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Weve all been involved in lessons learned workshops its an intrinsic and very important part of the world of project management. But how many of these sessions really get under the surface of the project? They can often be box ticking exercises that capture the obvious and rarely get translated into organisational learning.

Author: Martin Paver Director at i3Works

Entering a lesson onto a database or spreadsheet may be compliant with process, but it doesn’t mean that anyone will read it again, understand its context or apply it elsewhere. Databases and spreadsheets are a great way of storing knowledge, but the majority of the project management community don’t appear to find them very helpful. So is it time to try something new?

Probably. But it is important to differentiate between the different elements of how we learn from lessons.

The database is a very important component of this. It allows us to capture, structure and manage lessons in an efficient way. But it’s a poor tool for consuming knowledge. Our ability to interpret and consume lessons is driven by our own particular learning styles, desire to learn and the way in which the lessons are presented to us. But without the right foundations, the list of lessons can become a list of rambling, unqualified assertions.

So how do we build the right foundations?

  • The right information needs to be harvested from the outset. Liz Hobbs at Transport for London is a strong advocate of ensuring that lessons identified workshops are professionally facilitated; her approach is delivering demonstrable results. It helps the organisation to get under the skin of the lesson and bring consistency to organisational learning.
  • Consider what was done well. Identify good practice and what made it work. This can be the cornerstone of a targeted knowledge management campaign.
  • Consider areas for improvement and how the organisation may adapt to respond to the learning opportunity.
  • Consider the context. How has the project environment influenced the project outcome. Champions, resourcing, interfaces, parallel priorities, there are a wide range of factors that influence project success.
  • Connect people. Add contact details of the team, its easier to engage and ask questions than rely on documents.
  • Codify the knowledge. Many organisations have hundreds of thousands of documents and it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees. It can help to add tags and structure the ontology to support semantic searches.
  • Rate the lesson at source and develop this rating through your knowledge base, using a trip advisor type rating system. Is the lesson a statement of the obvious or a lesson that will inspire others? This can help with the consumption of knowledge.
  • Think through how the lesson will be exploited and consumed. Is it likely to result in a change to processes? if so, how much information needs to be captured now to support this activity? Is it a good candidate for including within e-learning material? Should it be codified within the organisation’s wiki?

Having a firm eye on exploitation on the lesson can influence how the lesson is captured. Its certainly not a one size fits all exercise.

Organisations invest a considerable amount of money in delivering projects but many suffer from project amnesia (Schindler & Eppler) and fail to learn from the past. By establishing the right foundations for learning, combined with a multi attribute approach to capturing, codifying, storing and consuming lessons, businesses have an opportunity to transform how they leverage the investments of the past and learn for the future.