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Lessons learnt on projects

Lessons learnt on projects

A critical part of a successful project is the ability to identify and apply applicable lessons learnt and successes throughout the project life cycle. Key to the success is capturing the lessons learnt and making it available from one project to the next.  Capturing lessons learnt on projects is always a challenge.   So what are the typical challenges being experienced with lessons learnt on projects?

  1. Lessons are captured very well, but not transferred;
  2. Lessons are captured, but successes (best practices) ignored;
  3. Lessons are captured into systems from which they prove difficult to extract;
  4. Lessons are poorly documented;
  5. The context relevant to the specific lessons are not captured;
  6. Lessons are not captured throughout but only at the end of the project;
  7. The symptoms are captured instead of the root causes.

Lessons Learnt Process

Project teams should start sharing knowledge at the beginning of each project, and lessons should be captured as they occur.   The dark blue numbers superimposed on the model indicates the lessons learnt interventions on a given project.  The dark blue arrows indicate that lessons from these stages will be captured in the database and considered for carry-over to the next stage, and the green arrows indicate the use of past lessons in the planning of stages to come.  At stops 1 and 4, the lessons learnt database should be consulted for lessons on previous projects that could be transferred to the project at hand.

So what are the success factors when implementing lessons learnt on projects?

1. Secure management commitment

The successful implementation of lessons learnt on a project is firstly dependant on management support.  Be sure to gain the support and commitment of a management champion or sponsor.

2. Plan lessons learnt

Include lessons learnt in your milestone planning for a project.  If it is not planned for, it is likely to be forgotten.

3. Capture lessons and successes

Projects typically focus on what went wrong.  Why not also capture successes? Projects should endeavour to avoid repeated lessons and repeat successes.

4. Understand the context

A major lesson we learnt whilst doing lessons learnt, is that the understanding the context of a project is very important in the successful transfer of lessons.  Contextual factors such as location, complexity, size, contracting strategy, driver and so forth, directly impacts the applicability of lessons for transfer from one project to another.

5. Define symptoms and root causes

When doing lessons learnt on projects, it is very easy to focus on the symptoms of lessons.  It is in fact crucial to delve into the root causes associated with lessons and successes.  If the facilitator focuses on symptoms of the lessons learnt, chances are that the remedial actions will be reactive.  Our approach at OTC is to understand root causes and hence being able to prevent the occurrence of these issues on future projects.

6. Assign dedicated resources to do lessons learnt

Having dedicated resources ensures that lessons learnt gets the focus it deserves.  It also provides an opportunity for making sure that such resources are trained in the skills of facilitating lessons learnt.  It contributes to the consistency and quality of lessons extracted.

7. Follow a standardised process

A standardised process makes it easier to capture lessons in a consistent way, which in turn facilitates the extraction of lessons.

8. Effective knowledge management system. Tags. Garbage in garbage out

Having an effective knowledge management system which allows for access to past lessons learnt, greatly facilitates the use of lessons on future projects. Make sure to have a system that allows for sufficient meta data tags that makes it easy for project professionals to extract relevant lessons.  It will ensure that they are not overloaded with lessons that are not relevant to their projects.

By applying these success factors you can ensure that the lessons and successes are effectively captured, but that relevant lessons are also easily accessible.

The time has come for all project professionals to stop repeating the same lesson on projects.  Let’s take it serious, capture lessons and successes actively, understand the root causes, and implement preventive actions.

For more practical lessons on lessons learned, visit the OTC toolkits on:   Members have access to a full online course on lessons learnt, with practical advice and experiences shared by the OTC team.

Watch this space. OTC will also be releasing a Lessons Learnt App in the near future…

Questions?  Suggestions on how we can improve this article?  Comments?  Please leave your thoughts below.