How To Manage Lessons Learned
“Is this the first time we’ve ever done this?” you woefully ask as the project manager. The project you are managing just ran into the exact same snag as the one before and the one before that. This particular problem that surfaced from the technical department is a tricky one, but you would have figured that by now it would have been…figured out.
Regardless, you and your team power through the issue by coming in early, working late, and bringing lunch in for the working sessions to still deliver the project in time. You keep everyone up to date on next steps using web-based project management software. Throughout all of this extra project time you wonder to yourself why it’s not possible to just figure something out once and for all time.
It is possible, but it will require some concerted effort on your part to not only gather Lessons Learned but more importantly to implement them within your company as a project manager.
Why are the Same Mistakes Made Time and Again?
There are a number of reasons why the same mistakes are made over and over again. They primarily have to do with how people think about work and realizing most people are wired to think a certain way. People, employees, and resources are focused on the here and now. They have an insurmountable To-Do list that they have to focus on TODAY for deliverables and results that are due either later today or tomorrow. To convince people to set aside a number of hours out of their already over-booked schedule is many times met with “are you kidding me” or the web based project management meeting is dismissed or cancelled at the last minute because of another emergency that just came up.
Another reason why people put off capturing and implementing lessons learned is because there is not immediate gratification in working on something that may be implemented 2 or 3 months from now. People like seeing the results of their work in real-time, not something to be realized at some point in the future.
Also, people get stuck in and love the same routine they have established each day. They leave the house at a certain time each morning, stop at the same place and get their coffee the same way each day, listen to the same radio station and take the same route to the office day in and day out. They are comfortable with this routine and it brings a sense of predictability into their lives.
Once they get into the office, most people want to bring this consistent and predictable routine with them. They’ve grown accustomed to checking the web based project management software you have set up for what their day looks like. Implementing lessons learned requires a change to this comfort zone and causes people to stretch a bit and possibly disrupt their precious routine. So, they keep on with the same routine and dig a deeper and deeper rut rather than look for ways to improve.
It’s Your Responsibility as Project Manager to Get Them Out of the Rut
If you are tired of asking yourself “is this the first time we’ve done something like this” then it is your job as a project manager to shake things up a bit. At the end of every project, get the key stakeholders in the room and ask everyone what went right, what went wrong, and what could have been done better, faster, or smarter. That’s about all you need to do to get the conversation started. You may want to bring some key metrics sourced from your web-based project management tools such as estimated hours compared to actual, financial budget information, client comments, etc., but the biggest thing is just get the conversation started. Ideas will begin to flow and feed off each other. Once they do, you need to:
- Capture – Record what is being said on a whiteboard for all to see. Write down just enough to be able to transfer this information over to a spreadsheet for tracking purposes. Talk about each of the items on the board, the pain that it caused, why it happened, who it impacted and what can be done to prevent this from happening in the future.Note: This is not a blame-storming or fingerpointing session. This meeting needs to be attended by “adults” who can openly and candidly talk about what went wrong and what went right. You may find that you are even part of the problem that needs to be resolved. That’s OK. This is GREAT feedback that everyone can use to grow and do their jobs that much better in the future. Every bit of the effectiveness of this meeting disappears the second people start attacking each other. It is your job as the project manager and moderator of this meeting to make sure this does not happen.
- Categorize – Once everything has been captured on the board, start transferring these to a spreadsheet and categorizing them by what type of ‘lesson learned’ has been captured. Is this something that is related to People on the project, the Process of making something better, or the Technology used to implement the project? This will provide a sense of who the best person will be to use to implement the lessons learned on the project. These lessons learned will ultimately start appearing in your web based project management software.
- Prioritize – Next, identify those lessons learned that would be considered “low-hanging fruit”. These are the ones that will make a big impact as it relates to either saving time or money AND would be relatively easy to implement. For example, throughout the process of capturing problem areas it was identified that one group never knows when they can begin working on their phase of the project. This has caused a delay of days and sometimes weeks. The solution is for the manager of the first department to send an email to the manager of the second department letting them know it’s ready to move forward. No cost to implement, but a huge time saver.
- Assign – Assign ownership of implementing the lesson learned. If you have a PMO, assign it to one of the project managers on your team to implement. Assign them the ones they would be best suited for whether it be People, Process, or Technology. If you don’t have a PMO, assign it to the person who will benefit the most from implementing the lesson learned. They are then responsible for following through on working out the details of ‘operationalizing’ the lesson learned.
- Introduce – At the next PMO meeting or weekly project status meeting, have whoever is responsible for implementing the lesson learned into the organization present how this will be done to the team. Make sure everyone understands the new process, the benefits and agrees to follow the new procedure.
- Repeat – Once these have been implemented, report back on how much time, money, and/or aggravation has been saved due to making these changes. People need to know that breaking out of their comfort zone was worth it, made their lives easier and was better for the company. Then, work down the list from this project and future projects to implement as many lessons learned as possible.
In just a couple of months you will find there is a well-oiled machine in place that has been built from the ground up. More importantly, the phrase “is this the first time we’ve ever done this” will be removed from everyone’s vocabulary only to be replaced with “how can we do this better?”
Looking for key metrics to bring into your first Lessons Learned meeting? Try ProjectManager.com free for 30 days and track your project online with robust project tracking charts that compares how long you thought something was going to take with how long it actually took!