We all know that capturing lessons learned is an essential part of making sure that future projects go well, but capturing and sharing them seems to be something that we don’t feel we do particularly effectively.
In my experience, most project managers feel that they could ‘do’ lessons learned better. And this isn’t surprising as it is hard to do well.
So how can you capture and share lessons learned?
There are in fact plenty of different ways to spread what you have learned from your project around the PMO, project managers and teams.
Here are five ways that you can try:
1. Post-project reviews
Your project does have a scheduled post-project review, doesn’t it? If not, get one on your project plan now! Then talk to your PMO about a standard format for post-project reviews as you’ll find that if everyone carries out their lessons learned meetings in a similar way, it will be easier to collate, share and search the results.
The post-project review is a formal opportunity to review what went well and what didn’t. The people in the meeting will benefit from an open and honest discussion about the project and can carry this learning through to their next projects. You can also share the output with other project teams.
2. Team meetings
You don’t have to wait until your post-project review in order to share lessons learned. Make it a standing item on the agenda for your project team meetings.
Ask people to share what they have learned that week. There might not be something worth discussing every week but the act of asking creates an environment where it is expected that lessons learned will be shared.
It’s this culture that promotes organisational learning and will encourage team members and other project managers to talk openly about what they didn’t do well and what could be done better next time.
3. Lunch and learn sessions
The previous two suggestions are only really useful for people on the project team. A lunch and learn session is where you host an open meeting to discuss a particular topic and anyone can come along to listen.
The ‘lunch’ part is because normally the meeting is held over a lunchtime and people either bring their own food or lunch is provided.
This is a good way to reach a wider audience with your lessons learned as you can invite members of other project teams or the wider PMO community to come along and hear what worked on your project.
4. One-to-one meetings
When you have one-to-one meetings with your team members, your line manager or other project stakeholders, take the opportunity to ask them for their lessons learned.
You may find that in this environment they are more prepared to share their feedback with you and you could pick up some really useful tips.
This is especially the case when things didn’t go so well. You’ll probably find that people are very happy to discuss project successes in a group setting, but might be a bit more reticent about confessing to things that went badly on the project.
You are much more likely to find out about these in an individual setting.
If your PMO doesn’t currently have a wiki for lessons learned, suggest that they set one up.
They are easy to create and anyone can add information to them, so you can keep the wiki topped up with new lessons learned as you go through your project. You can also add copies of things like the minutes from your post-project review.
The wiki then becomes a really useful source of historical project lessons. When you start work on your next project, you can quickly review the relevant topics so that you have the most up-to-date information about working practices and what made other projects successful (or not).
Regardless of how you find out about lessons learned and how they are shared, the most important thing is that you act on them next time.
There’s not much point putting in place formal post-project reviews, a wiki or any other method of sharing lessons learned if you never refer to what has been captured and you (as well as other project managers) end up making the same mistakes again.
Elizabeth Harrin is a career project and programme manager with a decade of experience in healthcare and financial services. She is Director of The Otobos Group, a project communications consultancy and author of Social Media for Project Managers and the award-winning blog A Girl’s Guide to Project Management.
Find her on Twitter @pm4gi