Calling on Project Managers to Share Success Stories

The following is a great Lessons Learned post by Linky van der Merwe (Sr Project Manager at Microsoft Consulting Services) and founder of Virtual Project Consulting.

Calling on Project Managers to Share Success Stories in: Project Management
Lessons Learned but Knowledge Lost!
This was the title of an editorial that was published by David Pells in PM World Today in 2011. It was about the loss of experience and knowledge that was occurring as project managers retired.  While this is particularly pertinent in South Africa where skills shortage is considered an acute concern, it is clear that this is a global phenomenon.

The reality is that 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.  It needs to be shared with present and future generations in a format that’s interesting and easy to use.  This highlights the significance of project management, knowledge management and the lessons learned process.

Lessons Learned Discussion
Recently there has been a lively discussion about Project Lessons Learned on the Association of Project Management (APM) blog.  A few key take-aways are shared here in order to understand how various individuals and companies have dealt with this requirement.

Some organisations have a more proactive approach and would gather in PM forum meetings specifically to share lessons learned from all projects from the whole PM team. This heightens awareness of problems, lets you see where the same thing is a happening and find solutions to prevent them from happening again.  It also allows you to highlight the good things and not just focus on the problems.

The documenting of lessons learned on most projects is not particularly good.  In many cases it isn’t done at all.  Where it is undertaken (often only because it is mandated by corporate procedures) it is all too often seen as a tick in the box exercise.  At least it sometimes is done.  What almost never happens is a review of relevant lessons reports by new projects.

Some individuals create a Lessons Log during Project Start-up and record anything that could help to create a best practice for my projects.  The Lessons Log is reviewed regularly along with the RAIDs (Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Dependencies) management documents at Checkpoint Meetings and Gate Reviews.  This really makes a difference when populating the Lessons Log and makes the job of writing the lessons into the End-of-Project Report so much easier.  (Colin Hewson, APM blog)

Lessons Learned a Contributor to Success
An interesting finding was published by Cranfield University School of Management. They conducted research to find out what helps projects to succeed or contributes to failure.  They have found that the biggest differentiating factor between organisations that generally succeed with their projects and those that don’t is “the willingness to publish and distribute lessons learnt”.

Therefore it’s not enough to close out the project and to create a Lessons Learned report – the reports have to be made available to others in a way that makes them want to read and apply. The key capability here is communication and some best practices could be:

organising the critical information in a way that makes it appear relevant and easy to understand,
making the different stakeholder groups aware that the information is available,
ensuring that stakeholder know where to find it,
arrange things so that they can quickly turn the information presented into useful actions.

Unfortunately, most lessons learned, although captured, are not being communicated out, and key learnings mostly remain with the individuals involved.  Also, for major complex projects, what you can actually capture in a report is only a small percentage.  The only way real learning gets shared is through conversation.

Certainly access to historical information in the form of validated lessons learned will be a valuable way of helping people who want to deliver successful projects. The challenge is developing a way to make the information accessible.

Case Study: London 2012 Olympics
An excellent example of capturing lessons learned, disseminating it and applying it immediately is the Learning Legacy Project of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) who was responsible for the London 2012 Summer Olympics. The Learning Legacy Project was developed to share the knowledge and lessons learned from the London 2012 construction project for the benefit of industry projects and programmes in the future, for academia and the government.

Reports and related information from the Learning Legacy have been categorised into ten themes on this website. Each theme contains short reports, tools and templates, case studies and research summaries that document how this area of work was approached and the lessons that have been learned and the successes that could benefit others.

Another recommended resource would be the PM Lessons Learned blog from Stephen Duffield. He has completed his Masters in Project Management with the thesis theme: “Exploring factors that impact knowledge management dissemination of project management lessons learned”
His study focused on the significant factors that impact the dissemination of project management lessons between the project team and the organisation. The literature review focused on the areas of: knowledge; knowledge management; knowledge conversion; learning; organisational learning; lessons learned practices; and culture. His hope is to enhance the understanding of project technology, learning, process and people factors that will assist in the dissemination of the Project Management lessons learned practice being improved.

Learn Your Lessons

In conclusion, here are a few suggestions to ensure that we learn our lessons from past projects and that the knowledge is transferred across to future projects.

  • Create a plan for recording lessons learned at the end of each project life cycle phase.  This can be done in the form of formal team meetings, to simply requesting that people post to a discussion board, wiki, or some other form of media. Reference: “Learn your lessons” blog, Projects at Work by John D’Entremont.
  • If an ongoing process of capturing lessons learned cannot be followed, consider conducting a closing review once your project is complete. A post-project review can serve two important purposes.  It obviously aids in the collection of project historical data that can be shared, but it can also be a means of validating the work that your project team accomplished. The acknowledgement of work being done well provides good closure to the team members and a sense of achievement.
  • A more Agile principle is recommended by Anthony Mersino, founder of The Agile PMO, for teams to reflect at regular intervals, on how to become more effective, then to tune and adjust their behaviour accordingly.  The teams need to be communicating and collaborating on what works well, what doesn’t work so well, and then use that to make change. It is discussed, debated even, and it becomes part of the teams shared journey and collective memory.  The advantage of this approach is that you can immediately incorporate what you learned.

The PMO’s role in Lessons Learned is to make sure the teams are conducting retrospectives on a frequent and regular basis and incorporating the lessons learned into their planning.

Success Stories Shared Framework
As you can see from the Lessons Learned debate and the Learning Legacy project, this is a challenge that our current generation of project managers need to face and solve. In an attempt to capture the wisdom and transfer the knowledge to future projects, a framework is proposed. This is to collect Success Stories from experienced project/programme managers in order to share experiences and to promote learning across the project and programme management community of South Africa and abroad.

Would you like to become involved with the Success Stories Shared initiative? Please visit the Success Stories Shared page and send me an email should you wish to participate and to make a contribution in leaving a legacy to future projects and generations.

About the Author: Linky van der Merwe is a Sr Project Manager at Microsoft Consulting Services. She is also the Founder of Virtual Project Consulting, a project management blog where aspiring and existing project managers find project management resources relating to training, software, products and services, as well as practical advice on project management processes, templates and tools based on best practices.

………..Is it working, do PMs share their stories?

file ll here


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PMLLblog summary of Lessons Learned Models

O’Dell and Hubert (2011, p.69) stated that the lessons learned approach typically focuses on a few key questions:
    ‘What was supposed to happen?
    What actually happened?
    Why was there a difference or variation?
    Who else needs to know this information?’
The major challenge is to then get employees to participate and reuse the captured knowledge (Milton 2010; O’Dell, Grayson & Essaides 1998; O’Dell & Hubert 2011).

Literature on the lessons learned process model provides many variations on essentially three process steps (Williams 2007). The three components for an effective lessons learned process model are; creating, dissemination/transferring and application. Creating/identifying the knowledge consists of observing, collecting, and understanding the facts and information. A key element of this phase is to document the findings and provide sufficient information regarding the situation, action taken, results observed and recommendations. The next phase provides for the dissemination of information through codification, verification, storage, sharing for easy access and transferring knowledge to organisational members, improvements to standard processes and procedures to reflect changes in identified best practices. The final element is where we adapt and use knowledge (Bresnen et al. 2003; Bresnen, Goussevskaia & Swan 2004; Cowles 2004; Liebowitz & Megbolugbe 2003; O’Dell & Grayson 1997; Schindler & Eppler. 2003; Williams 2008).

Literature on knowledge identification and creation mention several ways project temporary organisations or individuals reflect on their experiences. Common techniques are: lessons learned sessions; after action reviews; project debriefings; close out meetings; post project appraisals/reviews; case study exercises; project reviews; project histories; project health checks; and project audits (Anbari, Carayannis & Voetsch 2008; Bakker et al. 2010; Busby 1999; Koners 2005; Maqsood, Walker & Finegan 2004; Reich, Gemino & Sauer 2008; Schindler & Eppler. 2003; Von Zedtwitz 2002; Williams 2007). Each method has many different features and characteristics however they all essentially capture-disseminate-apply knowledge.

Literature on knowledge disseminating and transfer often refers to codification, verification, storing, searching, retrieving, knowledge sharing and training (Boh, Wai Fong 2007; Cowles 2004; Firestone & McElroy 2003; O’Dell, Grayson & Essaides 1998; O’Dell & Hubert 2011; Schindler & Eppler. 2003; Williams 2007). Schindler and Eppler (2003) reports that if projects do not frequently disseminate their experiences, the project knowledge could be forgotten by the end of the project. The literature provides many technology ways of storing and recording the knowledge, the key is to identify what works for an organisation and constantly monitor, update and keep it current and relevant (Williams 2007, 2008). Technology is a critical element to knowledge dissemination. Quite often technology is blamed for failure in knowledge dissemination (Williams 2007). Most organisations maintain their lessons learned in house for competitive advantage, although some organisations make their lessons learned available to the public (Basili et al. 2002; Li 2001, 2002; Madden 1996; NASA 2011).

A number of methods are used during this phase to disseminate knowledge. Two methods of interest in literature are 1) process methods and 2) social based methods. Process based methodologies are those lessons learned where the knowledge is reflected in an organisations policies, processes and procedures. If projects follow the process then the chance of mistakes being repeated should be minimised (Keegan & Turner 2001; Midha 2005; O’Dell & Grayson 1997; O’Dell, Grayson & Essaides 1998; Schindler & Eppler. 2003; Williams 2007). Social based methodologies are those lessons learned that are not easy to break up and transfer knowledge from one person to another (Bresnen et al. 2003; Fernie et al. 2003). Fernie et al. (2003) argue that knowledge sharing is best performed through the communication of individuals. Two social-based processes are networking and mentoring (Bresnen et al. 2003; Huang & Newell 2003). A critical component of success for social methods is to ensure that an organisation’s culture and environment provide the support (Hoegl, Parboteeah & Munson. 2003).

Knowledge dissemination is an important step in the process, and the work of Dixon (2000) helps to understand different strategies when dealing with the transfer of tacit or explicit knowledge. Dixon identifies five types of knowledge dissemination strategies: Serial Transfer, Near Transfer, Far Transfer, Strategic Transfer and Expert Transfer (Dixon 2000; O’Dell et al. 2004).

Literature reviews on knowledge application and use often states that a significant effort, commitment, understanding of people behaviour is required for both the organisation and individuals, as this is the area where the process typically breaks down and fails (Duhon & Elias 2008; Keegan & Turner 2001; Williams 2007, 2008).

What are your thoughts on Lessons Learned models?

Have I missed something?

The next post will focus on culture around Lessons Learned.


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PM Lessons Learned Study

To the PM and KM world, I am currently close to completing (June 2012) my Masters Project Management (research). I have a strong interest in PM Lessons Learned. Over the last 12 months I have enjoyed learning about the KM World.

My final project/thesis will be ‘Exploring factors that impact knowledge management dissemination of project management lessons learned’.

The focus of this study will be to understand why the majority of projects do not disseminate lessons learned to organisations. Knowledge and project management literature suggests that the lessons learned process in practice rarely happens and does not work well and fails to deliver the intended results. The study will address the significant factors that impact the dissemination of project management lessons between the project team and the organisation. The literature review will focus on the areas of: knowledge; knowledge management; knowledge conversion; learning; organisational learning; lessons learned practices; and culture. So far, the literature review suggests there is limited research on how knowledge management, learning and culture impacts project management and project temporary organisations.

A review of the literature highlights project management literature gaps around people, learning, technology and process. The people factor is the most likely to negatively influence the dissemination of lessons learned in organisations. A conceptual lessons learned model has been derived and based on a swiss cheese model where the variables people, learning, technology and process need to align and be effective to disseminate lessons learned.

By undertaking this study it is expected that a better understanding of the significant project technology, learning, process and people factors will be established. This will assist in the dissemination of the Project Management lessons learned practice being improved. The findings will also contribute to the project management literature and provide an opportunity to improve project knowledge sharing ensuring projects achieve success.

I would be interested to know some of your thoughts on the Project Management world around ‘lessons learned’?


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