Lessons Learned Lead the Way

December 28, 2016 by FlexPro

As the final days of 2016 wound down and we started to prepare for a new year, I couldn’t help but think back on the past twelve months. Reflecting back on my year both personally and professionally, I see a lot of experiences that would make my highlight reel for 2016 and probably a few that would make my blooper reel! I’m sure most of us can say that 2016 brought us some good and some bad. That a lot of things went right and some went wrong. I prefer to accentuate the positive and not dwell on the negative, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t look back at my year and use those experiences – the good and the bad – as my lesson plans for 2017. What did I learn and how can I apply those lessons as I move forward into a new year?

Similarly, in the world of Project Management, as projects come to an end, it’s a best practice to do a formal reflection and take our projects and teams through the Project Management process called “Closing”.  Closing is the final phase of the project life cycle where the deliverables are handed over to the customer, documentation is passed to the business and resources are released. This is also the time when other vendor contracts are closed and project files are indexed. As we wind down to the conclusion, it’s  important to gather information from our team regarding how the project went and what was learned throughout the various project phases. This process is called the “lessons learned” phase.

One of the key activities to a proper project closure is that “lessons learned” are identified and documented. It is a good practice to: identify, document, archive and distribute the lessons learned to the appropriate personnel. Finally, based on the results and information obtained during the “lessons learned” process, a course of action should be identified with follow-up to insure appropriate action is taken. Future failures can be avoided by using these lessons. While it is often incorrectly assumed that the lessons learned process is only focused on the problems, it’s also a time for reflecting and documenting the successes. The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines “Lessons Learned” as follows:

The learning gained from the process of performing the project. Formally conducted lessons learned sessions are traditionally held during project close-out, near the completion of the project. However, lessons learned may be identified and documented at any point during the project’s life cycle. The purpose of documenting lessons learned is to share and use knowledge derived from experience to:

  • Promote the recurrence of desirable outcomes
  • Preclude the recurrence of undesirable outcomes

In order to successfully create your “lessons learned” document, PMI offers the following questions to consider as you go through the process:

  • Did the delivered product meet the specified requirements and goals of the project?
  • Was the customer satisfied with the end product(s)? If not, why not?
  • Were costs budgets met? If not, why not?
  • Was the schedule met? If not, why not?
  • Were risks identified and mitigated? If not, why not?
  • Did the project management methodology work? If not, why not?
  • What could be done to improve the process
  • What bottlenecks or hurdles were experienced that impacted the project?
  • What procedures should be implemented in future projects?
  • What can be done in future projects to facilitate success?
  • What changes would assist in speeding up future projects while increasing communication?

As PMI points out, the main goal of completing a ‘lessons learned’ is to gather information that can benefit future project teams. A well thought out and well written lessons learned document will provide future project managers and project teams a valuable tool for improving efficiency, work processes, cost effectiveness and quality to name a few. It can be a tremendous aid in all phases of a new project helping to provide direction based on previous project experiences. We’ve all heard the expression, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. This is why we have lessons learned. This is why our project experiences – both positive and negative – are important.

While it can be difficult to gather your team members after a project is complete, it’s important to schedule and commit to this activity. The documentation of “lessons learned” can be very helpful for your next own project or someone else’s next similar project.  Your fellow Project Managers will thank you!

-Rose Cook, FlexPro CEO

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