I have just been reading some excellent pieces in the APMs Spring edition of Project magazine. This edition had a focus on learning lessons from both failures and successes. I also found the research into the way government depts handle the LL process both illuminating and scary. So I thought a summary would be useful and links to some of our own lessons learned related content.
Learning lessons is about positives and negatives
Literally taking the positives first Mike Clayton’s piece helps with those aiming high. Mike’s view was that if you work on failings you can reduce failures and deliver satisfactory projects. However you can deliver excellent projects by finding successes and reproducing them. Team members will also respond better to examination of successes rather than failures. We agree, learning lessons should always be about both aspects. Of course if it works well then over time the failings should reduce and the successes increase.
I think a strong Lessons Learned process is a good indicator of a mature organisation. So if you see the ratio of positive to negative lessons increasing you should be on the right track.
Learning lessons about transition from policy to delivery
Tony Meggs looked back over many years turning govt policy into delivery to identify process improvements which could help raise success levels. Key things Tony pointed to include better planning prior to announcing constrained objectives and including delivery people in policy teams. Of course politics and tendering rules cause all sorts of problems in these areas. We shouldn’t be surprised therefore that targets set by policy are missed by delivery. But pieces like this looking at how the process could be improved are about sharing experiences and exchanging ideas which may lead to changes in the future.
Learning lessons in government departments
Martin Paver has been looking into the lessons learned process in government for over 12 months. Following on from prior research ten years earlier which found broad lack of success Martin looked again. He used FOI requests to find how Govt Depts managed their LL process and how valuable they found it. The squeamish should look away now…
What I found most surprising was the variation in even whether to do Lessons Learned. He found some departments mandating it but others leaving it optional, ‘deploying as they see fit’. With such a failure of direction it isn’t surprising that further practical problems follow. Even when Project Manager’s were recording their lessons systems were not in place to share them. Three out of Four departments could not provide lessons info under the FOI request. They justified this by saying it would cost too much to assemble. But of course the point is that is should already be easily accessible and searchable otherwise how can following projects use it?
Martin had teased out many more useful points from the research and I would advise you to read it. We can only hope it gets acted on and that government projects start learning lessons with more rigor.
Beyond the power of personal experience
Several PMs, sponsors and others from the PPM environment also talked about their own experiences they have learned from. I have also had many experiences in past projects both bad and good that I have learned from. We all tend to remember our own, often painful, lessons very well and are good at applying that learning again. However as organisations and indeed as a profession we improve by being able to share these lessons with others. This is the difficult part of a good lessons learned process leveraging improvements from the individual to a wider audience.
I blogged in November about how you can use a Risk Register prepopulated with lessons to help address this. In fact we went further and provided a free template for this passing on some common lessons to get you started and to which you can add. Users find this works well for all those common lessons/risks but it may not be such a help with the specialist areas.
We also provide a Lessons Log method template which you can use on our multi-user tools to provide a central store for all your lessons logs. Users can then access this and search for content related to their project area. As discussed above many organisations don’t have a single location for all this valuable information, this gives you that. You can find out more about learning lessons with the Lessons Learned Library method here.
Project Magazine, is a quarterly publication for APM members.