Are Lessons Learned a project management tool or a change management tool? The answer is: both. Especially when collected periodically, rather than just at the end of a project.

As our primary tool for evaluating the successes and shortcomings of a project, Lessons Learned are traditionally categorized under project management – a categorization that makes a lot of sense. Project management tends to be about managing the tasks and processes around a project so that the product comes in on time, on budget and meets all the requirements. Lessons Learned helps identify improvements that can be made, kicks off improvement processes and documents them so that future projects can benefit. This is project management.

But, Lessons Learned aren't just about process improvements. They are also about building ownership and making stakeholders feel that their involvement in the project matters, which is a change management function. Change Management addresses the emotional aspects of a change so that people feel good (or as good as can be expected) about what is happening and can become productive in the new environment as quickly as possible. Lessons Learned opens a dialogue with key stakeholders that recognizes their successes, involves them in improvements and helps people feel more ownership in the end product. This is change management work.

Below are 4 ways that the traditional focus group style Lessons Learned behave as change management tools:

  1. Provides Recognition: They name names and spotlight specific contributions leading to the project's success. This makes people feel good about their efforts and reinforces the change as a good thing.
  2. Brings Closure: Helps people air any remaining grievances and put them to bed so that they can move on. Often, all people want to know is that someone important hears their pain and cares. Lessons learned provide an outlet for moving on.
  3. Builds Ownership: Offers team members AND stakeholders another opportunity to shape and feel ownership in the solution. People are more likely to support a change they helped to shape than one that was forced upon them without their input.
  4. Evaluates Results: Enables us to gauge how people feel about what we have done so far, improve problem areas and demonstrate awareness of gaps so that additional tools or trainings can be developed if necessary.

In addition to performing a change management function on their own, periodic Lessons Learned also provide the feedback mechanism to help the team adjust project-related change management and communication plans so that they are as effective as possible.