Avoid repeating the same mistakes by focusing on lessons learned. It is said that there are no new project management sins. Only old ones are repeated. It is also said that we don’t learn from past projects. This must be true because otherwise, why would we continue making the same mistakes. “Lessons Learned: What Can We Learn from Them?” is Derry Simmel’s article. Derry Simmel (board member of PMI’s PMO SIG), identifies two common issues that prevent us from learning valuable lessons about past projects.

  • We believe the lessons don’t apply for us.
  • We want to see things get done
  • These lessons can be very useful, but that is the sad truth. Time spent doing the work better is time spent well. Derry states that getting it right the first go is more cost-effective than fixing it later. If we accept that lessons learned from past projects can be useful and prevent future problems, how can organisations create a culture of lessons learned where people are willing to learn from past mistakes? A culture that embraces best practices and rejects bad ones. Leadership is essential for new initiatives to succeed. It’s best to adopt a top-down approach. Senior leaders in an organisation must foster and support a culture of learning. This approach is more likely to be successful and lasts longer than a bottom-up approach. However, project managers could struggle to promote it. If there is enough support at the top, enough time, and enough buy-in from project mangers, lessons learned will be part of an organisation’s culture, and part of its ongoing improvement process. Process for Capturing Lessons Learned It is unlikely that anyone will go out of their way for this. It is important to have a clear and simple process for collecting and collating, analysing, and disseminating the lessons learned. It could be something like: discover – recommend – document – share ­ review ­ store ­ retrieve. Learn from your project team to identify and record lessons learned during projects for inclusion in the final lessons learned report. This could be done in their regular team meetings. If customers or resources are unhappy, this could indicate that the project is having a “lessons learned” moment. This can also be a sign that the project is having a difficult time. When team members identify areas to improve, lessons may also be learned. To learn valuable lessons, organize regular brainstorming sessions with your project team and a facilitator. Don’t wait until the end of your project to learn from the lessons learned. These three questions can help you discover lessons:

  • What went right?
  • What went wrong?
  • What could have been more?
  • Facilitators can help you document the lessons learned, keep the meeting focused on key issues, and steer discussion in the right direction. Recommendations Project managers and their teams need to make recommendations. What would they do differently if given the chance to start again? This requires a level of honesty that some members of the team may find uncomfortable. It is important to give constructive feedback and not get personal. We are not trying to blame anyone, but we want to learn how we can improve the future. This will help the organisation’s leadership to be honest and show that it will not have a negative effect on individual careers. Document and Share This can be done by creating a standard report on lessons learned and a repository that contains good meta-data. This should be a standard lesson learned report and a repository with good meta-data to aid in identification.

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