As I come to the end of one project and have another significant one ramping up, it is always good practice to review the lessons learned and check what could be applied to the upcoming project.
The ‘lessons learned’ title seems to suggest that it is about things that might have gone wrong and need preventing in the future. But this is only half of the picture as it should also include positive aspects of a project that worked well, and make sure these are repeated.
It may seem some of these things will be obvious, but I find it very useful to remind myself of good practice, making sure these are put into practice and become a habit. A simple example would be the best practice of the weekly project meeting and providing a structured agenda to facilitate a productive meeting and avoid wasting project member’s valuable time. This should be followed by minutes and well defined action items with agreed dates. Sounds like the basics, but I bet we’ve all been in formal meetings were it does not happen.
With a new project on the horizon, review the lessons learned log from these past previous projects or discuss with the project team for pitfalls, concerns, or positive experiences. Or just simply review the known best practices, which is of course applicable to all areas of business and not unique to Project Management.
Mistakes are inevitable in any project, it’s not the end of the world, and it’s not about assigning blame, rather having open and honest discussion and communication. The important thing is to learn from any mistakes, identify solutions and promote the positive aspects of any lessons learned to make sure mistakes aren’t repeated, but equally ensure the good things are used again.
Typically lessons are captured in the review at the end of the project and have mid- or longer term gain on future projects. In reality it should be seen as a continuous process as ‘lessons’ can happen at any time in the project and it is worth considering getting the team together, individually or collectively, and asking what could we be doing better right now or what is working particularly well?
- · Review learned lessons from past project at start of new project to see what can be applied.
- · Discuss items/concerns with a new customer for their typical issues/concerns or best practice.
- · Setting up a project lessons learnt log at the start of the project. Make sure everything is captured and not forgotten. Act immediately where appropriate.
- · Checkpoint once a month in the weekly meetings. This can help identify and correct any concerns/issues on an active project and reap benefits immediately.
- · Review at new project phases when new team members may be introduced.
So why not use the knowledge gathered and experience gained in past projects, from whatever your previous or current role or perspective, and prevent the same mistakes being made from previous projects, or apply the best practices.
Lessons learned should:
- · Focus on quality not quantity. Typically the top 10 should suffice (for both positive and negative).
- · Be specific and realistic.
- · Have agreed recommendations.
- · Do NOT criticise individuals (or be used for settling scores!).
I read blogs or other articles similar to this and often think ‘yeah, I know that!’ and they serve as good reminders for commonsense tasks or practice, but do I always put these things into practice and make them a habit? Sometimes it seems there are too many current tasks that need attention and the focus is on getting those completed. But spending a little time now to reflect and adjust may reap significant rewards immediately or later in the next project.
So, my next task is to review the lessons learned and best practice from similar past projects as I start the initial project planning on the next one...
Senior Consultant and Project Manager