According to Axelos’ PPM Benchmark study report, about half of project managers who do not or rarely do project reviews have experienced project failure in the past 12 months – compared to 34% of those who always or often do reviews.
This data leads should be an incentive to give a greater weight to the concept of ‘lessons learned’, which should be an integral part of project management.
Why lessons learned?
At the beginning of any project, the team is completely focused on making it work – the concept of failure is not even considered. The business pressures for tangible results and thus adds a greater push towards the point of arrival – even if it means taking shortcuts. With all the energy focused on the finish line, it is hard to recognize failure at any level – despite the business case telling you to do exactly that.
Once the project has been completed, the natural instinct is to move forward and focus on the next challenge. Therefore, if the culture within an organisation leads to celebrating successes rather than taking a step back to see what could have been done better, this change will never happen. With so many lessons learned during the project, it is truly a shame that all this knowledge is simply erased at the end of the project.
This is why PRINCE2 pushes to share lessons learned (both those negative and positive) amongst the team, during and after the project has finished. Lessons learned help the team with:
- Employee engagement
- Greater empathy
- Quicker problem solving
Investing the time to listen demonstrates supportive leadership and fosters a positive work environment – both very positive factors within an organisation. In fact, if managed correctly, sharing can be more effective and less expensive than other means of team building.
An organisation, by asking everyone to provide feedback and express opinions in a formal way, can create greater empathy among team members, and therefore a better understanding of each role and how they work together to achieve goals.
Quicker problem solving
On a practical level, providing a space for people to talk about their problems means that every problem is resolved quickly and potentially negative voices are redirected into a much more productive conversation.
Record your lessons learned
It is essential, however, that organisations do not stop at mere statements but actually record lessons learned. This is where the PRINCE2 principle of learning from experience can provide a very useful best practice framework if followed correctly. Otherwise it will simply be a compilation exercise.
Guided by the project manager, the recording of lessons learned should be used from the outset as a document to be used always and not as something to be reviewed at the end, when most of the information has been forgotten. Its true value lies in sharing this knowledge among numerous project managers, so that these lessons become part of the team’s DNA.
How to document lessons learned
Updating, recording and checking in with team members to discover the lessons learned all fall under the responsibility of the Project Manager. He/she should incorporate the following practices into his/her daily job in order to benefit from the lessons learned as explained in the PRINCE2 methodology. He/she should:
- Give value to lessons learned: if the Project Manager does not value the output from lessons learned, then no one else will. It is therefore important to organize a session in which everyone’s voice is heard.
- Consider a Mediator: the Project Manager may need to ask someone else to lead the meeting. Establishing ground rules creates a neutral space in which to discuss issues.
- Focus on improvement: the key is to be objective; it is not a meeting in which to point the finger at someone or blame. The goal is to create trust in the management process and believe in the value of the results.
A new mentality with lessons learned
Failure is not something to fear. It should not be a taboo subject, but it should be part of moving forward and empowering a team through new ways of thinking. Many successful entrepreneurs have gotten to where they are now thanks to what they have learned after their mistakes.
The trick is to analyze the lessons learned so that you can consider doing it differently next time. To put it in the words of Samuel Beckett: “I tried. I failed. It does not matter. I will try again. I will fail better ”.
In order to help you give more attention to the lessons learned of a project, we offer the PRINCE2 lessons learned download for free. This is a very useful document, available in Word format, which can support you and your team with your PRINCE2 projects!