Have you ever experienced the following?
You complete a project and then do a small ‘post-mortem / retrospective analysis’ of what went well and what did not. You then document these lessons in a nice looking template and share it with all stakeholders before getting onto the next project. Next project looks exciting in the beginning and then, same set of challenges are encountered. “Lessons-Learned” often end up being “Lessons-Documented-In-Last-Project-That-Are-Going-To-Show-Up-Again”.
All improvement depends on lessons you document and what you, as a leader, do about it. If you are a business leader, project leader or an improvement expert, here are five practical things you can do to ensure that lessons are really learned.
Assign Responsibility: If you have a quality group, great! If you don’t, you can assign the role of improvement expert to any senior member in your team. Mandate should be to improve the process and implement the improvements. Project Managers are best candidates since they deal with these challenges day in and day out.
Focus on “actions”: Once documented, identify a set of immediate actions to be taken to ensure that these lessons go into practice. Compile a central action log that contains lessons from all the projects / retrospectives. Assign responsibility for each action and have a deadline. Track the progress from time to time.
Maintain a central log of lessons learned: Unless lessons are visible, they don’t go into practice. One idea is to maintain a central log of all lessons learned, actions and resulting improvements. This is also a great way to track improvements.
Revisit them: It is easy to get back to your project challenges and forget the lessons learned. Revisit them from time to time. Have monthly update meetings, publish these on your intranet, create easy to view lists of Do’s and Don’ts – whatever! But make sure that lessons learned are visible to people.
“Lessons Learned” as inputs to Process Improvement: Convert each lesson into a process. Get the buy-in from teams and then train everyone. This is also a great way to ensure that your quality system evolves with challenges you face in your context.
Lessons are only ‘learned’ when they find their way into the future projects as positive experiences. Challenges help us grow – only when we face new challenges each time and learn how to tackle the ‘old monsters’. Unless we do that, repeating challenges will only wear you and your team out!
Lessons then, are not learned, but just documented. Not fun – I am sure you’ll agree!