Does the 'lack of time' act as a barrier to learning project lessons?

5 February 2013 | By Catherine Wheatcroft

Learning lessons from projects is not currently achieved well in organisations because it is perceived to be ‘difficult’ or too time consuming. It is quite common for project teams to have failed to learn valuable lessons or best practice from past projects because they are rushed onto the next one or simply do not have the time or patience to commit to them.

Improving project learning is not an unknown concept and has been widely documented and discussed, so what ‘quick’ methods can be used in businesses to get this process started and embedded as a normal part of the project process?

A new approach is needed that is based on learning lessons in a constructive and productive environment. A structured and effective project review workshop that is facilitated by a neutral individual, not a member of the project team or organisation.

What difference does a neutral facilitator make? They keep focus in the session; prevent it from becoming a blame session or veering off topic – all areas that act as a current barrier to learning lessons currently.


The overall aim is to improve the capture of lessons learnt and for teams to see the benefits of such capture in large-scale projects. The main objectives are to:
• To provide a means of capturing lessons in a structured manner
• A method that is bound by time and productivity
• Improve the future take up of lessons on other projects
• Promote the benefits of learning lessons to future project teams

The workshop should be free flowing for creative learning, but remain structured to allow attendees to experience a number of learning activities. The workshops described are designed to provide an environment where learning can take place in the shortest possible timescale and have been successfully run over one day.

For the workshop to provide greatest benefit and outcomes, it is apparent that the right attendees need to be involved. This is not a high level session on theoretical concepts, or for senior directors and business leaders. Early pilots have shown that a mix of key project team members, project sponsor and client are the best possible combination for maximum learning.

Each workshop takes attendees through a series of progressive learning steps covering the identification of lessons, documentation and agreement of the issues and strengths, sorting and prioritising, 5 whys (understanding causes) and SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely, Evaluate) outputs (action points and accountabilities).

The outputs are recorded throughout and produced in a way so as to best capture the lessons for future use by other project teams. Whilst a high level report will be of benefit to the project sponsor, individual project team members need quick prompts and outputs to use again. The lessons need to be rapidly publicised within the wider organisation, in a way that works with current internal processes and functions.

The workshop model works best when repeated at key points in a project’s lifecycle in order to promote learning and capturing culture within the organisation. Over a sustained period of time, different teams and sponsors will feed into this methodology to create a best practice repository that benefits the wider organisation.

The overall benefits to the organisation include greater ownership of capturing and learning lessons, increased sponsorship from senior managers, higher levels of client satisfaction and a gain of competitive advantage in the marketplace through sustained reputation.