Getting the Most from Lessons Learned

PMI United Kingdom Chapter

Phil is a UK-based PPM practitioner with a background in IT project management. He holds the PMP, PRINCE2 and Managing Successful Programmes certifications, and has a keen interest in leveraging best practice and quantitative management techniques to strategically transform organizations.


Topics: Knowledge Management, Risk Management

Here's the thing about lessons learned in your projects: You're probably not actually learning them. Personal experiences suggest that most organizations, at best, are identifying them—but is anything actually learned? Is behavior changed, and is that change ingrained into the project environment? Or are the mistakes of the past being repeated time and time again?

My experience has identified five key factors for lessons learned to work:

  1. Knowledge base: Does your organization actually have a lessons learned knowledge base? Can you point it out right now? If you can’t, then how do you hope to learn lessons? This should ideally sit in the wider organization outside of the project, but if nothing is available, then the project should establish it. Consider what data will need to be captured to ensure this is as easy to use as possible—but facilitates effective searching in future.
  2. Scanning: At project start-up, ensure a lessons learned scanning exercise is conducted using key project parameters (size, geography, technology, etc.) on the knowledge base to identify any previous lessons of relevance. You can also interview key stakeholders with history in the organization, read end-of-project reports, etc. You can then factor these into your project planning from the outset.
  3. Continual activity: Lessons learned aren’t just an end-of-project…

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Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.

- Stuart Smalley

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