Stop Reinventing the Wheel

Why do people insist on making the same mistakes over and over again? Why do project managers not take the time to learn from the experience of others and also to record their own experiences for the future?


This blog is all about the value of documenting and using lessons learned.


I dream of a perfect project management world where every time a project manager is given a new project to work, they spend those first few hours, or first day, sitting somewhere reading lessons learned from past projects learning what the previous project manager of the team did well and also learning but they didn’t do so well. Imagine a world where you can then repeat their successes and avoid their failures. These lessons learned could be stored in a central database or library and be available as hard copy or a searchable electronic version.


Imagine reading about the experience of others in relation to choosing the right projects, getting the right project team members, defining risks on a project, accurate time and cost estimating, dealing with stakeholder, quality issues and any other aspect of the project. You would learn a lot and also get a real head start on project planning. If you don’t do it, you are condemned to reinventing the wheel again and again.


Gathering lessons learned as a relatively easy process. You can start to do it at any point in a project; you don’t need to wait for the end. You can do it formerly through structured interviews, surveys and feedback sessions. You can also do it informally through your own observations. Obviously in order to do it successfully you need to plan to do it along with all your other project activities, and as such you need to have time, and perhaps money, set aside to carry out the work associated with gathering, documenting and storing these gems. The cost to any project of doing this work is easily offset by the direct savings and efficiencies gained on both future projects and an overall increase in organizational knowledge, wisdom and efficiency.


In addition to the lessons learned gathered during and at the completion of the project, one of the most underrated pieces of lessons learned is the post implementation review which in my experience is just not done often enough. The real value and completing a post-implementation review is to revisit the project some time after it’s been completed and you check whether it did it achieve the things that you thought it would achieve. To many people make the assumption that delivering the intend project output results in the planned outcomes. A simple post implementation review conducted 6 months later will reveal whether it did or not, and contribute to your future project selection, planning and execution.


So, start recording your lessons learned right now. Sit down and start a document and add to it over the course of your project. Encourage your colleagues to do the same and over time you will build up an impressive collection of data that will help increase the chances of project success.