The Challenge of Project Management Lessons Learned


So how successful are current methods?

There is much written about the need to do ‘Lessons Learned‘ on projects. Most of this focuses on having a single meeting or similar to discuss the items that are worthy of capture under this heading.  There is often little, if not even nil discussion about how ‘we’ in business actually make use of this information, in other words make sure that at least the negative side of what is uncovered does not happen on future projects. The other challenge, is that even if you attempt to do this, it is a very difficult thing to do in any business of any size.


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One great example of the challenge – over decades:

Let me share one example as evidence of this. A couple of years ago, I was present at an all day event organised by a mainstream UK Government department that makes major equipment procurement (in the billions of £ annually), attended by hundreds of people.  The session was looking at the question of how could Industry and Government avoid the costly lessons of the past.  The Chief of Procurement for the whole department gave a keynote 15 mins at the start of the day.  It was very brief and to the point. The department had started a ‘Learning from Experience Cell’ in the mid 1960s, following a disastrous procurement project at that time.  Decades later, the only thing they had really learned, he said, was how difficult it is to transfer learning from past projects to future project teams – not a message that should be ignored lightly.

Another much smaller scale example was when once working with a client, with many dozens of projects each year, who had that day conducted a lessons learned meeting after the completion of a project, and someone was emailing round the (bullet point) list of results.  The list read: “Lessons Learned from xyx project”, and the person (manager) given the task of emailing this round to all other managers in the division inserted, in pencil, the words “to be” in between the words “Lessons” and “Learned”.

Real Learning of lessons, i.e. transferring lessons so that  future teams actually do take advantage of this experience and information, is a task and challenge that most PM methods (and in truth too many businesses) largely avoid.  It is discussed far too infrequently on PM blogs and similar.

It would be very interesting to hear if anyone has any great ideas or experiences that have really ‘worked’ in the past?

So what does work?

This new post discusses real ways to learn project management lessons.

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1 Comment

  1. Clement on November 13, 2020 at 3:00 pm

    Hi Kevin,

    Embedding lessons learned is a challenge in type, in particular across larger oganizations. In a previous role, setting up a knowledge management platform, encouraging contributions from the teams and interactive reviews worked.

    Agreed, listing down key bullets and trying to retrofit those in ‘standard project checklist’ is not effective, from experience. Better to find ways to:

    a) Capture the information succinctly in a central knowledge-sharing hub;
    b) Follow up this with interactive sessions, teach-backs etc. to provide context and help apply the learnings more broadly.

    Cléme t

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