Lessons Learned – how to lower the tuition in the School of Hard Knocks

Take a walk through the project management shelves at your nearest book store and you’ll find wealth of lessons learned.  Or, pick up the most current version of the PMBOK, PRINCE or CMMI and you’ll also find wisdom and insight based on the experience tens of thousands of professional project managers.  

I’ve enjoyed reading Glen Alleman’s “Herding Cats” blog, where he often shares his insight about working within the US Govt / DOD project and program management environment.    Where many of the lessons learned and best practices are very clearly documented.   I’ve also been following a great discussion on a linked in group – HP/Cranfield Professional PPM Discussion, where the topic of “Why don’t we perform Lessons Learned well?” has been insightful.

Lessons learned can be especially difficult.   I’ve often observed “Lessons Learned” events in the waning days of a project, where the project team assembles and has one last meeting to vent about those things that were frustrating, led to rework, or contributed to the project’s success (or failure).   The PM or facilitator diligently documents the session, and then the report is archived with the project never to see the light of day

Sometimes, if there is an active SEPG, Process Owner or similar, then some of the lessons learned may eventually be integrated back into the organization’s processes and methodology.

Agile projects bake in retrospectives after each sprint – bringing lessons learned to life, and ensuring that the team can continue to improve and become more effective.  This helps to make the entire team more accountable for continuous improvement. (at least for that specific project)

In the linked in discussion, I saw a couple of posts which described searching through “spreadsheets” for past lessons learned and the frustration when finding unstructured data of little value.    

It seems to be easy to plant the seeds of lessons learned, but harvesting them for later use is another story.

I’m not convinced that lessons learned have to be such a hard crop to harvest.   If you have the right process and tools for the job, then documenting and managing lessons learned can be as straightforward as managing project risks, issues or change requests.   If lessons learned are important and valuable, then having a structured, consistent way to manage them would be expected as well.

Do you agree or disagree?  

How do you manage lessons learned where you work?

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Article source: HP PPM Blog

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