Culture Series: Building a Lessons Learned Culture

While in a project management role in a previous organisation, lessons learned was generally a one-off task at project conclusion.  It was not a priority and there was no focussed or consistent approach.

Article by Social Security


My name is Maureen Peteranna.  I work within the Social Security Programme Management and Delivery Division, referred to as the Programme.  I have worked as the Lessons Learned / Continuous Improvement Manager for the Programme since August 2019; my general background is within project and programme management.

Lessons Learned – an afterthought?

While in a project management role in a previous organisation, lessons learned was generally a one-off task at project conclusion.  It was not a priority and there was no focussed or consistent approach.  As a small organisation, and as the main project manager, I was able to take lessons from one project to another.  This was important; avoiding the same mistakes, or repeating successes, streamlined delivery and added value for money.

When I joined the Programme, the scale and complexity meant lessons learned had to be different.  I knew lessons learned had to be embedded – engrained within the culture of the Programme; and we needed buy in from everyone to make it a success.

But how to do that was the challenge.

Building a learning culture

I considered a few key things; how to gain buy in and build engagement as well as ensure lessons learned wasn’t seen as a one-off task – a common view in project and programme management.

The first step was defining the lessons learned offering. I wrote a detailed lessons learned approach, gaining buy in from the senior leadership team – an important milestone in embedding a lessons learned culture.

I attended various forums to get the message out about the lessons learned approach and how it would be implemented.  This piqued interest; the people I spoke to had not experienced a Programme with a dedicated Lessons Learned Team and were intrigued about how it would work.

When putting the first few sessions in place, I knew teams would be busy and focussed on delivery – part of embedding my approach was selling the idea of investing time in the short term to gain in the longer term.  So, when setting up sessions, I engaged service managers and product owners to explain the approach, likely next steps and benefits.

I then ensured I was a regular stakeholder at all communication forums to share progress as well as key lessons and themes, which maintained engagement across the Programme.


Reality v theory was a learning curve; it took a few sessions to get the right balance between having the right stakeholders at the right time, getting a good balance of when and how to gather feedback, facilitating rich discussions to define actions and owners and avoiding blame culture.

I learned that being consistent with when, in the delivery lifecycle, sessions would take place was crucial; teams knew what to expect.

Consistency with the format and structure of sessions, the way outputs and actions were documented and shared as well as applying key principles before and during each session had a huge impact on the overall successful implementation of the approach.

Over time, teams came to me to request sessions, or to ask when their session would be taking place (knowing this was now a standard process).

They had spoken to colleagues or heard the benefits of the approach – which demonstrated a learning culture had become reality.  This allowed me to introduce new sessions at different stages of delivery, based on feedback, while maintaining consistency in all other aspects of the approach.


Between August 2019 and August 2023, over 1900 lessons learned insights have been collected and teams have implemented over 800 actions.

There have been sessions for over 75 releases, at all stages of delivery and a repository where all teams can access all lessons any time.  There have been over 20 sessions earlier in the delivery lifecycle to help teams focus on the key lessons they need to be aware of.

There is now an established learning culture where teams regularly talk to each other to share and discuss key learning points; teams across Scottish Government regularly reach out to learn about our approach.

Lessons learned has now evolved to help define and share the Programme’s Legacy.

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