Lesson Learned

Project Lessons Learned

Davida van der Walt
Owner Team Consultant

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

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

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 learned 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 learned 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 learned on projects?

1. Secure management commitment

The successful implementation of lessons learned 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 learned

Include lessons learned 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 learned whilst doing lessons learned, 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 learned 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 learned, 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 learned

Having dedicated resources ensures that lessons learned gets the focus it deserves.  It also provides an opportunity for making sure that such resources are trained in the skills of facilitating lessons learned.  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 learned, 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.  Letís take it serious, capture lessons and successes actively, understand the root causes, and implement preventive actions.

Davida van der Walt
davida@ownerteamconsult.com
www.ownerteamconsult.com

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