Lessons Learned and Cognitive Biases

Antonio is a project manager in Caracas, Venezuela with more than 25 years of experience as a PM, project engineer, engineering coordinator, mechanical designer and consultant.

Lessons learned activities are of utmost importance for any organization and its projects, as they provide natural feedback for an organization and give the basis of its know-how. However, lessons learned—like all activities involving executing staff—are exposed to the egos and feelings of its participants, regardless of their role in the organization. That can lead to biased approaches that undermine the success of the sessions.

Precepts and judgments about past events are modeled by our egos, beliefs, prejudices, expectations, interests, desires and fears. This is known as cognitive bias. Therefore, since lessons learned sessions review past events (and detect the causes of failure and success through a detailed study), it’s very important to be aware of bias risk (and please note that bias risk exists for any decision-making meeting).

Below I’ve outlined some cognitive biases you can find during a lessons learned session:

1. Groupthink bias (bandwagon effect) is the tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same. The probability of one person adopting a belief increases based on the number of people who hold that belief. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by suppressing dissenting viewpoints.

How does it have an …

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If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man but deteriorate the cat.

- Mark Twain