Following our series on fresh KM , it is time to address the topic of lessons learned, a methodology that has been part of standard project management for quite a while already.
There are many ways in which lessons learned have been defined, though most definitions capture the idea of LLs being both positive and negative documented experiences during a project. Other organizations would additionally define the “unexpected” experience, that is, if some positive or negative event was already foreseen in the organization procedures, that would not be considered a lesson learned.
The benefits of following a systematic methodology for capturing these experiences are manifold, and it is clearly stated by Rowe and Sikes in their paper Lessons learned: taking it to the next level: “By not learning from project failures we are doomed to repeat similar situations. By not maximizing on project successes, we miss opportunities to implement good processes and practices”.
Therefore, for any organization who seriously wants to capitalize on past experience and to further enable the organization to grow in the future, we outline here a few practical recommendations for implementing project lessons learned:
- Lessons learned must be planned in the project activities. Enough time and resources should be allocated for at least the following:
- Before project start or within its initiation: Collection of lessons learned from past projects similar to the project about to start.
- During the project and/or at the end of it: Capturing of lessons learned from what was learned during project work.
- It is key that the project team be involved in the capturing of what has been learnt. While the project manager can take care of the collection at the beginning of the project, it is highly recommended that the full team collaborate in the creation of lessons learned of that project.
- Create the environment to collect honest feedback. In many work environments, talking about the mistakes that have been made is not easy. Therefore, the knowledge managers should ensure that appropriate methods are in place to allow team members talk freely of the issues during the project. This can be done, for example, via individual telephone interviews or anonymous surveys.
- Additionally, it may be a good practice to review periodically if past lessons learned are still applicable and to flag or remove those that are outdated.
Last but not least, an appropriate technological platform must be in place to enable storage and distribution of all the collected content, and in principle, most content management systems like Sharepoint, IBM connections, Drupal, etc. would fit for purpose. The added value of the knowledge managers would be to make the process of update and retrieval as easy and appealing as possible, reducing the number of clicks for interaction and integrating the full interaction in the day to day project activities, whenever possible. Of course, this is easier said than done!
In short, fresh KM takes many forms and this practical guideline to implement lessons learned in your company is yet another example of how by following some simple steps you can learn from past experience, avoid duplication of work and improving the quality of your projects. Not too bad!