Why is Lessons Learnt Important for Successful Project Management

Why is Lessons Learnt Important for Successful Project Management

Capturing lessons learnt is an important activity within the Closure phase of project management life cycle. Successful or not, as a project manager you must carry out a detailed lessons learnt process and document them formally.

Lessons learnt approach is about shaping the future. As they say, you cannot do all the mistakes to learn from them. You must also learn from other’s mistakes and prevent them from occurring.

It is more about optimizing the existing way of doing things based on the learnings from each project. More so from the ones that failed or did not meet the expectations entirely.

What is a lessons learnt process?

Lessons learnt in a broader view is about

  • Reviewing the outcomes of the just concluded project
  • What did not go as planned
  • What worked well
  • What needs improvement

Now, note that it is not a one man activity. All the key stakeholders such as the project lead, customer, team, vendor & suppliers etc. must be involved as applicable.

Also there are various aspects of project management that need to be reviewed with an open mind during the lessons learnt process

  • Existing processes across the spectrum
  • Workflows, Standard operating procedures
  • Communication practices

With a single objective to ensure that the same mistakes aren’t carried forward project after project rather execution and operations are strengthened across the organization.

And to achieve that, all findings must be documented in an actionable manner.

The exercise is not to meet, greet & forget!

How to perform the lessons learnt exercise?

Depending on the nature of your projects this can be a regular on-going activity or at the end of the project.

  • Regular & on-going – e.g. Sprint retrospectives
  • End of the project – e.g. PIR – post implementation review or Post facto

Consider you have projects running over multiple quarters or years. Then you must schedule a lessons learnt cadence so that the team can

  • remain in-sync
  • identify mistakes early on before they become major limiting factors for the project
  • prevent repeating mistakes for the entire duration of the project
  • detect risks at the initial project stages
  • gain understanding of what change in approach and strategy is required

Let us now look at the various steps included in conducting a thorough lessons learnt process

  • Identify
  • Record
  • Review
  • Socialize
  • Refer

Identify

Irrespective of your lessons learnt approach it must be done in an organized manner.

As project managers, you must spend considerable time in reaching out to your teams, stakeholders to educate and generate awareness of the lessons learnt exercise.

Depending on the nature of the project, the team needs to share

  • Challenges faced
  • Issues with time and quality
  • Areas they think have scope of improvement
  • Areas that are non-value add and may need to be eliminated

The idea is to trigger thoughts and give them a sense of what is expected.

Project managers must also conduct review and interviews with the customers, send out feedback surveys for e.g. basically whatever works for your team and organization.

But the key is to do it in a coordinated and organized manner.

Identify is a crucial step in the lessons gathering process.

  • Schedule a session with the entire team
  • Establish ground rules and timeline for the session
  • Set an agenda for the session. E.g. specific aspect – budget issues, time management etc.
  • Be a time keeper during the session
  • Ensure the team do not get into deep dive sessions of individual issues
  • Capture the issues brought forth for further actions.

Record

This is the step where you formalize all the issues reported by the team. Use of a project management tool is recommended here.

Some of the identified issues may need immediate attention and action. So log them and assign them to the right people to get the addressed.

For the rest of them, log them with proper categorization.

Set out a template or format to have the captured.

Assign the key team members to log and capture details of their respective issues for ownership.

Once all issues are recorded make a central report for the next steps.

Review

This is an important phase where you bring up the lessons learnt to the management’s attention for review and action.

Prepare a detailed report.

Work with the management to review them and plan for their resolution.

Some may be low hanging fruits with minimum disruption to existing processes or workflows.

Some may need minor tweaking or fixes.

Categorize the issues in terms of strategic and tactical buckets along with their expected resolution actions.

Note, not all issues can be fixed immediately and may not be legitimate either.

Those will need detailed deep dive.

Make sure your report includes probable solution and recommendations.

The idea here is to get the management’s buy in and approval on how the resolution would be applied and socialized with the relevant departments or team members.

Only once the list is vetted and approved do we move to the next step – Socialize!

Socialize

This is where the wiki management comes into picture. A detailed knowledge base is created and updated with all the relevant lessons learnt.

The records are made public for other teams to access, understand and refer for their ongoing or upcoming projects.

Run it like a mini project.

Make sure the agreed items are duly assigned and status updates are done as and when there is progress.

This will keep the momentum, the teams will be updated and will also lead to greater contribution from the team.

Mainly, there will be greater awareness within the team, will make them watchful of issues that may crop up in their projects and adept in preventing or handling them just in time!

Refer

This is very crucial! If the data remains in silo and cannot be accessed or referred to then the whole exercise is in vain.

Hence, the use of a robust project management tool is critical to the success of the lessons learnt process.

Right from the issue listing to resolution to sharing as wiki, project management tools like Orangescrum have proven to be very effective.

  • You can have a “Lessons Learnt” Task Group within the ongoing project.
  • List out all issues as tasks, sub-task and add checklists.
  • Use Custom Task types and custom labels for appropriate classification.
  • Have proper assignee, due dates and custom status workflow to track the life cycle of these issues from start to end.
  • Once successfully closed, create Wiki and share the articles with the other teams.

Teams can access the lessons learnt when needed and most importantly they know what to access, when, where and how.

When you have a tool, it becomes easier to centralize all the knowledge and enable collaboration.

Wrapping Up

Lessons learnt process is very helpful in identifying pitfalls across your operations.

Right from

  • Project Management Office
  • Product development and engineering
  • Customer support and success
  • HR, Payroll, Finance
  • Vendor management
  • Procurement
  • Sales etc.

The magnitude of the impact will depend on the nature and complexity of your projects depending on how many functions they touch upon.

But at any given point a project is bound to roll in 3-5 departments at minimum.

So it becomes all the more important to have a centralized platform for all departments with access to the critical outputs from your lessons learnt exercises.

If you do not use a project collaboration software, then chances are the valuable information is bound to get lost in silo data banks, repositories etc.

Also, as a project manager you must make it a practice to refer to these lessons learnt whenever you undertake your next project.

Imbibe the experience and the learnings captured by other members of the team.

This will also smoothen cross-departmental collaboration and enable organizations to have greater success with their projects.

How do you conduct lessons learnt today for your projects?

How are they shared with the teams?

Are they centralized and easily accessible?

If not, Try Orangescrum for free today!

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