The challenges of project learning
The philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
This is sometimes referred to as Santayana’s Law of Repetitive Consequences; and is nowhere more evident than in project based work. The increasing pace of change in the workplace often makes it difficult to learn from experience as processes and personnel are constantly changing.
I have experienced this fast paced phenomenon while doing project management work for a corporate client recently. Following standard best practice in project management closure, I always schedule a proper project closure workshop at the end of projects. For many of my project teams this was their first experience of doing project reviews of any kind. Yet they derived so much value from revisiting the original project goal and objectives, the scope, milestones and deliverables that were achieved. By the time we discussed Lessons Learned, all team members were actively participating.
I enjoy these project reviews as it confirms a sense of achievement, pride and satisfaction from project completion for all team members. The lessons learned are then logged and archived with other project documentation for future reference. I usually distribute the project close-out reports with the lessons learned to the wider departmental teams in recognition of the project team’s efforts and to make their colleagues aware of their project achievements.
In my opinion, to successfully learn from project experience requires a regular and consistent approach that can be incorporated into any project management methodology. Here are a few suggestions to help any project team learn from experience:
- Establish a venue for sharing lessons-learned: It doesn’t matter whether you call it a post-mortem, a project review, or a project closure workshop, most organizations don’t do them—but they should.
- Share what has been learned: Although most organizations don’t bother with a project review, those that do don’t always create an environment that encourages real learning—and even fewer share what was learned.
- Don’t make learning the next corporate initiative: It’s natural for organizations to try to formalize the learning process into the next corporate project. The natural learning process should be encouraged and lessons learned can and should even be part of project progress discussions.
Don’t make learning from projects a one-time activity or something to be done when time permits: Project learning should be ongoing and interactive—with all project team members actively participating.
Every organization has different needs. Some rely on their project software and methodology to help facilitate the learning process. I think that’s good, but even organizations that don’t use any specific project management tools need to create an environment where project learning can regularly take place.
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About the author: Linky Van Der Merwe is a Microsoft Project Management Consultant and an IT Project Manager with 15 years IT industry experience and 12 years Project Management experience. She consults with small-medium business owners and service professionals about project management processes and tools, best practices and successful delivery through projects. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org