Book Review: Post-Project Reviews to Gain Effective Lessons Learned

3 April 2013 | By Catherine Wheatcroft

Author: Terry Williams
Publisher: Project Management Institute, Inc.
ISBN: 978-1-933890-24-1
RRP: £16.65

In Post-Project Reviews to Gain Effective Lessons Learned, there is a significant amount of detailed research into the concepts and understanding of how organisations learn lessons from projects they have undertaken. Taking the results of a survey of literature on the use of lessons learned, Terry Williams looks at the motivation for learning lessons, the concepts of knowledge and learning, the current learning lessons situation, factors that facilitate or hinder the creation of knowledge and the transfer of knowledge and lessons in organisations. This literature is backed up by organisational case studies throughout.

This book is very much written in an academic style and is a detailed and research based view of post-project reviews. It applies learning theories and practices to help organisations develop their methods of learning lessons from post-project reviews.

The book is well structured with clearly defined parts: the Literature Survey; Survey of Practice: Do Organizations Learn from Projects; Organizational Interviews; Case Studies in Practice and Final Conclusions.

The first two chapters explore thoroughly the concepts and theories of learning lessons, forcing the reader to think more deeply than just a bit of background preamble. This becomes quite heavy reading in places but serves as an important reflection of organisational practices that is extremely well referenced throughout. Each chapter is summarised by drawing out the authors overall comments on the preceding literature and text. This is also illustrated well through the use of industry and organisational case studies.

The real value of this book can be found in chapters three through to five, where the results of a survey of project managers on the use of lessons learned from projects is documented. I found that this detailed survey of 32 questions and 522 usable responses provides more insight and understanding than any theory-based, ‘how to’ book could provide. Terry Williams has not only provided the survey questions in their entirety and the results for each question, but also a useful summary and drawing together of each questions key results trends and themes.

For practitioners this section provides real insight into how organisations approach lessons learned, the success factors of various methods used, a look at what is understood to be best practice, the barriers to organisations using lessons learned methods and the demographics of the respondents.

The final section of the book provides the reader with a range of organisational case studies. These case studies have been based on interviews with organisations that successfully carry out lessons learned activities and looks at how each organisation addresses the process and solutions that work for them. Again, this provides real value both in knowledge and practical possibilities for practitioners, managers or senior teams that need to review current practices or experiment with better methods.

The author has really taken the time to provide useful knowledge, backed up by academic and commercial realities of effective post-project reviews – without trying to channel the audience down any specific route or methods. Anyone working within the project management professional will benefit from reading this book, especially those responsible for best practice, learning and business improvement. Post-Project Reviews to Gain Effective Lessons Learned is a good reference tool that should be re-visited on a regular basis.