Stop Facilitating Lessons Learned Workshop Sessions

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Lessons Learned Workshops—marksdk (Flickr.com)

Project teams should simply stop conducting post-mortems and stop wasting time facilitating lessons learned workshops.

When I first heard these words I thought it would’ve been considered blasphemy to the PMBOK editorial staff. Undoubtedly the Project Management Institute would revoke PMP certifications on the spot if they found the speaker (ahem…culprit) uttering such nonsense. To think I heard these words of advice at a PMI Seminars World conference was even more surprising. With my curiosity peaked, I listened a little bit more. I was attending a seminar course sponsored by the PMI Seminar’s World on practical advice for successful project management. I was interested in taking the course to compare notes and learn from other project managers and their real-life battle stories implementing project in the trenches.

The speaker started one of his lecture topics asking the audience how many project managers conducted post-mortems or lessons learned workshops during the project close phase. Like all process conscious PMP-certified project managers, 99 percent of the class raised their hands. The speaker then asked how many project managers review a lessons-learned repository prior to initiating their next project to incorporate best practices. A large portion of the raised hands quickly fell amongst stifled snickers and humbled smiles. We all knew we’re supposed to review lessons learned prior to a project since we documented them from the previous project.

We thought this was a gentle reminder to incorporate lessons learned into project initiation when the speaker asked how many of the project managers go in front of the project’s sponsors and indicate how the lessons learned from previous projects will be applied to the current project. There wasn’t a single hand raised in the room.

The speaker continued with several simple examples on how to conduct an effective lessons learned workshop. Throughout the seminar, the audience learned a lot of practical advice however the importance of linking lessons learned with project initiation, promoting knowledge management and presenting the lessons learned to the project sponsors was a key takeaway.

Lessons Learned Workshop and Project Initiation

Ensuring lessons learned are incorporated within the project initiation phase can be implemented by involving project stakeholders and the project management office. A project kick-off presentation can be used to highlight the lessons learned with the business stakeholders. If the PMO uses tollgates, the project initiation kick-off presentation can be audited for reusable lessons learned as the project approaches its initial tollgate. However, ensuring the lessons learned are applied to the current project and the project stakeholders understand how they will be applied is more important. Project managers also stake their professional reputation if the issues from previous lessons learned occur again. This review and commitment to improve is a realistic approach to improving PM maturity without completing another checklist.

The speaker also recommended conducting the lessons learned workshop within a week of the end of the project to ensure the feedback isn’t lost as team members move to the next project. If the project has been a troubled project, project team members will quickly flock to the next project or the next available source of refuge. Conducting the lessons learned session for a troubled project can be difficult as team members work to put the poor experiences past them. Conducting a session within one week of the project end date minimizes the loss of feedback.

It was refreshing attending a PM course that was grounded in theory yet proven in practice. If you’re not going to review the lessons learned from a post-mortem prior to starting a project and incorporate them into the next project, stop conducting lessons learned workshops and wasting time with post-mortems. Without reuse or direct application of the lessons learned, the results of the lessons learned session meet the same fate as the majority of your system documentation. They fall into obscurity archived on a file server only to be reviewed when the network drive is out of space.

The speaker was Neal Whitten–he is a frequent speaker at conferences, seminars, workshops and special events serving private companies, institutions and public organizations. His key course is “No-Nonsense Advice for Successful Projects”, and his two most recent books focus on no-nonsense advice and straight-forward talk on practical project management implementation. Readers can find Mr. Whitten’s books and seminar offerings at http://www.nealwhittengroup.com.

About Andrew Makar

Dr. Andrew Makar, PMP is a IT manager who actively promotes useful project management techniques that work in the real world. He is also an author, adjunct professor and lecturer on a range of project management topics.

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