A Brief Comparison Between Lessons Learned and Retrospectives

A Brief Comparison Between Lessons Learned and Retrospectives

Project lessons learned and project retrospectives produce different products but both try to accomplish similar goals.  According to Jennifer Whitt, director of projectmanager.com, lessons learned segments of information discovered as events affect a project’s cost, time, scope, process, or morale (Whitt, 2013).  While Jeffrey Pinto presents four principles to reviewing a project namely, objectivity, internal consistency, replicability, and fairness (Pinto, 2016).  Brand’s article in the Journal of Environmental Health is a good example of the outcome from a review focussed on lessons learned.  It creates an article that covers the major components of the project and provides a tabulated list of challenges with solutions (Brand, 2016).  A review process that focuses on a lessons learned deliverable can easily result in a critique or finger pointing.  If a review process devolves into this behavior it will discourage honest feedback among stakeholders and participants in capturing and sharing information to help the organization improve.

Retrospectives are similar in that they document the results of a review process but differ in the tone, breadth and depth of the deliverable.  Because of this they take a different tone when capturing information in the review process.  A retrospective may contain lists of challenges and solutions, but the overall tone of the document is more similar to an essay than a flow chart (Kenny, 2014).  The questions outlined in one example of preparing for a retrospective focus much more on discussions about process efficiency and less about the personnel that may have directly contributed to the outcome (.  Focusing on decisions rather than the decision makers is an important key.

Unfortunately I have a great deal of experience participating in review processes from working with the Army, but no experience with creating retrospectives.  The United States Army’s After Action Review (AAR) process is designed to create a lessons learned document.  Each item discussed results in either a sustain, or improve rating.  They are not widely published.  Although there may be ten units across the Army with the same equipment and mission set there are few products that float between them to increase organizational efficiency.  The biggest lesson from this assignment isn’t in how to capture the data, but rather in being shown there are  options to the types of products used to package all of the data from the review process.



Brand, J. E. (2016). Rewards and Lessons Learned From Implementation of a Healthy Homes Research Project in a Midwestern Public Health Department. Journal Of Environmental Health, 79(1), 20-23.

Hoberecht, B. (n.d.). Project Retrospectives. Retrieved July 31, 2016, from http://www.pinnacleprojects.com/index.php/project-retrospectives/157-article-retrospectives-3-foundations-for-the-perfect-retrospective

Kenny, K. (2014, November 3). A Look at Our Retrospective Process. Retrieved July 31, 2016, from https://www.viget.com/articles/a-look-at-our-retrospective-process

Pinto, J. K. (2016).  Project Management: Achieving Competitive Advantage, (4th ed.). Boston, MA:  Pearson Education, Inc.

Whitt, J. (2013, September 30). How to Capture Lessons Learned at the End of a Project. Retrieved July 31, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBUqW_ek4hI

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