PM Lessons Learned is broken

A recent report from the Victorian Ombudsman (Brouwer 2011), finds that despite all the research, previous Ombudsman and Auditor-General reports, ‘…there are few signs that any lessons have been learnt in the public sector. A new and more disciplined approach is required if the government is to avoid being faced with continuing cost overruns and failures to deliver.’ The report highlights the difficulties and inconsistencies in ICT procurement with the Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office stating ‘…Government agencies tend to operate independently and there is difficulty in capturing and implementing learnings from ICT projects.’ What we see here is not un-common across the public and private sectors; it is just that the reporting of the public sector problems is open to the public via government reports.

Source: Mike Licht, reports.

The Project Management Institute (2008) Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) guide identifies the importance in collecting and documenting lessons learned, and implementing process improvements. The PMBOK knowledge areas reference the lessons learned process. However in practice it rarely happens and does not work well (Atkinson, Crawford & Ward 2006; Keegan & Turner 2001; Kerzner 2009; Milton 2010; Schindler & Eppler. 2003; Williams 2008; Wysocki 2004, 2009).

Milton (2010) has found that 80 per cent of 74 organisations that attempt lessons learned, 60 per cent are dissatisfied. Williams (2007) found that 62.4 per cent of 522 project practitioner responses had a process for learning lessons and of those only 11.7 per cent followed the process.

The project management PM World Today recently posted an editorial on Lessons Learned but Knowledge Lost (Pells 2011). In response Wideman (2011, p.1) a recognised project management global expert stated: ‘…in spite of all the technology that is available to us today, we have not yet found a presentation format that captures the essence of this wisdom in a way that is relevant to future usage, readily searchable and easy to store. …we have a serious cultural problem. …we are probably condemned to continue to throw away the valuable resources.’ This open discussion again highlights the significance of project management, knowledge management and the lessons learned process and the impact that technology, learning, process and people factors have on the problem.

So is the PM Lessons Learned process broken?

For another understanding of what is broken, you may enjoy the Seth Godin talk on ‘This is broken’

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6 thoughts on “PM Lessons Learned is broken

  1. When I was at PMOZ ast year there was a presentation by someone – it may have been the engineering arm of the conference, who reported their issues with getting the lessons to stick and how they eventually started to make inroads into the problem.

    I can’t find the 2011 conference details online, but you might be able to dig up their experience report.

    I like the concept an agile coach once said to me; Why wait until the end of a project to gather your lessons?

  2. Anther thought – the failure to learn lessons is because project teams come together temporarily. Organisational PMOs with proper capabilities would be able to help manage quality in and risk out by building improvements into the system.

    • Hi Craig, I have located the ISSEC presentations. As it turns out one of the presentations was from one of my previous work colleagues. So a coffee meeting is now booked. Thanks for helping out. Regards, Stephen..

  3. Well there may be a number of reasons why the wisdom cannot be ‘learned’ by organizations. Individuals may learn lessons but for an organization to you need to constantly update the rules of thumb the creation of which in itself is a skill.

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