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Kotnour went further by saying that the project management discipline should embody a framework of learning. The learning framework will help the project manager accomplish three goals:. What is equally interesting is that there is almost an even split between using metrics in regard to defining success and anecdotal data. Some results may be more of a surprise. The main reason for inaction was lack of employee time.

The research revealed other reasons for inaction: lack of management support, and lack of incentive, resources, and clear guidelines. Busby, J. An assessment of post-project reviews. Project Management Journal, 30 3 , Kotnour, T. A learning framework for project management. Project Management Journal, 30 2 , Rose, K. Cover to cover. Loran W. Lessons Learned provides powerful analysis opportunities, with charts, tables and detailed feedback summaries which can be reviewed at different levels within the school: Senior team for whole school development and reporting departmental level to inform team activity and individual support requirements most importantly, at individual teacher level to aid self reflection and development.

Professional Development logs provide summaries of the development needs of every staff member, department or at whole-school level. Staff can track how they have addressed their development needs and logs of staff strengths provide a balanced view. Learning should be deliberate. Organizations should be prepared to take advantage of the key learning opportunities that projects provide.

Capturing lessons learned too often is seen as optional, if time permits. To maximize learning from project to project, organizations should have an infrastructure in place to acquire and socialize project information—lessons learned process. The purpose of a lessons learned process is to define the activities required to successfully capture and apply lessons learned. Often organizations have a defined process for capturing lessons but do not include activities to ensure lessons are used. The lessons learned process shown in Exhibit 1 is a comprehensive approach to ensure that lessons are applied and includes five activities: identify, document, analyze, store, and retrieve.

This process can be summarized into two main parts: capturing and applying lessons learned. Capturing lessons learned includes the first two activities: identify and document and applying lessons learned includes the last three activities: analyze, store, and retrieve. The more discipline and effort you place in capturing of lessons, the more prepared you are to apply the lessons learned.

With that being said let's first look at some suggestions for capturing lessons learned. Capturing lessons learned contains two process groups: identify and document. Lessons should be captured for all projects, large and small.

Lessons learned

The process and tools are scalable and if used consistently, provide the data necessary for reporting, analysis and comparison among similar projects. It is not necessary to wait until the end of the project to capture lessons. The criticality and complexity of the project can indicate other times to begin capturing lessons. Some key times are at the end of a wave, phase, or stage, and real time—when you learn the lesson. If you wait until the end the project for a large project you miss some of the key lessons. Because of the time that has elapsed, project team members may forget some of the things they learned or team members assigned to the project in the early phases may no longer be part of the project during the later phases.

A facilitated session with the appropriate facilitation tools provides more structure and allows the team to identify more relevant lessons. The project evaluation and project questionnaire can be used separately or in combination for maximum effect. The evaluation provides the team with a list of questions about project activities. These questions have scores that range from low to high, which allows the participants to quantitatively identify what went well and what did not. The project evaluation should be organized by category.

The use of categories will ensure key information is not missed and will later help to focus the discussion. Categories can be defined by project management knowledge area, project development phases, business process, or a combination. Categories can be high-level or divided into subcategories depending on the needs of the project. On the other hand, the questionnaire provides open-ended questions.

taking it to the next level

The facilitator can begin with a standard list of questions and adjust the list by adding questions specific to the project. Three questions that should always be included on the questionnaire are: 1 what went right, 2 what went wrong, and 3 what needs to be improved. These responses will be used by the facilitator to guide the discussion during the session. A lessons learned session focuses on identifying project successes and failures, and includes recommendations to improve future performance on projects.

Project managers have a professional obligation to conduct lessons learned sessions for all projects with key internal and external stakeholders, particularly if the project yielded less than desirable results , p.


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The lessons learned session is a key component of the lessons learned process. If the session is not successful, the organization loses out on the lessons learned opportunity. The facilitator should focus on the lessons learned process and guide the participants during the session.

To obtain optimum results, the lessons learned sessions should be facilitated by someone other than the project manager. The project manager's closeness to the project may cause a bias in obtaining a fair review. Also the project manager needs to participate and provide content in key areas. The facilitator should prepare in advance. Basic preparation includes identifying participants; reviewing key project documents and project questionnaire results, preparing a list of questions specific to the project, and choosing the appropriate facilitation tools.

At the beginning of the session the facilitator should review the agenda with the participants; define and assign roles and responsibilities, such as scribe and timekeeper; gain acceptance on ground rules; and explain the process and activities. Facilitated brainstorming should occur during the session. The facilitator should ensure that all the relevant items are included in the discussion and that the lessons learned process is followed.

Participants should be encouraged to criticize the process and should be instructed to never criticize the people. This should not become a finger-pointing session. Separate sessions can also be held for management and project team members. For large teams, a subset of the team should be selected; however, it is best to include team members who have been part of the team status meetings. Lessons can be documented in real time—when they occur. Team members can keep lessons in a tickler file and then share them with the team during the lessons learned session. If a lesson is critical, it should be discussed when it is learned.

This lesson can be an agenda item for a regularly scheduled status meeting or a special meeting can be called for the sole purpose of discussing this lesson. This lesson should also be reviewed during the lessons learned session so it can be included in the lessons learned reports for the project.

After lessons learned are captured, they should be reported to project stakeholders. Different types of reports should be produced based on the audience.


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Some lessons may have to be restricted to specific reports because of their sensitive nature. The facilitator can present summarized reports to executives and more detailed reports to the project manager and project team. Lessons learned can also be shared with other project teams during learning sessions. Project successes can be shared through newsletter articles, white papers, or other communication vehicles. The project manager should store lessons learned reports with the other project documentation.

Project specific data should be fed into management level lessons learned metrics reports. It is important to include both successful and failed projects in order to obtain meaningful metrics. Metrics serve as indicators of project management maturity and enable the organization to identity important events and trends. The metrics report should include numbers, ratings, ranks or colours to indicate project performance.

Applying lessons learned contains three process groups: analyze, store, and retrieve. Now that the organization is identifying and documenting lessons, it is important to apply them to existing and future projects. Applying lessons learned is necessary in establishing and sustaining a culture of consistent project management improvement. A root cause analysis should be conducted for each project after the lessons have been captured. This will give the organization a better understanding of what can be improved. A Root Cause Analysis is a technique used to identify the underlying reason or condition that causes the occurrence of an undesired activity or state.

Lessons Learned

The objective is to identify reoccurring problems in late or failed projects. Once the root causes are identified, steps to eliminate them can be determined. The analysis should provide true causes, not symptoms. To conduct the Root Cause Analysis the team should begin by using the Findings report or a list of the things that went wrong. For each item on the list the team should determine if it was a cause or effect. After the root cause has been identified it should be documented for follow up.