Overcoming Cultural Barriers to Learning in Projects

Learning from projects is hard. The very nature of the project environment makes sustained and effective learning difficult, despite being an abundant source of information and knowledge. After decades of research and practice, we surely have the tools and expertise needed to overcome these challenges, so what is it that makes learning so elusive? In this article, I put forward that culture has a significant influence on our ability to learn from projects. Presented here are the most common challenges to learning identified in industry and academia—reframed as cultural issues—alongside practical recommendations for overcoming them in your projects.

As a project practitioner, how many times have you struggled to engage teams in learning activities on your project? How many times have you seen the same, avoidable mistakes be repeated on projects? How often have you sat in meetings discussing the need to “leverage our knowledge,” “break down silos,” and “stop reinventing the wheel?”

These scenarios are all too common in our discipline, and for every single voice celebrating the advances in project management over the past 50 years, there are two that bemoan the state of the profession in terms of high failure rates and repetition of mistakes. Setting aside debate over how we define success or failure, we can all …

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"What is the voice of song, when the world lacks the ear of taste?"

- Nathaniel Hawthorne