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Lessons Learned

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Recently I had a team meeting to discuss lessons learned from a project and how we could document them to help reinforce the positive experiences and avoid the negative ones.

As expected, we had a template to document the lessons. We had one team in the room and other teams on a conference bridge and two hours to get it done. Of course, that came with pizza and drinks.

How do you manage to collect, assess, validate and populate data in a two-hour window? You have to have this data already present and entered into the system of some kind (whether it's electronic or paper), with such parameters as experience rating, failure points, links to deliverables each item refers to, impacts etc. And you have to have this information ready and available for this special meeting that simply reviews the results of what you've gathered over the course of the life of the project.

A system of lessons learned would include or require the following:

1.    Lessons learned as one of the deliverables of the project

2.    Method/forum for submitting lessons learned to the project management office or senior management overlooking the project or running the functional areas that require changes based on lessons learned

3.    Method or process for integrating those lessons into the organization

4.    Method of entering the information, such as electronic lessons learned system (web- or network-based) or collection of documents, spreadsheets etc.

5.    Method of accessing lessons learned information from past projects, relating to specific areas of the project or organization

6.    System to have these items as required components of milestones on the project plan

7.    Contribution to the lessons learned from issue reviews in a semi-automated way, so that at the end of the issue review or steering committee meeting you could use the data to post it to the lessons learned system

Success of a lessons learned system depends on a buy-in from the sponsor, the steering committee and the organization to all the items above.

Have you implemented a lessons learned system recently or participated in a lessons learned review? What was your experience?

 

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20 Comments

Thanks for sharing this.

Only comment I have is about the timing of the lessons learned. I think it should be an ongoing document and should be updated as and when you have learned something. This is specially more true for long term projects because after sometime we tend to forget things be it positive or negative.

Also, in some cultures; team members might be hesitant to give feedback to their immediate supervisors/leads so make sure that they have an alternative way to do it. Although, we emphasize that it is not about individuals but in practicality; some of the people are real subject of lessons learned. :-)

I have written extensively about project lessons learned from my experience working in PMO groups.

A trend I see for 2011 is more companies incorporating project lessons learned into their planning and execution processes for projects by conducting lessons learned (LL) at the end of major phases of a project.

The concepts of Integrative Thinking can be used to make these LL meaningful because not only can PMs look back at results but look forward and anticipate behaviors and actions in the project.

Risk Management techniques can also be factored into the LL as I detail in my blog.

Hi,

I publish my lessons learned on website. You are welcome to add your lessons learned or to discuss about it. The site address: www.lessonslearned.ru (Russian).

Best regards,
Aleksey Kim

Hi Marcy,

Have you done your exam already? I remember such "tricky" questions during my study time which are indeed symbolic with the PMP Exam. It is not really which is the correct answer (all the choices are actually correct as they do have some input), but what is the BEST answer. D is correct because all the other choices are all part of D. Sorry, I know the confusing feeling, but once you master the "thinking" behind the wording, you are good to go. GOOD LUCK!! - WILSON

These are some great tips! I especially agree with #3: it is so important to have a method to integrate these lessons into the organization.

I am working on the: (Lessons learnt Documentation) . If you have any thought or suggestion, Standard template, please submit it here or Email me if that's more convenient. Thanks for your help.

Although all input appropriate, the one area almost all organizations fail to address is how to share & promote what we learn from the LL to our community. Capture and categorizing LL is valueable, but next step beyond just briefing peers is to incorporate successes and failures into learning process.

Perhaps as part of quarterly updates, reiterate primary successes and failure to reinforce learning?

If we can overcome the shortcomings of the conventional approaches, rapid and cost-effective implementation of a successful Lessons Learned system is possible.

I start collecting all lessons learnt at least one week before the actual meeting by mail, phone, casual talk etc. This gives me some time to think about them and come up with some preventive actions. I start the meeting with achievements, things which worked well, the good contributions etc. It loosens up the team to be able to discuss the failures and mistakes(even their own). It helps to gather consensus about the changes we are going to do to fix/avoid these while executing the next project.

The most difficult lessons learnt meeting which I had to conduct was one in which client teams and managers were also present and I had to own up to certain glitches which my team had made. These had caused the project a loss of margin and spoilt the relations for a while. The way I went about it is - I stated these issues myself in plain speak along with the lessons learnt from them. Also spelled out the preventive actions to be taken. This lessened the criticism and debate. Just writing out this experience, in case it is of use to anyone preparing for such a meeting. It earned me respect in the eyes of my team and client as well.

I Have a good experience in lesson learned; as project manager every now and then during the project phases; I sat with my team in an official and casual meetings to collect all lesson learned;
Then, i jotted down all of these lessons, and immeditely update our check list(s) which we normally used to guide any team member if he want to start any job.

As an example if we need to develop any new product; we have an especial check list, named new product check list (diagnostic questions); any PM should go through all questions in this check list to guide him in initial meeting to collect and consultant the right people, also at the end of each project phase, PM can update this check list if he noticed any questions raised or linked to a new lesson learned.
Thanks

I am working on this topic of project management : (Lessons learnt Documentation) . If you have any thought or suggestion, please submit it here or Email me if that's more convenient. Thanks for your help.

I am studying for the PMP and one of the questions was:

Lessons Learned are best completed by:
A. Project manager
B. The team
C. The sponsor
D. The stakeholders

In this example, D was the correct answer and I disagreed. I felt the answer should be B.

What are your thoughts? I am trying to find the reference in PMBOK and I cannot find it. Please help??

Dmitri,

Nice article. In my experience, the one great failure of most lessons learned processes is their lack of focus on effecting change. Populating a lessons learned database or creating a lengthy report which is then circulated or archived for future use results in a knowledge base that is devoid of context and ultimately becomes stale for the next project. I'm not saying to not document, but instead place far more importance on establishing process improvements while the iron is still hot. As part of our lessons learned meetings, we group the list of brainstormed ideas, then prioritize by asking, "Addressing which topics will make the biggest difference and are the most achievable?". We then create specific actions to incorporate those lessons learned into our development systems or devise a way to educate the relevant community as soon as possible. Again, don't defer improvements or preventions, do it now.

Lastly, others noted the need to not only focus on "what didn't work?" but to place equal importance on " what worked well?". I agree wholeheartedly. Lessons learned are often a source for organizational best practices as well as knowledge for (more typically) establishing preventive measures.

Regards,
Eric

Hello all,
Very good thread we have going here. I will make several comments:
1) The when and how often collecting lessons learned is done should be scaled to the project. If a project is only lasting 4 weeks do you really want to do lessons learned during each phase? Likely not as it would extend the project since you will be conducting a lessons learned every 3-5 days. Likewise would you do it during every phase is the project is six months? Maybe maybe not. Depends on how teh project is going and if you see the need to correct the project direction. Now if the project is going to take two years and cost millions of dollars, yes conduct a lessons learned at every stage gate. Keep track of them during the project but don't be focused on timing for each lessons learned exercise. You will know when one needs to happen.
2) Utilize techniques that work for your organization and/or culture. I prefer the Delphi technique to get the information while using a mediator to compile the results. The mediator will remove names and compile all notes into a list to remove any bias or anger. When you go to the scheduled meeting everything will be neatly pre-organized. This is my prefered method. It may not work well for you. Find a method that works for you and your organization and perfect it.
3) Don't focus on the negative items. Many times lessons learned is only looked upon as things that went wrong. But many things may have gone right, don't forget to include those. Often praise during the meeting will compensate to the negatives.
4) Get to the root cause. Many times lessons learned turn into a blame game. This creates a hostile environment and many times will color the root cause. Get past the social arguements and focus on a common benefit. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement. That bad judgment doesn't have to be your own mistakes, learn from each others mistakes. You all will become better and stronger in your profession.
My thoughts. I hope they help you all become better PM's
Thomas J Cornish, PMP

I recently completed two lessons learnt reports on two of my IT Implementations projects well after they were completed, like after a couple of months (don’t laugh!).

The way I collected lessons learnt was through following;

1. Starting from reading all the communications (emails) exchanged between me and the project stakeholders. Although, it was very hectic but it refreshed my memory from real perspective of the project.

2. Probed into the weekly status meetings minutes 'open issues' section, reminded me of what issued were faced and what we decided.

3. Opened up all the saved versions of GANNT chart and noticed the changes to the plan. This is not optimized ideally should be tracked through saved ‘baselines’ from the same .mpp file.

Ideally lessons learnt should be gathered right after phase end and with all the project team still intact with fresh minds as Dr. Ahmad said.

Previously we didn’t have any formal lessons learnt activity at every project end. But now we are trying to build a culture to write this after each phase end.

The way we disseminate the lesson learnt report is through a shared company portal.


Mohsin Iqbal, PMP
Pakistan

Hi Dimitri,

I agree with what you wrote, also I would like to reinforce Julio's comments - best to capture the lessons learnt as you go along, not at the end of a phase or end of a project. A word of caution - capturing issues or lessons as they arise may result in comments being coloured by recent emotions. I recommend that the comments be reviewed for appropriateness to a varied audience before they are published! The review (rather than capturing) of the lessons at the end of the phase or project will also allow for the effectiveness of solutions or alternatives to be evaluated.

From my recent experience the review can tend to focus of what went wrong and could therefore be improved upon. The good results, and those things that worked and should be considered for retention for future projects should also be captured. As mentioned by Dr Ahmad Al-Ani, this will also allow for reinforcement with the team on good results.

Regards

Vanessa

Dear Dmitri

It was good insights that you had shared with us. I know that "lessons learnt" is powerful as project managers would normaly review those past lessons of similar projects before embarking on new ones. These are helpful to prevent pitfalls in the future. Some experienced project managers already know the PM processes, the templates too.

I agree that you had contained several essential items in your 7 pointers. Until and unless the head of departments (in IT) could realise this benefit, many organisations find themselves in pockets of implementation successes. In my humble experience, I had encounter 2 sessions of collating lessons learnt, firstly with the IT sponsor, project managers, team, and possibly vendors and the second session with the business and sponsors/users themselves.

I had recently put together a "project closure report" where we had to document lessons learnt. It's the other 6 points of what you say, to have a system to inpt the data and to retrieve them later. Could someone suggest ways to make this more "lively" ?

My current organisation also links this to a post implementation review.

Regards
Maureen Gan
PMP

Hi,

The Lessons Learned is here also a hot topic.
I think, collecting the LLs is not so difficult.
A good start is to relay on Risk Management processes, if you can store in some way the risk registers and document properly Impacts / Consequences / Mitigation actions, then you will be on a good track to initiate somehow a basis for your LL process. Then, you can up-date standard risk templates, lists and pre-planned mitigation action to be re-used for other projects, and which you intergate directly in your PMIS, so people can have a direct access to it without having to look for. A second step, related to the first one, can be the implementation of Issue Management, which will also serve to up-date the Risk Management templates. With all of that, you really have something operational, not to difficult to implement, and which you can start without naming it, just at the end, when everything is in place, you can tell "Hey! This is Lessons Learned!". Up to the organization, to add any relavant matter into it afterwards. Just take into account that collecting LL is easy and fine, but the real issue lies in the usability of all this information. Try to keep it simple and directly accessible, even, it should be transparent.

I remember last year when we finished a major phase of a project, and we decided it was a good time to set down and enumerate what lessons we learned from the previous experience.We went in turns around the table and everyone participated with his/her thoughts, and we had quiet a good list of lessons that we documented and circulated later on.That list represented a new requirement for the next phase of the project.After finishing the project, we went back and reviewed the last lessons learned list and found that we were able to attend or answer more than 90% of the issues or concerns mentioned, and that alone gave a sense of achievement and content, and we realized that it contributed to the success of the project, and for sure for upcoming projects.It's a powerful tool that should be considered and documented in the best way suitable.

Hi Dmitri,

I complete agree with what you just wrote, the only I would add or suggest is to collect the lessons learn during the project phases instead of leave that task to the end. I think with that way the lessons learned are fresh in the team members mind and we will ensure that we captured all.

my two cents.
Thanks.
Julio Vieira

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