4 tips for a perfect lessons learned!

Lessons learned
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How many lessons learned have you contributed during your career? And how often have you been confronted with a lesson learned from yourself or a fellow project employee at the start of a project in past projects? You will probably also answer ‘quite a few’ or ‘many’ to the first question and ‘never’ or ‘rarely’ to the second question.

The importance of the lessons learned

Many organizations in the Netherlands and Belgium use a standard project management methodology (such as Prince2). In every project management methodology there is a closure phase in which all activities are performed to end the project. A project is terminated because all activities have been carried out and/or the end result has been achieved. But it can also be the sudden termination of a project because the business case just does not turn out to be positive anymore. In both cases it is important according to the methodology to carry out a lessons learned activity in the closure phase. In Dutch, we actually just call this a lesson learned.

4 tips on lessons learned

1. Many methodologies forget the fact that learning from a project should be a continuous activity. Noting lessons learned is done during the project, not just during the final phase. After a project of twelve months, who actually remembers which problems he/she had during the project and which proposals came to mind to avoid those problems the next time?

It’s a good idea to create a logbook and expand the lessons learned every week.

2. Many organizations neatly apply a project management methodology and record the lessons learned at the end of the project. This is often a quick session in which project staff look back together. This should not take too long as the result has already been achieved or even stronger, the plug has already been pulled. Often this is not even an integral session, but the lessons learned are dutifully listed in writing and recorded in a logbook.

It’s wise to especially take the time to think about the lessons learned. If you have everyone update the logbook on a weekly basis, you divide the time you spent on it over the project, and there’s a better chance of it being useful during the project.

3. In practice, the lessons learned are conveniently recorded in a document item by item (the methodology often has a simple template for this), and they’re beautifully documented with improvement recommendations. This document is then stored in a folder somewhere where nobody will ever see it again. Lessons learned aren’t even looked at during the start of a new project, so the improvement recommendations are also not included in the new project and the chance the same problems occur again is almost as big.

Save the learned lessons including improvement recommendations in a central storage place that’s easily accessible to everyone. This is crucial for a continuous improvement process. Label them with a category, so searching is easier. Include an activity in every project to search for the lessons learned of similar projects and ensure that those are looked at during the start of the project (as well as during the project if possible).

4. When creating lessons learned, many people think of summarising problems that occurred during the project. Sometimes solutions are thought of that limit the chance they reoccur in the future.

From within MOJEO I always try to draw attention to the successes that have been achieved. What are the distinguishing features that made project results successful and what can we do to achieve these successes again next time? I do this not only because I believe that the successes are more important than the failures, but also because it is simply more satisfying to secure your successes than to prevent problems.

Lessons learned within a PMO

In most organisations, many projects are carried out simultaneously and the collection of lessons learned can be incorporated into a project management office (PMO). The specialised employees ensure regular and correct collection during the project, making it available (prioritised if necessary) to the entire organisation and distributing the relevant lessons learned to starting projects. This prevents project learning from becoming dependent on the various project managers. Guaranteed that with the PMO implementation of MOJEO you will encounter your own lessons learned more often and your organization will develop a powerful learning capacity.

More information about the PMO of MOJEO? Check out our PMO page!

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