Stop throwing away lessons learned or putting them in obscure IT folders! Lessons learned have tremendous value for projects - don't waste them. Let's look at four reasons why project management lessons learned are essential:
Don't make the same mistake twice: Spanish philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Albert Einstein said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." if we cannot remember our past mistakes and avoid them, we are simply going to make the same mistakes again. Documenting lessons learned, circulating them, and revisiting them will help ensure we do not repeat mistakes on our projects. And at the same time, those things that were done right will be remembered and done again.
Save money by not reinventing the wheel: Properly recorded lessons learned, including any successful tools, templates, and techniques used, will help others save project time and money. This will free them for other project work and continue to grow good practices into best practices. For example, I was called upon to manage the re-architecture of a software project. It was a success in that it was the first of its kind for an organization, but it was also a failure because it did not deliver promptly for the client. On reviewing lessons learned from the previous attempt, I found regret that a critical output was always reconstructed from the start instead of being added to. As a result, less than ten lines of code could fix it! This immediately freed the team to work on other pressing issues while relieving the problem.
Memorialize your success: Lessons learned can help an organization memorialize its success, not just failures. The success will serve as a reminder of things that should be done to succeed and be there to build on. Much like the idea of an earth-centric solar system paved the way for the work showing we are actually in a sun-centric world, your project can pave the way to lead others to greatness.
Improve your project management maturity: As projects and project management practices improve, your organization will reach new levels of project maturity. Unfortunately, research by Jim Pennypacker and Kevin Grant shows that about two-thirds of all organizations perform at level 1 or 2 on a 5-level maturity scale. And yet, PMI's Pulse of the Profession 2016 has shown that projects are two and a half times more successful when proven project management practices are used. Use lessons learned to drive your project management maturity growth and continuous improvement.
Considering the importance of lessons learned, you may be open to learning how to implement them better. As Sandra Rowe and Sharon Sikes point out, you do not need to wait for the end of the project. As the project manager, jot something down when you see something to be remembered. Encourage others to do the same. More significant, longer projects may also want to consider lessons learned at the end of each project phase or major deliverables. Spread the knowledge of lessons learned within your organization to increase success for all!
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