Have you ever said "I'll never do that again - never eat too much, never spend all my money etc." and then you do! Then you say it again "I really will never do that again!" and then you do it again!! Sound familiar? So, what's happening here? You're clearly identifying something that went badly that you want to change but the change isn't happening. Why? - because you haven't taken any action to cause a change and we haven't actually learned a lesson till we have taken some action.
Most organisations I go into believe they are really good at "doing lessons learned" in their projects because they produce nice shiny Lessons Learned reports at the end. However, when asked what they do with that information to improve things I tend to get a bit of a blank stare.
When Lessons Learned is seen as a tick box exercise, rather than a way to improve ourselves, we will stay as we are and repeat the same mistakes and lose the opportunity to build on the good things we've learned. Taking action is key!
So when do we look for Lessons Learned? All too often this is done only at the end of the project...too late by then to get the full value of them. We should make it become second nature to look for them:
At begining of the project - such a wonderful opportunity to think about what had been learned previously that could help us be more effective in the planning of this project. We can also use this to facilitate a good discussion with the Sponsor in terms of management actions.
During the life of the project - there is great value in looking back at what you have learned so far, on a regular basis, to inform your planning moving forward.
At the end of the project - now, we can look back at the whole project for lessons that can add value to the planning and control of future projects and programmes.
So how do we look for Lessons Learned? There are 3 key questions to be asked:
We must dig deeply into each of these questions and not stop with a simple statement of "teamwork was good (or bad), communication was good (or bad)" Improvement will come from getting behind these statements to really what it was that made something good or bad.
A facilitated workshop, with a good mix of stakeholders, is a great environment to enable the real depth of understanding around each lesson. Bringing in other PMs can be useful when it comes to how to do things differently. Additionally, you'll get a much higher level of commitment from a well facilitated workshop.
Next time you hear yourself say "I'll never do that again!" stop and commit to some change.
If you'd like more information or help on how to run a successful Lesson Learned session contact me at FMagee@citi.co.uk
Managing Consultant, CITI Limited