Lessons Learned - Where do I Start?

When do you complete lessons-learned during your project? At the end right? Well, yes that is part of it, but there may be some other logical time points to consider, too, writes PMPlanet guest columnist Ryan Endres of the University of Wisconsin Madison School of Medicine.

If your project is set up with phases, it may be a good idea to have a lessons-learned meeting at the end of each phase. (Why wait until the end of a three year project when there are some valuable lessons at the end of Phase 1?). Also, if there is a major event that occurs (good or bad) it is important to get the info out so other project managers know that it may affect them.

The standard steps for the lessons learned process are:

  1. Identify comments and recommendations that can be valuable for future projects.
  2. Document and share your findings.
  3. Analyze and organize the lessons for later application.
  4. Store findings in a repository.
  5. Retrieve the lessons for use on current projects.

Typically, at the meeting we ask what went right, what went wrong and what needs to be improved? The main issue with these face to face meetings is that all the input may not come out due to team members who are afraid to criticize the process.

So, if you have team members that don’t want to open up take a survey. Typically at the end of my lesson-learned meetings I pass out pads of post it notes and ask team members to write down a survey question and some possible answers. Many times this involvement lets the team ask their question. Once you have the questions for the survey questions you can use freeonlinesurveys.com or if you have SharePoint it also has a survey feature to post the answers.

So, what questions do you ask at a lessons-learned meeting? There are some classic ones that I will cover below, but there are always some questions that are project or organization specific:

  • How was the communication of project details? Any suggestions for improvement? (Remember 90% of being a PM is communication! If communication is lacking in your projects you need to fix it).
  • What issues occurred and how did we fix them? (If you keep an issues table for the life of your project this will be easy to review at the meeting.)
  • Recommendations for future projects like this one.
  • Ask for input on the project management process.
  • Did we have enough resources? Remember we planned that timeline at the beginning and resource managers signed off on the project ...
  • What workarounds did you use? Did they work? This is important to document, since you may need to use this workaround on a future project.
  • What went well? We want to document this so we make sure we do this again, or review it to do it even better next time!
  • Did the scope change during this period, if so why? Remember if you change the scope it may affect other things (like time, budget, resources)

Finally, you need a common location for your lessons-learned findings. This can be as simple as a shared drive or a custom built database or the latest trend is to use a wiki. If you insert your organization’s lessons learned into one wiki you now have a searchable database as long as you tag  your entries.

Currently, VistaPrint is using a wiki to capture their programming issues and government agencies, like the CIA, are using wiki’s to track “persons of interest”.

Just remember, without lessons learned your PMO or PM process will never have a chance to improve.

Ryan Endres, PMP, is the manager of the PMO at the University of Wisconsin Madison School of Medicine. He has a proven track-record of improving and impacting corporations through the redesign of processes and utilization of enterprise technology solutions. You can find Ryan on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

Tags: Project management, SharePoint, lesson learned, Endres, CIA

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