Getting Real with Lessons Learned

By Bernadine Douglas

By now, if you have been following my blog posts, you know the importance of lessons learned. In past posts, I have provided many tips on how to conduct them, who should be involved and the types of project management tools to use for  evaluation in the sessions.

But how do you get true value of lessons learned? To glean results that can really fuel change, focus your lessons learned on the following questions and actions:
What did not go so well? Do not finger point. Ensure the discussion is targeted toward the actions, not a person. Try to gather specifics. For example, if a delay caused a slip in the project timeline, discuss the lesson that caused the specific problem, and alternatives that might have avoided the delay. Perhaps there was a miscommunication that caused the delay. In that case, extract the lesson that led to that miscommunication. These are the lessons that you want to document and mark for corrective action. Actions or lessons that are not documented well cannot be translated into controllable elements.
What went well? Determine your successes, and then strategize what needs to be done so these actions can be repeated. Adopt processes around these successes that may not already exist in your system for managing projects. If it is a process that has been working well for a long time, integrate it with your new and existing policies and procedures but in a way that it remains intact and unchanged. You should also consider rewards and recognition events for successes. There are many ways to accomplish this, even when budgets are tight. For example, using social media by posting praises and kudos to employees online can go a long way.
What are we going to do to improve projects going forward? This is really the main objective of lessons learned. You can get together to understand what went wrong and what was right on your projects, but more importantly, you will want to leave the session with a direction on how to have future successes on a continuous basis. For this to happen, take the time to rank the learnings in some ordinal manner. For example, consider what needs to be addressed immediately and how to make the action possible; determine what can be changed and how to minimize the impacts; and explore how to ensure processes are apparent and possibly even mandatory. No matter what ranking system is used, conclude the meeting with an accountable action plan.
What do you see as next steps after getting together, gaining reality and gathering the lessons? Share your thoughts below, and Voices on Project Management will publish the best response as a blog post.

The views expressed within the PMI Voices on Project Management blog are contributed from external sources and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of PMI.

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