Getting the Most From Your Lessons Learned

“The successful man will profit from his mistakes and try again a different way” – Dale Carnegie.

The topic of failure is getting a lot of traction at the moment. How we face failure, and learn from it, is an important part of projects – the so called ‘lessons learned’. So, how can we make the most of them to ensure success in the future?

Don’t wait until the end

Holding a lessons learned session early in the life cycle can iron out any issues and enable the team to reflect and if necessary change their approach to the process.

On occasions, the initial plans may need to change, technology may not be fit for purpose, skills within the team may not be up to the tasks and goal posts may have moved, so it’s also important to recap and evaluate throughout the project.

Structure your approach

There is no point in just getting the project team together and chatting over the issues.  Using a meeting template would enable a fair and rounded look at the processes.  For example:-

  • What went well?
  • What went badly?
  • What are the barriers?
  • How to stop the bad and get more of the good?
  • Do we have the skills?
  • Are the processes robust?
  • Is the leadership appropriate?

Having held this type of workshop, it is essential that actions are taken to ensure points raised are implemented.

Finding from these workshops must be communicated within the group and with colleagues in other projects and parts of the organisation for them to have the required impact.

It’s important to be aware of What is expected, How are you expected to achieve it, Why are you doing it, When is it needed and Who is responsible and accountable for it.

Face failure head on

Accurate reporting throughout projects is essential but often no one wants to admit failure which can impact on identifying lessons learned. The important thing is to learn from past failures, and use them to find gaps in successful delivery, to inform a better approach in the future.  An independent facilitator for your lessons learned can be very useful on this front, especially if they apply a structured approach to the meeting which takes away any personal issues.

Ultimately, honesty about where failure has occurred will pave the way for future improvement and culturally within the organisation, people must feel that they can be completely upfront about what has happened in order to move forward. Lessons learned are an essential part of a project, but they are only truly effective if they are structured and based on honest, transparent conversations.

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