond getting lessons for future projects, the benefits of a structured knowledge transfer process include providing the project team with a time and place to reflect on successes and failures, strengthening relationship capital and growing the network of experts. PM


Márcia Figueiredo Girao is an industrial engineer specializing in project management and safety engineering at energy corporation Petrobras, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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