Project Support Services:

Lessons Learnt Management

When it comes to projects, one is often tempted to dwell on the past; but the past cannot be changed. INSIGHT is ProjectLink’s lessons learned process which focusses on using the past to design better future projects.

The aim of INSIGHT is to improve the way in which an organisation performs future projects by capturing information about the positive and negative events that affected past projects and incorporating these lessons in future projects.

INSIGHT offers a repeatable, predictable, consistent, and measurable approach to lessons learned.

  • It is repeatable in the sense that the same process can be followed for all types of projects.
  • It is predictable in that project teams know how lessons will be captured and incorporated in future projects.
  • It is consistent since it defines standard steps, terms, and definitions; and
  • The extent to which project teams incorporate lessons from past projects can be measured and improved upon if required.

The need

Two common problems in organisations are that learnings from past projects are not retained in a structured or usable format and, even when the learnings from past projects are captured, they are not incorporated into future projects.

The reasons for this are mainly behavioural and project teams are affected by factors such as:

  • optimism bias, which is the tendency to believe that you are less at risk of making mistakes than others,
  • hindsight bias, which is the belief that past problems were actually known before they occurred.
  • poor project governance to enforce capturing lessons and incorporating them in future projects; and
  • inconsistent use of terminology to explain past events and their impact on a project.

INSIGHT provides a structured process for capturing and implementing lessons learned, a central repository of data that is easily accessible and consistently uses well-defined terminology. The focus of the process is on future projects and not on defending the mistakes of the past.

The process starts with developing the lessons learned scope for the project. Depending on the project size and complexity,  the scoping may include; surveys, interviews and document reviews.  A survey may be required to capture anonymous information from the project stakeholders; interviews with some team members may be required to collect specific, sometimes confidential, information; and document reviews may be required to study specific project outcomes or events.

The lessons learned workshop is the pivot of the process.  The workshop is an interactive session which involves as many project stakeholders as possible, where both the positive and negative aspects of the project are explored.

During the workshop, the team may find that additional surveys, interviews, or document reviews are required.  These tasks are performed after the workshop.

Once all the lessons learned information is collected, the learnings are documented in the lessons learned report, and the lessons learned checklist is developed and calibrated.  The lessons learned checklist is the most important output for future teams since it gives them clear guidance on how they can improve their project.

The need

Two common problems in organisations are that learnings from past projects are not retained in a structured or usable format and, even when the learnings from past projects are captured, they are not incorporated into future projects.

The reasons for this are mainly behavioural and project teams are affected by factors such as:

  • optimism bias, which is the tendency to believe that you are less at risk of making mistakes than others,
  • hindsight bias, which is the belief that past problems were actually known before they occurred.
  • poor project governance to enforce capturing lessons and incorporating them in future projects; and
  • inconsistent use of terminology to explain past events and their impact on a project.

INSIGHT provides a structured process for capturing and implementing lessons learned, a central repository of data that is easily accessible and consistently uses well-defined terminology. The focus of the process is on future projects and not on defending the mistakes of the past.

The process starts with developing the lessons learned scope for the project. Depending on the project size and complexity,  the scoping may include; surveys, interviews and document reviews.  A survey may be required to capture anonymous information from the project stakeholders; interviews with some team members may be required to collect specific, sometimes confidential, information; and document reviews may be required to study specific project outcomes or events.

The lessons learned workshop is the pivot of the process.  The workshop is an interactive session which involves as many project stakeholders as possible, where both the positive and negative aspects of the project are explored.

During the workshop, the team may find that additional surveys, interviews, or document reviews are required.  These tasks are performed after the workshop.

Once all the lessons learned information is collected, the learnings are documented in the lessons learned report, and the lessons learned checklist is developed and calibrated.  The lessons learned checklist is the most important output for future teams since it gives them clear guidance on how they can improve their project.

The Implementation

Assessment

A lessons learnt workshop is conducted and data collection methods such as small group discussions, brainstorming, and the nominal group technique are utilised.  The workshop can be conducted in-person or virtually and both approaches give exceptionally good results.

Analysis output

The learnings collected in the workshop are documented in the lessons learned report, and the a lessons learned checklist is developed and calibrated.

The future project is then scored against the checklist. The results from the scoring show the maximum possible score the project could achieve, and the actual score of the project.

This result is compared to the calibration assessment, or base value, of the reference project from which the lessons learnt checklist was developed.

If the project being assessed has a higher score than the base score of the reference project, it has implemented the lessons learned to a greater level than the reference project.  If it scores the same or lower it has failed to improve on the reference project and may suffer from the same problems.  The way the checklist is developed allows the team to scrutinise their score for each element in the checklist and to take corrective action to improve on it.

Implementation phase

The value of the lessons learned process resides in the checklists that are developed and the value to future projects is in using the checklists and analysing the results.

Organisations can store the lessons learned checklists in a repository as Excel files from which future projects can draw.  Alternatively, the checklists can be stored in a cloud-based SQL database hosted by ProjectLink which allows easily combining lessons learned from several past projects into a single checklist.

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