Lessons Learned, but by Whom?
4+1 tips to avoid repeating past mistakes in your next projects
Lessons learned are sometimes just as valuable as the actual deliverables of the project. They provide insight into what worked and what didn’t and can help future projects succeed.
Most Project Management methodologies require that lessons learned are collected in a report at the end of all projects, but is it enough?
Few organizations make the extra effort to make it easy to find those documents after the project is finished. And without proper access, how can you expect anyone to see your lessons learned?
By sharing these insights within the organization, everyone can learn from the project’s successes and failures, making the organization as a whole more effective.
Here are a couple of things you can do to make sure that your organization will be able to harvest the value of those lessons learned.
Don’t just collect: publish!
Identify a centralized place where they can be found. Ideally, this is not specific to your project: it should be a place where all projects report their lessons learned. It will have to remain active after the end of your project, so as to keep your insights available for those who.
An intranet website dedicated to Project Management would be a natural place where colleagues can look for insights and information. If there is not such a thing, consider creating one.
Involve the right people
If there is an organizational function supporting projects, like a Project Management Office or a Portfolio Management authority, make sure to involve them.
If you are that function, reach out to your project managers and make sure that they understand the value: otherwise, for them, it will be only a reporting duty. You might consider proposing “suggested readings” for new projects, or when onboarding new project managers in the organization.
Make stuff easy to be found
If your lessons learned are part of a document such as a closure report, make a small extra effort and create a dedicated piece of content: it will be much easier for your colleagues to find what is relevant for them.
Use labels or categories to classify individual “lessons”: instead of reading dozens of pages, your colleagues will be able to focus on what is meaningful for them.
Don’t overdo it
Do not give too much importance to the tool: focus on what people already use, and find a way that makes it easy for other project managers to publish their content.
As an example: we’ve spoken about labels as a way to increase readability. If your intranet does not provide the functionality, don’t give up. Find workarounds such as a hierarchy of pages, grouped by topic or category, or whatever is provided by your tool.
Bonus tip: Take the shame away!
Some lessons are learned the hard way. This usually involves a painful learning process and the additional efforts that are required to bring the project back on track.
At the end of the project, however, all of this can be seen in perspective. With the right mindset, going through past mistakes might be turned into an opportunity to not just get over them, but also to celebrate failures by highlighting the important knowledge that was gained with them - perhaps in a humorous way, such as a “fuckup night” event.
Project lessons learned are important to document and share with the whole organization in order to enhance the value of the project and of the lessons themselves.
By doing so, the whole organization can learn from the successes and failures of the projects and improve the way it operates.