Project Management

Lessons Observed...Learning, Not So Much

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at

We know we are supposed to learn from our projects. That’s not a secret. The idea of “lessons learned” is built into most methodologies, standards, guidelines and generally accepted ways of managing projects.

Moreover, we know it should be a continuing process. It’s not something we only do at the end of a project. We’re supposed to do it all the way through. Identifying, capturing and utilizing lessons learned should be ongoing and seamless. It should be as natural as breathing, eating and sleeping.

While we know all of this, acknowledge it and theoretically agree with it, however, for the most part we don’t do it. Lessons aren’t learned so much as they are observed. Douglas Adams once described deadlines as “making a lovely whooshing sound as they went by.” Much the same could be said for lessons learned.

That it is this way is the product of many factors. Often, we find ourselves somewhere on a continuum between “busy” and “overwhelmed.” New projects start up, even as we try to complete the current ones. We believe that we can know what can be better, and we can adapt and evolve our practices on the fly. We argue that we don’t have control over the organization, but we are personally growing and learning. Most importantly, but most challenging to admit, we are by nature cognitively …

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