Lessons learned often don’t get enough emphasis in project management

The well-known quote by writer and philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” certainly holds true in the world of project management.

According to the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), lessons learned are the learnings gained from the process of performing the project; and the purpose of documenting these is to share and use knowledge derived from experience to promote the recurrence of desirable outcomes.

Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Why then is more emphasis not placed on this valuable step in project management?

According to Tony McManus, MD of McManus Consulting, “documenting lessons learned is not a nice to have; it’s an imperative, without which a project manager’s (PM) future chances of failure are greatly increased”.

Often lessons learned are only reflected on during close out meetings, by which time people may well have forgotten what happened during the course of the project, or team members may have left. At close out, the team will probably already be thinking about their next project and may not be in the right headspace to put the current project under the microscope.

McManus recommends a lessons learned register which can be included as part of weekly meetings by asking the question, “what did we learn this week” throughout the lifecycle of the project.

“Keep a rolling log of lessons learned, give the team access to it and make sure that it is reviewed and included in the close out documentation and history of project so that, when a similar project is undertaken, others can learn from the previous experiences,” says McManus.

While many programs have a lessons learnt space, you can easily create your own. Be sure to make it accessible and encourage team members to record their experiences and observations. It’s important to involve the entire project team and approach the exercise from the right starting point. It should never be about blaming anyone for things that have gone wrong. Encourage everyone to share their successes and failures openly with the sole objective being to do it better the next time around.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.  |  Image created by Freepik.com.