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I’ve been working with a contractor on a home improvement project and was surprised when one of the activities went awry. It took several days of re-work, phone calls, emails, and stress to fix a one-day activity – and the client was inconvenienced. It was all very preventable.  What’s worse, this same activity had been done by this contractor before – for the same client. But the company apparently has no process for cataloging lessons learned. The contractor didn’t save his notes from the previous job, in which he used the same wood finishing project.

When a client hires an expert to do a job, the client shouldn’t have to tell the expert how to do the job.

Why aren’t we cataloging our lessons learned on projects in a way that allows us to easily refresh our memories and avoid making the same mistake twice?

We live in a world where businesses are trying to do so much with so little. Sometimes, they just don’t take the time for disciplines that matter. And cataloging lessons learned is one of those disciplines that can reap rewards down the road.

You can use a simple spreadsheet if you don’t have anything fancy.  And you can think of this as a LEARN file. LEARN – Label, Expert, AdWords, Report, and Notes.


While it may seem unimportant, I recommend that you decide on what you want to call the lesson learned. Names matter. People are more likely to remember the lesson if you’ve spent 30 seconds deciding what you want to call it. You might want to put a date in the label name, or in a separate field.


Who were the people involved? Put their names in your database. Even if you remember the problem on that Ipe floor, the other people in your company won’t remember. So, record the names of the people who were intimately involved in the problem you had.


Google made the concept of AdWords famous – but forget the advertising part. The concept works great in this context. What you need to record in your database are some search terms that can be used to query this lesson in years to come when people have forgotten. Memories are short. People come and go. While your description of the lesson might have been clear at the time, it will be fuzzy in a few years.  Spend a minute thinking about the different search words that you might query in years to come and store them in your database.


You need to record a short but detailed description of the lesson learned.


Are there helpful articles, websites, pictures, dates, or files that you can include?

Save your company time and money by cataloging lessons learned in a useful format and then training people to use that file. It’s not hard, but it does require some discipline. And I might add that spelling, which can often be neglected in documentation, is important. I recommend teams spend time throughout the project on cataloging lessons learned, rather than waiting until the end. Build this into your recurring meeting agendas.

LEARN! Avoid repeating mistakes. And if you’d like more tips, sign up for my newsletter.