A Cost-Effective Project Management Tool
The purpose of lessons learned is to bring together any insights gained during a project that can be usefully applied on future projects.
As project managers, some of the most important lessons we learn come from failures. Whether the entire project failed, or part of it failed, or even if the project succeeded in spite of a big failure on the part of the project manager or the project team, there is something to be learned from a failure. Kenneth Darter explains a simple four step process to make sure the same failures aren't repeated.
Everything learned from previous projects, whether they were successes or failures can teach a project manager important lessons. And individual project managers usually do learn from their own previous experiences, but are these "lessons learned" shared with others within the project team or within the same organisation? If they are shared, do other project managers apply the lessons to their own projects?
Capturing lessons learned from projects is key for any organisation. Unfortunately, project teams are usually moved quickly from project to project and capturing lessons learned is never a priority. To ensure efficiencies over time and development of best practices, it is essential to capture lessons learned on your projects.
Those of you who have seen the movie "The Ron Clark Story" already know about the remarkable efforts of a dedicated teacher in inner city New York who developed a learning atmosphere for his elementary students, which contributed to them excelling in the classroom at the highest level in every subject. Subsequent to Ron Clark's success in the New York schools, he visited every state to talk with students, teachers and school administrators about what he had learned and how his students performed.
A project audit provides an opportunity to uncover issues, concerns and challenges encountered during the project lifecycle. Conducted midway through the project, an audit affords the project manager, project sponsor and project team an interim view of what has gone well, as well as what needs to be improved to successfully complete the project. If done at the close of a project, the audit can be used to develop success criteria for future projects by providing a forensic review. This review identifies which elements of the project were successfully managed and which ones presented challenges. As a result, the review will help the organisation identify what it needs to do to avoid repeating the same mistakes on future projects.
By incrementally capturing 20-20 hindsight (lessons learned) and turning that hindsight into 20-20 foresight (best practices), you will achieve far greater long-term success than if you simply ignore or forget what occurred once a project ends. This approach can greatly reduce the negative effects of attrition on a company's intellectual assets when people leave because they quit, retire, are laid off, or were temporary workers to begin with.
It's said there are no new project management sins, just old ones repeated. It's also said that we don't learn the lessons from past projects and this must be true, otherwise why would we keep making the same old mistakes?
In looking at lessons learned, many times we find things like - should have had a better schedule, or better budgeting, or more communications, spent more time on requirements, etc. All of these things relate to how we do the work, not what we work on. Talking about how things get done or working on how things get done does not, in and of itself, get anything done. This is one of the reasons so many people hate planning - planning is not doing and we all like doing.
This article captures a number of common, "We should have - " as lessons for all managers to learn before their project fails to meet expectations. Prevention is much cheaper than cure.
Lately, I've noticed that my projects are getting more complicated and status review meetings are focusing mostly on issues and complaints. In fact, all projects on the dashboard are struggling, which made me ask myself, "What is going wrong in an otherwise well-oiled project management machine?"
"If we don't take time to learn the lessons of past projects, and moreover act upon them, we will continue to commit the same project management sins again and again." - Duncan Haughey
"Relying on luck is not a viable project strategy; however, this is what we do when we ignore lessons learned." - Duncan Haughey