Lessons learned approach, based on the acquisition and transfer of experiences and ideas for improvements, is one of the elements of an efficient project management.
Management methodologies, both classic and agile, more or less precisely describe the way, in which the knowledge acquisition process should be performed. I am not going to quote them here, but I would like to share some thoughts and my own experiences in this field.
My memory is good, but short
Usually, the lessons learned are organized at the end of a project or, in the case of longer operations, at the end of a particular stage. I think that it is a generally better idea to register them continuously, during the performance of the related actions.
In the course of time, we tend to loose many ideas and observations, which are superseded by other, more recent events. In my projects, I try to keep such registers on an ongoing basis. Google Docs is a very helpful tool here, enabling the creation of spreadsheets that can be shared with other members of the team. This way, they can note down their own observations and ideas for improvement, immediately after they appear. At the end of the project, we may discuss them and pass them on.
Example of a spreadsheet used to gather the experiences during the project performance.
The advantages must not cover the disadvantages – or maybe the other way round?
When collecting the lessons learned, it is very important not to focus only on the elements that failed. Noting and sharing the successful solutions is equally significant. First of all, it helps to build the team morale, by presenting successes and not only failures. Secondly, such a set of good practices becomes a useful guidepost for the future projects, which may be performed more efficiently. Therefore, when summarizing your actions, you should ask yourself and others the question: “Where did we succeed?” as often as: “Where did we fail?”
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Form is irrelevant, the content is important
Many people are reluctant to keep the lessons learned register because of the process formalization, especially if the project is handled in accordance with Prince 2 or PMI methodology.
Filling the table cells looks like a redundant bureaucracy, discouraging the use of the ready document as well. Therefore, it is important to look for other, more engaging methods of knowledge acquisition and transfer. Spontaneous brain storms (especially at the end of a given stage, after a meeting with the client or after presentation of the results, etc.), competitions for the highest amount of remarks/improvements, election of the most important improvement, etc.
Believe me, it is not important how we gather the information – it needs to constantly appear and we have to register it. The Project Manager’s role is to make this process as simple and as attractive as possible.
A similar mechanism may be applied to present the findings – a report composed of several dozen of pages/slides will be read only by the most persistent people. It is a better idea to introduce internal newsletters, which could briefly describe the given issue and contain a link to more detailed materials. A simple pin board will do as well – it can be used to present short stories describing the issue and applied solutions.
In order to make the message more attractive, you may use storytelling by creating an engaging story line to effectively pass on the required message. Regardless of the adopted form, it needs to be efficient. Not an art for art’s sake.