Foresight from hindsight
Why capture Lessons Learned?
Capturing Lessons Learned is not a new idea, it comes highly recommended.
Two of the most recognised project management methodologies, PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) and Prince2, highlight the importance of learning from good and bad experiences on projects.
Good Lesson Learned processes will deliver material value in companies with multiple projects, but also in businesses where there are repetitive high cost processes (such as on-shore well drilling or manufacturing lines).
The process is meant to secure future value for the business by repeating good results or avoiding sub-standard results. The earlier the benefit of a lesson can be captured, the greater the value that will accrue to the business.
A survey of 130 Project Management Institute (PMI) members revealed that the overwhelming feeling was that a Lessons Learned process is important. We would expect therefore that the Lessons Learned process is regularly executed and is adding value.
If everyone agrees that capturing Lessons Learned adds value, are all companies doing it?
The short answer is a resounding “No”.
In the PMI survey, that same group of project management professionals were asked describe the extent to which their organisation had performed Lessons Learned capture in the previous 12 months.
Even though 91% of respondents in the survey indicated that there was clearly value in the Lessons Learned process, only 13% were confident that the process was always executed.
It’s clear that learning from the past can produce value for the future and project management professionals believe the process is important. Why do companies fail at this?
Why do Lessons Learned programs not succeed?
We asked our clients why Lessons Learned capture was not occurring or, if it was, did not add value to the organisation or were unlikely to add value. The responses could be mapped to three key areas of Culture, Process and Technology.
- Little or no support from leaders
- No internal champions appointed to lead Lessons Learned capture
- Process has been allowed to devolve into form-filling or box-checking exercise
- Fear exists that the process will be used to pin blame
- No faith that the process will add value
- Present effort is required to capture a future benefit
- Organisational belief that no-one will go to the effort of learning from documented lessons
- No documented, communicated standard approach
- No time allocated or allowed to conduct the process
- Results not shared with the business
- Output is not useful – inconsistent, no longer relevant, no quality review, poorly documented or simply not valuable lessons
- Lessons are difficult to retrieve
- No technology support for Lessons Learned
- System too complex to use
- System does not fit our business and cannot be customised
- Too reliant on a single person to maintain
- Data is not managed
- Data is not relevant / out of date
For businesses to extract the maximum benefit from Lessons Learned, three fundamental areas must be considered:
- Culture: Senior leaders must set the tone that Lessons Learned is a vital and valuable resource for the business.
- Process: The company must have a mandated approach that is consistently applied to collecting Lessons Learned.
- Technology: There must be systems or solutions available that align with the Lessons Learned process.
What does a good Lessons Learned organisation look like?
Culture sets the tone
At PCG, we advocate a leadership-led Lessons Learned culture. The best process and technology will not deliver maximum benefit without the right management attitude.
A good culture is demonstrated by the following traits:
- Senior leadership buys in to Lessons Learned framework, accepts and expects that value will accrue
- Project leaders are equipped to perform Lesson Learned capture sessions
- Capturing Lessons Learned is part of the management scorecard
- The business is comfortable relying on independent help in Lessons Learned capture (internal or external independence)
- A Lessons Curator is appointed and Lessons Learned Champions are trained to assist the organisation
A solid framework provides consistency
A generic lessons learned process is as follows : Collect > Validate > Store > Share.
A company must describe how it expects lessons to be matured through this process and who is responsible.
A simple Lessons Learned policy and process document goes a long way to setting expectations and providing guidance on the approach to lessons learned.
Collect: Collecting the lesson includes all activities related to recording the lesson. This may take a few forms, such as workshops, interviews or questionnaires.
Validate: Validating the lesson is the process of making sure that the captured lesson will add value to the organisation. This is a quality review exercise aimed at removing ambiguity and clearly defining the lesson benefits.
Store: Storing the lesson refers to how a company will maintain the lesson for future benefit. Lessons management systems, databases, intranets or simply shared files and folders can all provide a storage solution. The storage solution is the vehicle that is used to share lessons with the organisation.
Share: Unless a lesson is shared or an action taken, no value will accrue to an organisation. The most important part of a Lessons Learned framework is therefore this “last mile” in the process. The framework must provide clear guidance as to how to share lessons with the wider business community.
Technology supports the framework and increases the value
Technology can be used to facilitate all stages of the Lessons Learned process.
PCG research indicates that where technology solutions are implemented in the Lessons Learned space, they tend to be simple databases.
These databases can be searched to find previously recorded lessons.
Lessons Learned technology re-imagined
In researching the use of Lessons Learned, we noticed that the solutions to support process provided little support to the Lessons Learned framework (if one exists).
We noted a clear gap in the market of technology solutions that add value to the Lessons Learned process.
PCG have developed the Xperien Lessons Learned Management system to support organisations through every step of the Lessons Learned Process. Consistency is guaranteed as the system guides users through the Lessons Learned framework.
We have amended the standard Lessons Learned Framework to three steps: Capture, Curate and Circulate.
Self-service lesson capture means that lessons can be captured more frequently.
Standardised questions tease out the value of the lesson and ensure consistency of input.
Entry is made directly into the system, ensuring lessons are not lost.
Lessons can be tagged with metadata to improve search results. Fields for activity, business unit, and other key search terms can be customised so that it makes sense for your business.
People and roles can be tagged on each lesson, making sharing lessons automatic.
Quality control is managed through process flows, no Lesson is published until it has been reviewed.
Reminders are sent to Lessons Learned curators to review unapproved lessons.
Curators can make decisions regarding immediate actions that may be required (e.g. Process change, technology fix) versus simply documenting the lesson.
Curators can create tasks and assign accountability relating to immediate fixes.
Curators populate an expiry date for the lesson and are notified to review the lesson on the expiration date to make sure the lesson is still applicable.
Once approved, lessons are immediately available to the community for searching.
Cloud based storage means that lessons are available via any device.
Actions pertaining to fixes can be stored in the same system.
Once lesson is approved, users are informed immediately of the lesson if the lesson tags match their user profile or if they have been listed as a person or role to notify.
Users are able to upvote lessons that they think are useful, making relevant lessons more likely to be discovered.
Users can comment on lessons or ask for clarification to make sure that the maximum value is extracted from each lesson.
Users can search the database in a variety of ways: keyword search, tag filters, most recent lessons, most voted lessons.