Does your organisation have barriers that prevent it from benefiting from lessons?

10 February 2013 | By Catherine Wheatcroft

This article talks about lessons learnt, but first of all, what do we mean by a lesson learned? The term can mean many things to different people, but in a project management context it is the knowledge that is gained from a project, which outputs or results differed from the expected results. The difference here can be immense, from a few minor problems that need a revision to an internal process, to a catastrophic failure.

The capturing of lessons should be a fairly easy process and something that is an in-built part of the project management process. Learning can be captured during the planning phase of a project, allowing project teams to capture lessons from historical knowledge. Learning lessons during the project or whilst the project is underway can be beneficial at key points / events of the project. This will ensure that lessons learned can quickly be incorporated back into the project for immediate improvement. Post project reviews are where the most beneficial lessons can be captured. Lessons that are based on hindsight across a longer timescale offer the best and most measurable view on what has been learned from the project.

But do organisations have internal and external barriers that prevent this process from happening as a well rooted ‘given’ in the project process? Could your organisation do more to overcome barriers and benefit from project knowledge, information and ultimately, lessons to benefit future projects? Does your organisation answer ‘yes’ to too many of these questions:
Does the management team lack in understanding of learning before, during and after projects?
Is there a lack of commitment and engagement for learning lessons from project sponsors?
Is there a rush to commence a project so ‘no time’ for capturing lessons?
Are project managers just ‘too busy’ to take part in project reviews?
Is it impossible to access lessons because their method of capture means there is no central repository?
Are lessons poorly written and too complex to be of use?
Are lessons stored badly making retrieval of them difficult?
Is the ‘learn before’ and ‘during’ methodology not part of the culture of your organisation?
Is your repository of lessons so out of date that it is no longer relevant to modern methods and processes?
Do the methods used for project reviews just not work well through lack of training or ownership?
Do your project reviews resort to a blaming session where no tangible or useful outputs are gained?

All of these barriers are easily overcome and a process of learning from lessons easily implemented, once the benefits are understood. Capturing lessons from historical projects and learning from them consistently are excellent ways to improve business performance.