Project Management

Staying Positive About Your First Lessons Learned

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting S.A., a Roatan, Honduras-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

Lessons learned. The project post-mortem (a horrible term). Or, as many project managers call it, a complete waste of time.

Why is that? Our agile colleagues regularly conduct retrospectives, which aren’t quite the same thing, but which provide tremendous value if conducted properly. Yet the lessons-learned process has a reputation of being a finger-pointing session that focuses more on complaining than it does about improving anything. And even if recommendations do come from it, the assumption is that those recommendations will disappear into a black hole where the PMO lives, never to be seen again.

That reputation has been widespread for a long time, so it must be based on some truth. Undoubtedly, there are organizations that run successful lessons-learned sessions, and I know of many organizations that have found tremendous innovations as a result of them. But the majority of lessons-learned sessions don’t achieve much. So as a new project manager, how do you buck that trend? Or do you simply ignore them in the belief that you’ll be wasting your time?

Problems from the approach
I believe that lessons learned are tremendously valuable. I also believe that most organizations destroy that value because of how they define the process. In most organizations, lessons learned is a mandated task after all of the other work is complete. It occurs at a …

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You suffer for your soup.

- Kramer