February 21, 2018


Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

Project Lessons Learned, but knowledge lost

By Linky van der Merwe

Lessons LearnedRecently I gave a talk at the PMO Forum (Western Cape, South Africa) making a case for Lessons Learned, the challenge we still have around retaining the knowledge and experience, how the PMO can promote learning and act as a knowledge broker, as well as examples of a story-based approach to lessons learned.

The purpose of this article to share plenty of insights based on some interesting discussions.

Knowledge Management

Often people, especially project managers, don’t want to learn from other people, they prefer to learn from their own hard-earned experience.

Some project managers don’t like to share things, it may show if they have messed up; this is true if they are achievement focussed. However, in a culture that supports people being open and honest, it creates the environment for a culture of learning.  Organisations need to create an environment that is safe to share.

In many cases, there is too much emphasis on systems and codifying the knowledge. PMOs are well positioned to act as Knowledge Brokers within their organisations. PMO’s should play a bigger role to put a focus on processes and organisational learning.

When we talk about tacit knowledge, it’s more about the transfer of knowledge from project manager to project manager, with the PMO being the facilitator to allow sharing naturally.

For organisational learning to take place, health checks are good mechanisms to use the learning from various projects across different sponsors. Sponsors need to ask the hard question: “What does organisations do about learning from key projects?”

Another good idea for sharing lessons learned, came from the ‘pmoflashmob.org’ website.  It is called the “Call 3” pack. Before you can get a new project approved, you must have a 30-minute phone call or meeting with each of three people identified by the PMO for having done similar projects in the past. They may not be project managers, but they will have war stories to share.

In case the project managers are not available a year or two after projects have been completed, you can also request PM’s to create a “call 3 pack” at the end of a project. They need to think about and imagine it is a year down the line and they are sharing with a new PM starting a similar project. What would they say? What advice would they impart? This is perhaps a better approach to keep the emotion and passion intact, rather than documenting it all in a sanitised or filtered report.

Audience feedback

Based on feedback from the PMO representatives in the audience, it was evident that less than 25% of organisations have a formal process in place for transferring project management knowledge from one part of the organisation to the next. Interestingly enough, more than 50% of attendees indicated that their organisations use lessons learnt from past projects during the induction of new project managers or get them to look at lessons from similar projects in the past.

It was found that the top 3 contributors to their organisation’s success/failure to effective knowledge transfer were:

  1. Lack of communication
  2. The right level of story-telling
  3. A blaming corporate culture

Key insights

Feedback from the audience indicated that some of the key insights from attendees included:

  • Sharing is essential
  • The importance of knowledge sharing
  • PM’s not willing to share and learn
  • Peer Reviews
  • At start of a project confirming my own “feeling” about lessons learnt
  • How to change is dependent on organisation & people within.
  • The essence of project to organisation learning
  • Interview/story telling approach to lessons learnt
  • Learning for the PM, the PMO and the organisation
  • How to share lessons learnt
  • Story based lessons

To access the full presentation, click on Success Stories Shared, share experiences and promote learning.