How to get the most from lessons learned
Learning as you go can often feel like changing the wheels on the race car without even making a pitstop. It’s all too easy to decide to wait until the end of the race.
At that point, though, it’s often too late. The crew just want to pack up. And they’ve probably already clocked off mentally before you have a chance to document the learnings—assuming they can still remember what happened and why.
When you have multiple projects, all running in different phases, waiting too long brings to mind a different metaphor. To prevent negative knock-on effects, you need to act early.
Everyone pays lip service to ‘learning lessons’ from large complex projects. But how useful are such lessons when every project is unique?
The degree of uniqueness is one factor of a project’s complexity or riskiness. In their attempt to improve their management processes, organizations tend to discard lessons specific to a particular project in favour of general principles.
Why does it matter?
Management processes are only one aspect of project delivery. Overt standardization often betrays a one-size-fits-all approach. Rather than grasping the complexity of the next undertaking—and the level of resilience needed to deal with it—the team is driven to focus on compliance.
If the point is simply to avoid repeating the same mistake, the value of the learning process is diminished. Instead, you must adapt the lessons from previous projects to the unique context of the next.
Moreover, during planning, real risk factors get overlooked. And, as the project progresses, nasty surprises that could have been spotted require attention and erode value.
“If the point is simply to avoid repeating the same mistake, the value of the learning process is diminished. Instead, you must adapt the lessons from previous projects to the unique context of the next.”
Misunderstanding lessons is costly. Conversely, recognizing any knowledge gained for what it is—and augmenting it with input from other sources before your project begins—brings more certainty.