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, NotionsCapital.com 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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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’?

Stephen


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