Don't be like a squirrel hiding nuts with project lessons!

From the Easy in theory, difficult in practice Blog
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My musings on project management, project portfolio management and change management. I'm a firm believer that a pragmatic approach to organizational change that addresses process & technology, but primarily, people will maximize chances for success. This blog contains articles which I've previously written and published as well as new content.

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As weather gets colder, it is common to see squirrels digging holes to bury nuts and other food items to feed themselves when resources becomes scarce during winter time. But given the volume of nuts which are required to sustain squirrels through the long winter months and the large areas covered by an average squirrel, they often end up forgetting where they have buried all of their treats. While observing the little fellow I captured in the photo above, I was reminded that we are not so different from our furry friends.

Whether we capture lessons over the life of a project or wait till the end of a phase or the project as a whole, we frequently end up forgetting most of the lessons we have foraged.

Squirrels will eat a few nuts while they are in the process of gathering them. In the same manner, there will be certain lessons which we can implement right away.

But what of the remainder?

If we just store them in a repository or, worse yet, in standalone documents or distributed Wiki pages, we are no better than squirrels who have forgotten where they have buried their nuts.

Thankfully, unlike squirrels who are unable to invent and use GPS-based nut finders, we do have a few options:

  • Enhance our standards by incorporating identified lessons. This option works well as there is no need for practitioners to search for lessons but over time it could result in overly prescriptive, bloated standards.
  • Share lessons in community of practice meetings. One approach would be to leverage the oral traditions of storytelling from our ancestors by taking dry, theoretical lessons and make them come to life.
  • Develop playbooks or other types of practice-based learning offerings for practitioners. These would offer identified lessons as options but not as prescription.

Putting the "learned" back in lessons learned begins with doing a better job of learning from the lessons we have previously identified.

Posted on: November 10, 2019 07:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (11)

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Dear Kiron
Interesting the theme that brought us for reflection
Thanks for sharing

Three proposals that can be implemented by us.

For that we have to think about what happened, what we did and what we can improve.

Growth mindset and continuous improvement has to be a common practice

Thanks Luis - a growth mindset for individuals and organizationally is a prerequisite to enabling continuous improvement!

Totally agree with your approach, we have many ways to include the lessons learned a improve with them. Join explicit knowledge with tacit knowledge is the best way to overcome our deficits because we know for fact that a lot of times the needed knowledge is not written.

Hi Kiron,

The idea of bringing lessons to life via a creative license is brilliant. There are often important lessons that are difficult/sensitive to share in their pure form; however, dissemination is possible when one strategically sprinkles a bit of “obfuscation” combined with a tablespoon of “wit” into the content. Here is my structural recommendation for a section on the site. ;)

- Community
….. Discussions
….. Blogs
….. Polls
….. Storied Lessons ***

It would create interesting reads for sure.

Is it easy to get Project Management professionals and team members to share tacits knowledge?

Thanks Alexandre & George - I envision an "Aesop's Tales" like approach to sharing project management wisdom!

Luis - coaching is one way to be able to share tacit knowledge and certain lessons such as those related to soft-skills are better learned through regular feedback than through a class or reading a document.

Kiron, already shared a comment on the LI version of the article. If you don't mind, I'll paste the same here....

Love the analogy. A common challenge for organizations is a lack of knowledge management practices. Without a thread across projects, they truly become unique one offs with disparate and inconsistent documentation; neither accessible, nor searchable...e.g., can't find the acorns!

Very much agree with you Kiron. I like you analogy and how you related the Action of Squirrels and the Action of Humans.

Very interesting, thanks for sharing

I like the analogy too. In my organization, we have a process in place and have collected some "lessons to be learned" that often remain "to be learned". :-(
Our solution, at least in part, was to make as little use as possible of the lessons learned process and instead use the national community of practice as a feedback loop into the project management framework. As issues come up (lessons to be learned), the framework gets updated to prevent them in the future (the use of the framework is mandatory).
Of course, this will not help with specific issues that are not or cannot be addressed with PM practices.

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