In essence, lessons learned is about reflecting on what has happened with the project team, collectively assessing what worked/didn’t work and the key points (or lessons) to take away from this. It is about preventing mistakes from recurring and ensuring positive outcomes can be repeated.
Contradictory to common belief, the process of conducting lessons learned is a positive activity. There is no negativity in lessons learned. We can demonstrate this by looking at 3 common causes of project failure and the key (positive) lessons to take away from each point:
1. Scope creep & the risk of not meeting key milestones
You are working to a demanding project plan, with ambitious milestones and an ever-increasing list of requests. The project is falling out of scope and before you know it you start missing key milestones, risking the delivery of the end product/service of the project.
How did this happen? It could be that contingency had not been built into your plan. Perhaps you haven’t kept your plan up to date. Or maybe it is a result of limited experience on similar projects. Whatever the reason(s) the project is in risk of failing as you approach the delivery date.
So, what can you do differently next time to turn this negative into a positive?
- Research the timescales for similar projects before producing the project plan
- Be realistic with timescales for key milestones
- Build tolerance levels into the plan (i.e. RAG status)
- Schedule time on a regular basis to review and update the project plan
- Build contingency into the plan in terms of time
2. Goals are unclear or misunderstood
You have identified the goals (aims, objectives etc.) for the project but it has been brought to your attention that such goals are perceived to be unclear and / or misunderstood.
Perhaps the goals weren’t communicated effectively. Perhaps the goals were not reinforced. It could be that you have not engaged effectively with your stakeholders (see point 3 below) and as a result they do not understand the goals. Understanding the reason or various reasons can help to prevent making the same mistake again.
- Communicate the goal(s) on a regular basis
- Review the goal(s) at each end stage review
- Ensure key stakeholders sign-off the goal(s)
- Revisit the goal in key workshops and project meetings
- Present the goal in the project area so it is visible to the team
3. Lack of engagement with stakeholders
Your project may be in risk of failing due to a general lack of engagement from stakeholders. This may apply to specific individuals or even groups.
Perhaps you are struggling to achieve buy in for the project by senior stakeholders or experiencing resistance when attempting to engage with certain individuals. This appears to be a recurring theme throughout the project and is adversely affecting the project plan and the delivery of key milestones/tasks.
How can you prevent this from happening again in the next project?
- Prepare a stakeholder map at the start of the project
- Use the stakeholder map to identify appropriate methods of dealing with individuals
- Update the stakeholder map on a regular basis
- Schedule regular catch-ups with stakeholders
- Ensure the communications plan is fit for purpose (i.e. relevant comms. channels)
This may all sound negative at the moment… and in actual fact the above situations are. However, lessons learned takes a situation and encourages you to learn from what went wrong (or what went right). It is about learning, that's always a positive thing. It is not a finger pointing exercise.
Now, let’s take a positive situation... You have adopted a more interactive approach in workshops using visual aids such as sticky notes. Stakeholders are responding positively as the majority are visual learners and you are getting good quality engagement from all involved.
- Understand the learning styles of the project’s stakeholders from the off-set
- Identify the most prominent learning style & adapt your approach accordingly
- Hold interactive workshops for visual learners
Ultimately carrying out lessons learned sessions can prevent you from making the same mistake(s) again &/or to encourage you to repeat what did work. There really is no negativity in lessons learned!
Do you often carry out lessons learned activities? If so – it would be great to hear from you about your experiences… both positive & negative!
About the Author
Kimberley was the first of our Graduates and boy has she excelled. She has become a true all round business analyst and project manager, delivering large scale change and handling complex business requirements.