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.jordan@roffensian.com. 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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