HOUR, I'LL HAVE AN ACHE IN MY RIGHT ARM. IF I HOLD IT FOR A DAY, YOU WILL
HAVE TO CALL AN AMBULANCE. IN EACH CASE, IT'S THE SAME WEIGHT, BUT THE
LONGER I HOLD IT, THE HEAVIER IT BECOMES."
I got this from one of my colleagues and I found it very useful. I follow them in my project and focus on the mistakes that could have been prevented and appreciate the good things in the project.
Learning lessons from past failures is an important source of progress.
Managers should plan a formal 'lessons learned' session during the closing phase.
Many organizations use the term "lessons learned" to describe the way in which they avoid repeating mistakes, or ensure that they build on past successes, yet a lesson can only be applied if it has been successfully identified, and captured first.
The next time you make a mistake, write it down. No matter how trivial the problem might be, document the error (as well as the process required to remedy the mistake, and the correct steps that are to be taken instead). Just as it's frustrating to see your favorite Cricket team make the same mistakes over and over without learning from them, project managers are equally vulnerable to an unending repetition of errors. What makes it acutely painful is the loss that the project, its members and the organization, suffers. From time lost to unnecessary duplication of effort (which erodes morale) to financial losses from wasting time and resources, everyone loses.
By something as simple as maintaining a managers' log that documents all errors, such losses can be avoided. If this log is updated and shared between all project managers at all times, we have a unique opportunity for project managers to learn from mistakes (of others and their own).
Ten key steps to facilitating a "lessons learned" review.
1 Call the meeting. Hold a face-to-face meeting as soon as you can after the project ends, within weeks rather than months.
2 Invite the right people. The project leader needs to attend, as do key members of the project team. If a similar project is already underway, then there is great value in the new project team attending - a "customer" for the knowledge
3 Appoint a facilitator. Identify a facilitator who was not closely involved in the project. The facilitator should be someone who can ask questions from an independent, but non-threatening standpoint. This isn't an audit, it's an investment!
4 Revisit the objectives and deliverables of the project. Ask "what did we set out to do?" and "what did we achieve?"
5 Go through the project step by step. Revisit the project plan and identify any deviation from plan. Where the delays and what were went ahead of schedule? What changed and why?
6 Ask what went well?? Ask "what were the successful steps towards achieving your objective?" and "what went really well in the project?"
Ask a "why?" question several times. This is vital, and will get you to the root of the reason. Don't take the initial response at face value. Often people don't even realize what the underlying reason behind a success or failure is. Your role may involve guiding them on a voyage of discovery.
7 Find out why these aspects went well, and express the learning as advice or guidelines for the future. This is a key point. Try to avoid expressing lessons learned in a passive, past tense, such as: "Project Foxtrot completed ahead of schedule because the project team remained in-tact throughout the design and execution stages".
The lesson will be far more accessible to others if it is expressed as:
"On time-critical projects, ensure that the project team remains consistent throughout the design and execution stages of the project. This will eliminate any learning-curve issues due to the take-on of new staff".
As the facilitator, acknowledge feelings and press for the facts. Ask "what repeatable, successful processes did we use and how could we ensure future projects go just as well, or even better?"
8 Ask "what could have gone better?" Ask "what were the aspects that stopped you delivering even more?" Identify the stumbling blocks and pitfalls, so they can be avoided in future by asking "what would your advice be to future project teams, based on your experiences here?"
9 Ensure that participants leave with their feelings acknowledged. Ask for "Marks out of ten" and "What would make it a ten for you?" to access residual issues.
10 Record the meeting. Use quotes to express the depth of feeling. Express the recommendations as clearly, measurably and unambiguously as possible, using the guideline format explained in point 7. Ensure that you circulate the write-up around the participants for comment, and permission to use specific quotes before sharing more widely.
Identifying and recording lessons learned is fairly straightforward process, given the simple set of steps above and a measure of facilitation skills. The benefits come from ensuring that the lessons are actually applied - which is another story!