Topic: A comprehensive review of the lessons learned gathering process, and using lessons learned to foster collaboration and innovation.
Although it might be widely known that the “Lessons Learned” process helps in capturing the learning or knowledge gained from the process of executing a project (PMI.org), very seldom formally conducted lessons learned sessions are held throughout project execution and close-out within the Enterprise Infrastructure & Architecture (EI&A) organization.
This project will help assess the potential impact of skipping the lessons learned process and will present some recommendations for how to successfully conduct lessons learned sessions. It will propose how to leverage the learning obtained from each project in order to avoid repeating mistakes and trying to “re-invent the wheel”. It will also suggest how to use knowledge gained in order to repeat successes in future projects.
It has been said that a “Lessons Learned” process is one of the most important and “value added” aspects of the project management lifecycle. Lessons learned is closely connected to project risk management. Successful lessons learned will help mitigate future risks and issues, and promote best practices. When an organization is good at promoting and sharing knowledge and best practices, it will also drive up efficiency and productivity, reduce cost (waste) and improve project output/outcomes. However, it has been reported that lessons learned is often the most ignored part of planning, monitoring and completing a project (Walker, 2008). An effective lessons learned process is one that crosses functional boundaries, allows an organization to learn and prevent it from repeating mistakes, and enable it to perpetuate successes. It should be an instrumental part of any organization’s overall “continuous improvement” process. (Marlin, 2008).
This paper will help provide recommendations for improvements to the lessons learned process in the MetLife GTO EI&A organization. It will present an assessment of the potential negative impact of skipping the lessons learned process. And, it will propose various ways for how to successfully conduct lessons learned sessions.
The EI&A organization uses the Global Project Site or GPS as a single source for the organization’s projects and program files, documentation and information. It is important to have this single repository because of the following reasons:
- It gets important files off of project team members hard drives
- It provides a common solution for storing project documentation
- It helps the organization to adhere to a common standard by keeping, sharing, and updating all project files in a well-known and openly available location
The GPS project repository may be accessed if the PM:
- Has been designated by the project owner as a project team member
- Has been granted PMO/admin roles (which can view all projects)
- Selects the “All Projects View” and selects the Group/Project option
Corporate sensitive projects can be set to “Private” so that team members can only view project details / documents that they have a business need to access.
The GPS site is accessed by going to the MetLife PPM website and selecting GPS from the top menu:
GPS also contains information about the different methodologies that are used to manage projects and programs. The life cycle of a project may be determined or shaped by the unique aspects of the organization or technology employed. A project life cycle may be documented within a methodology (PMI.org). A methodology is a unified, managed collection of capabilities and their implementation in people, processes, information, technology, and other resources that are managed as a single unit to produce desired business outcomes. It is also a “system of broad principles or rules from which specific methods or procedures may be derived with the goal to interpret or solve different problems within the scope of a particular area of study or discipline. A methodology is a set of practices”. (businessdictionary.com)
The GPS site includes the following methods for managing projects:
Waterfall: a predictive or sequential (non-iterative) approach to delivering solutions. In this methodology progress is seen as flowing steadily downward through the phases of conception, initiation, analysis, design, build, validation, testing, implementation and maintenance or ongoing operation. (Wikipedia.org). At the end of a waterfall project life cycle a closing or post implementation phase is usually completed.
Agile: or adaptive life cycles, is intended to respond to high levels of change and ongoing stakeholder involvement. The agile method is iterative and incremental, but differs in that iterations are very rapid. Each iteration usually takes approximately 2 to 4 weeks to complete, and is fixed in time and cost (PMI.org). To close the project life cycle, and at the end of the last iteration a closing phase is completed.
The two methodologies include a closing process toward the end of the project life cycle. A closing process as described by the Project Management Institute (PMI) consists of the steps that are required to conclude all activities across all the other project management phases in order to formally complete the project and its contractual obligations. Regardless of the methodology employed, it generally is during the closing phase of a project that lessons learned are gathered and documented.
A best practice would be to start gathering and capturing lessons learned during the initial phases of a project. However, it is widely known that most project managers do not begin this process until all the project deliverables are completed. More often than not, project managers report not having enough time to dedicate to the lessons learned gathering and documenting processes.
One of the main concerns about waiting until the end of a project to gather and document lessons learned is that some key knowledge gained and lessons might be missed by the project manager forgetting about it, and/or by project team members focusing on or having been reassigned to other projects. “The best time to begin discussing lessons learned is during the project kick-off meeting” during the initiation phase. (Rowe & Sikes, 2006).
(Names are fictitious) Jane Smith, a project manager, has just put the finishing touches on her final project report before a meeting with her manager, John Thompson. The last few weeks have been grueling trying to get the lessons learned feedback from project participants for the final report. Jane thought that she had properly prepared and had asked all the right people to attend the meeting. Not all the invited people attended the meeting, and it turned into a complaint session where some of the meeting attendees were upset with connotations made by other meeting attendees.
John could see that Jane was disturbed by her lessons learned experience and the lack of support from the senior management. Further, after reviewing the top three lessons learned for the project, John recognized that he was hearing the same issues again and realized that these were the same lessons on projects around the world.
John realized that EI&A had no standards for collecting, analyzing, storing, disseminating, and reusing lessons learned. Consequently, the organization is losing valuable knowledge gained during projects and learning between projects. Considering that many projects have overlapping components, EI&A can save money by not trying to reinvent the wheel every time a new project is started. John felt that project managers could reduce project costs by learning from past projects, by perpetuating past successes, and by avoiding past failures.
During their meeting, Jane and John observed some barriers to learning lessons on projects. They concluded that project managers, to overcome these barriers, must create a learning environment that enable them to capture lessons learned and use these effectively. (Trevino, 2008).
“Neither individuals nor organizations can afford to keep making the same mistakes again and again. Although the concept of lessons learned continues to evolve into a formal and structured management practice, as an idea, the practice of capturing and archiving knowledge is not new. Using this practice involves performing two essential activities: capturing important lessons learned and making effective use of them”. (Trevino, 2008).
At its simplest form, a lesson learned is a statement with this type of structure
- “If you do X…then… Y will happen
Ideally it will have a third part to it, describing the context
- If you do X …and these conditions are present…then Y and/or Z…will happen
The same kind of simple logic statements should be found in a well-designed logical framework description of a project design:
- If these Outputs are delivered, and these assumptions are correct, then these outcomes will happen” (Davies, 2009)
A lesson learned may also include expert knowledge that may be gathered from subject matter experts. This expert knowledge needs to be documented so that causes of issues and variances, the reasoning behind the corrective action chosen, and other types of knowledge gained and expert judgement from monitoring and controlling may become part of a historical database. It will also be helpful for both current and future projects, and by the performing and other organizations. (PMI.org).
It should not be necessary to wait until the end of a project to begin documenting lessons and knowledge gained. Lessons learned sessions may be conducted at different times based on the criticality and complexity of a project. Lessons learned session frequency may be handled on a project by project basis. At a minimum, during each phase of the project, project managers should discuss lessons learned with project team members and key stakeholders, and produce a report summarizing the findings. It might be necessary for project managers to schedule short meetings to occasionally review lessons learned.
A lessons learned process, just as any other process, should have a set of interrelated steps and activities that will be carried out in order to achieve a specified set of results for the benefit of the organization. The purpose of a lessons learned process will be to define the activities required to successfully capture and use the knowledge gained.
A lessons learned process may include the following steps (Rowe & Sikes, 2009):
Step 1: Identify
This step entails capturing information which may come from as many sources as the organization is willing to solicit. It is the collection of comments and recommendations both based on positive experiences that achieve organizational goals, and on negative experiences that result in undesirable outcomes which could be valuable for future project activities or for future projects and initiatives.
Step 2: Document
After lessons learned are identified, they need to be reported to project stakeholders and team members. The type of report will vary depending on the audience. The report will consist of the data captured for a specific event which offered positive experience or which resulted in a negative experience. Once the report is finalized it needs to be distributed to the entire project team, and stored in the project repository.
Step 3: Analyze
This step consists of performing analysis in order to determine what is working well and/or what went wrong. It is here where each lesson learned is organized and where the project manager with assistance from specific stakeholders and project team members determine what should be done. At times, the analysis step might uncover the need for additional improvements or the need for further training.
Step 4: Store
This activity consists of storing in a pre-determined repository each of the lessons learned. It will generally be a shared drive, a Sharepoint site, or another form of project library. Organizations should make available a lessons learned repository during the initiation phase of any project.
Step 5: Retrieve
The purpose of this step is to remind the project manager the need to review existing lessons learned for similar projects. It might be necessary for project managers to search for key words in the repository in order to find relevant lessons learned. For this step to be efficient, the organization will need to provide a search engine or some type of searching capability into the lessons learned repository. Why would an organization capture lessons learned if valuable information is not used within the organization to either avoid reoccurrence of past mistakes, or more importantly to ensure that best practices are repeated?
Learning occurs when knowledge in one part of an organization is transferred effectively to other parts and used to solve problems there or to provide new and creative insights. (Goh, 2002). “A lesson learned is defined as a good work practice or an innovative approach that is captured and shared to promote repeat application or avoid recurrence” (Giampa, 2012).
To assure a constant process for effectively transferring knowledge and lessons learned between different parts of an organization, capturing lessons learned must be an on-going effort throughout the life cycle of a project and/or a program. This is a mindset that needs to be encouraged by leaders and each project manager in the organization whether it is used to prepare for a current project or for identifying process improvements. Capturing lessons learned need to become a part of the procedures that will be used to produce each project deliverable. Likewise, lessons learned sessions should be scheduled and facilitated by project and program managers at the end of each project phase and throughout the life cycle of projects.
The objective of a lessons learned session should be for project team members to collectively identify and to discuss lessons learned and knowledge gained as each phase is completed or at project closure so that subsequent projects might benefit from and wisely apply insights that were captured on past phases or project efforts.
- Use survey type questions to solicit feedback before each session. Questions should address both project management and non-project management lessons learned
- Schedule lessons learned sessions. Depending on project or program size it might be necessary to have multiple lessons learned sessions during the life cycle of the project. Perhaps one at the end of each phase and one or more sessions at project closure
- Focus dialogue on positive outcomes. For example, successes that happened during each phase or as a result of completing the project. Unintended outcomes, mistakes successfully avoided, and other items that in retrospect might have been better handled if done differently. It is important to avoid just bringing out the negatives
- It is likewise important to thank participants for their time and participation, and to let them know that the results of the discussion will provide valuable insights for future endeavors.
In addition, it is important to periodically gather feedback both from project team members and stakeholders. One way to do this is by gathering feedback through a survey using well drafted questions and reflection. Asking questions is very important because questions:
- enable people to become interested in, understand, clarify, and open up new feedback
- are avenues of exploration for solving issues and complex problems
- help the team recognize and reorganize their knowledge and look for gaps
- provide new insights and ideas for strategic actions and potential paths for solutions
- build understanding while laying the groundwork for gaining support for possible actions
- serve as the foundation for learning and help create team synergy
- Did the project meet the original goals and business intent?
- Did the project finish by the initially scheduled date?
- Was the project completed within the initial budget?
- Did the project experience scope creep or uncontrolled changes to the baselined scope?
- How long did it take to assemble the project team?
- Did project team members have all necessary skills to complete the deliverables?
- Did the project team include sponsors and stakeholders who were actively involved and supportive?
Good dialogue is key to facilitating successful lessons learned sessions. Dialogue is a written or spoken conversational exchange between two or more people (Wikipedia.org). In order for good dialogue to take place during each lessons learned session it is important to account for certain “core conditions”. Some core conditions were provided in MBA500, Week7, Module 2 and include:
- Empathetic Listening – participants need to respond to each other with “unreserved empathy” that is authentic and based on truly understanding another’s thoughts and feelings. Discussion without this element is just that–a discussion and NOT a dialogue.
- Equality of Standing and the absence of coercive influences – everybody must participate on an equal footing. Particular attention must be paid to trust if participants are not equals outside the dialogue session.
- Laying Bare Assumptions for the group to see. These deep-rooted assumptions, once exposed, become more open to examination by both the individual holding them, as well as the group. This, combined with the practices, gives the group a stronger sense of how to structure the conversation and pull it in the direction of being a dialogue.
Technology organizations generally need to make due with very limited resources. Resource planning at EI&A is mainly done on a yearly basis to set aside budget for specific projects for the following year. Despite that level of planning, many projects miss the target close date due to different issues such as lack of visibility into role-level demands before work is committed, and lack of coordination among the various project initiatives requiring the engagement of functional resources at the portfolio management level. The resulting effects are over-allocated resources, or the lack of resources with the necessary skills and expertise to complete complex or specific project tasks.
Some of the consequences are lost productivity, staying in crisis mode at times, basing decisions on non-reliable data, not leveraging resources for high-value projects, and delayed time to complete projects (OpenSky Research, 2013).
- Lack of visibility into role-level demands before work is committed
- Lack of resources with key skills and expertise to complete new or complex tasks
- Over-allocated resources
- Duplication of effort
- Staying in crisis mode at times
- Delayed time in completing projects
How can the organization make the best use of its limited resources?
And, how can it develop a useful workforce planning strategy?
When trying to improve the process of allocating resources to each project, one of the main challenges in EI&A is “matching availability of staff to demand in terms of timing and skills, both on a daily basis and over the longer term.” (Meredith & Shafe, 2013). Knowledge gained during lessons learned sessions may be used to help determine gaps associated with matching staff availability and skills to future project needs.
EI&A utilizes CA PPM as a cloud resource management tool. However, not all functionalities available in the tool have been enabled for use by project managers, especially not all the resource management functionalities. Currently, project managers gather time estimates from project team members and enter the hourly estimates as allocations in the tool for the purposes of forecasting budget utilization each month, but no forecasting is done for future resource needs.
Functional managers gather percent utilization from each of their direct reports into spreadsheets for the purposes of trying to understand how busy each person is, and whether their employees may be assigned more work. But nothing is done to determine availability based on skills. The EI&A organization could benefit from a more structured workforce planning strategy.
When properly implemented, workforce planning ensures that an organization will have the right people with the right skills in the right places at the right time (nih.gov). This idea has direct implication into not only the quality of the deliverables that each project is expected to produce but also on the quality of a resource planning system itself.
“Quality is thought to be at the heart of a triple constraint triangle as shown in the following graph.” (Dombrowski, Wen).
In the above graph Dr. Dombrowski illustrates how when workforce planning or resource management are only focused on saving money or avoiding costs it requires more time. When speed is the only focus you lean toward breaking something or causing chaos. When done right it can be cost effective. “It is extremely expensive to ‘inspect’ quality into a company’s outputs and much more efficient and effective to produce outputs right in the first place” (Meredith, 2013). In order to produce quality outputs for the first time, it is imperative to match the right skills to the right tasks.
The answer to the following questions from PMI.org may help identify resource management and skill gaps:
Does the organization currently have…?
- Ongoing training for staff
- A formal process for transferring knowledge from one resource to another and from one part of the organization to another (knowledge transfer)
- A formal process to mature existing project management practices
- A formal process for developing technical and leadership competencies
- A defined career path for all team members
Organizational skill needs will likely shift through time. Proper workforce planning will help fill existing gaps for having the right “supply” of resources with the right skill sets which in turn will help improve the quality of project deliverables. To help determine whether the resource planning strategy is working it will be necessary to regularly monitor the performance of the workforce planning process, and the impact to the gaps that are being addressed. Frequent lessons learned sessions will help close the gaps as they are identified. As the strategic direction, workforce supply, and workload demand changes over time, strategies will need to be updated accordingly based on knowledge gained. (nih.gov).
Every project needs a time for lessons learned either during project execution or at project closure. It is not rare for project managers to see the same mistakes repeated over and over. Some of the mistakes resulting from the lack of lessons learned documentation or review may translate into ethical dilemmas.
“Ethics is about dilemmas” points out Carl Miller a highly acclaimed consultant and expert in conflict resolution, and author of the “Lessons Learned – Mistakes Repeated” series. “Many ethical decisions are difficult judgment calls. No one wants to hurt someone by giving him or her critical feedback but is that not really a gift they need to grow?” Carl says.
Carl mentions that he recently had a project manager tell him that she conducted a necessary mid-year performance review that highlighted an employee’s need for improvement. She provided customer feedback and gave suggestions for performance improvement. A few days after she completed the performance review, the employee resigned. The project manager thought that perhaps she was responsible for the employee resignation and the unavoidable disruption of the project. In the author’s opinion, that “PM’s judgment was correct but difficult”.
Project Managers are often faced with this dilemma, Carl says. Project managers at times find themselves “not wanting to demoralize the individual but feeling it is necessary for the integrity of the project to make changes”. (Miller, 2014).
Another situation which might result in unethical behavior is when project budget is being depleted faster than deliverables are being produced. It would be unethical for managers to decide, in order to keep projects within budget, to hire female or foreign employees and pay lower salary to them for the same work that current employees are being paid.
In the United States, since President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, it has been illegal to pay men and women working in the same place different salaries for similar work (Wikipedia.org). Although this has generally applied where men are paid more than women, in recent years it is believed that some employers hire foreign workers for the very same reasons. The law clearly prohibits discrimination in pay on account of sex but perhaps it should be extended to include discrimination on account of age, nationality, etc.
Policies and procedures regarding ethical conduct are usually documented in a company’s code of business conduct. Although important to have one, it should not always be necessary for a code of business ethics to tell employees what is right or wrong. Nor should an organization need the “philosophical musings of Aristotle, Plato or Kant to point out what constitutes ethical behavior”. Mistakes repeated often may be the result of corporate culture and ethics. “Ethics by its nature is about the grey area in between right and wrong. It is about choices, neither of which is perfect.” (Miller, 2014).
The point here is that in project management choices made should always lean toward the ethical side. Some actions might be unethical and yet might remain within what is considered ethical behavior. For example, as project managers provide performance review information to functional managers they may point out an employee’s need for improvement based on observation, and customer or peer feedback. Or, they may withhold peer or customer performance review information thinking that it would avoid disruption to project execution progress or that it would create conflict between team members. What is a project manager to do in these situations?
It is important for project managers to provide true advice and feedback about employees’ performance despite fears of conflict, hurt feelings, reprisals (real or imagined) and even when it is deemed unpopular to do so. Not communicating the employee’s need for improvement is to engage in unethical behavior and it hinders the lessons learned process. The type of behavior needed in project management is such that when observed it “becomes the norm for the group and it is a way for corporate cultures to be enriched”. (Miller, 2014). Project managers are hired to complete project deliverables on time, on budget and with the required level of quality. Even if it might appear ethical, it is not right to cut corners on giving true performance feedback which might have a negative impact on quality, to deliver on budget or on time.
Lessons learned at project closure should include analysis to determine how the project team is performing and what knowledge and lessons were learned in the way that each team member owned and was accountable for each deliverable. The session should include any incidents in which ethical behavior might have been put in jeopardy, and recommendations for ensuring that everyone adheres to a specified code of conduct. Who should be invited to participate? Everyone who has made some contribution to the project should be invited.
Best practices and lessons learned are much more than just documenting what went wrong and the steps that were taken to fix those items. They include constant and iterative documenting the outcomes of trial and error cycles in order to ensure that future projects will be managed with the best possible procedures to repeat what works and avoid what does not work.
Customers will always want the best products and services, employees better pay, and executives high return on investment and growth. Maybe perfection cannot be achieved but does not everyone want success and progress? How can projects deliver consistent positive results in an uncertain and continually shifting market place? Reality is that the cost of low performance is high.
There are several capabilities that if not improved upon almost always coincide with weaker project outcomes – not meeting original goals and business intent, and not being completed within budget. In general, “more projects are failing and creating substantial monetary loss for their organization”. (Langley, 2016)
The statistics depicted on the following chart should be of concern to any organization not achieving its financial goals:
In the above chart it is easy to see that the trend for completing projects within the original budget has improved very little during recent years. To help accelerate improvement upon the above capabilities and mitigate any negative financial impact associated with project failure, organizations need to pay attention to more than just technical best practices.
Technology and technical skills are core to project and program management, but they are simply “not enough in today’s competitive global economy, which is growing quickly, but with less predictability” (Langley, 2016). Lessons learned should not only be about technical flaws and what was done to fix them. They must include items impacting the organization’s financial bottom line, including best practices in leadership and business strategy management.
Best practices have been described as commercial or professional procedures that are widely accepted as being correct or most effective. They include widely accepted as superior methodologies and techniques because of superior results that are produced by them, and results which cannot be achieved by other means or because they have become a standard way of executing, for example, a standard way of complying with legal or ethical requirements. Best practices are ideas “that assert that there are techniques, methods or processes—through research and application—that are more effective at delivering a particular outcome than any other technique, method or process.” (Wikipedia.org). “A best practice is an optimal way currently recognized by industry to achieve a stated goal or objective.” (OPM3® Overview, PMI®, p. 9)
There are lessons and best practices in leadership and business strategy management that could be learned from, documented and perpetuated. “Most successful organizations seek added skills in leadership and business—competencies that support and sustain long-range strategic objectives”. The ideal skill set could be considered as a combination of technical, leadership, and strategic and business management expertise. These are “embodied in the PMI Talent Triangle™” and when organizations emphasize all three skill sets, “40 percent more of their projects meet goals and original business intent”. (Langley, 2016).
Generally, best practices are the result of one or multiple trial and error cycles. They are a feature of accredited management standards such as ISO 9000 and ISO 14001. Best practices are used to help maintain quality and financial control. Executives today might be interested in best practice around multiple capabilities in order to do more with less. For example, increasing revenue by reducing timelines to get products or services to market quickly, using smaller budgets to complete projects, and leveraging strategic workforce planning.
“No single best practice is best for every organization, and every situation will change as individuals find better ways to reach an end result” (PMI.org). Some experts challenge the assumption that there can be a best or recommended practice for all cases, and that what is “best” will vary with the context.
It is important to note that the EI&A organization might already have some informal processes and best practices in place even if not documented as such. A good exercise to complete is to conduct an organization wide analysis in order to determine what processes exist, who owns them and whether they truly represent a best practice. It should be the expectation of everyone in the organization that adjustments will need to be made as lessons learned in this area are collected. A recommendation given by PMI is to use as many of the “current informal processes in place as possible, especially if they are already working effectively and the project management staff is comfortable with them”. (Abudi, 2009).
PMI further recommends to do the following on an annual basis:
Project management skill set reevaluation: Improve upon skills based on training and mentoring/coaching plans. Assess other skills that might be required due to changes in the business.
Re-evaluate competencies for each project management role: Take into consideration need changes due to shifts in the business model or market strategy. Determine whether other competencies are required for various project management roles, and whether restructuring or layoffs have affected the project management function thereby requiring additional skills for those that remain.
Re-evaluate training and mentoring programs: Evaluate if current training and mentoring programs are still successful and if they need to be adjusted based on new business requirements. New processes or standards may require new training. Current mentors may be getting a bit worn down and perhaps others should be given the opportunity to mentor. Training programs must meet the needs of project management staff if there is a focus on new skills and knowledge to get the job done.
Re-evaluate project management processes and best practices: Current processes may need updating to meet new business needs. Best practices evolve. Assess what are individuals and teams doing to make their job easier, and what processes they may have been using that are not yet reflected organization-wide.
Re-evaluate Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): KPIs will likely be different for each organization and even from business unit to business unit within the same organization. Therefore, it is important to focus on what makes sense for the organization. How is the organization trending against its KPIs? Do KPIs need to be adjusted based on changes to the business? Do new KPIs need to be determined and a baseline set? Do changes need to be made to how KPIs are being tracked? (Abudi, Gina, 2009)
Cost savings will be realized from the elimination of duplication of efforts and the added work load of trying to reinvent the wheel for similar tasks and/or deliverables that may have been completed in the past. The time that employees now spend trying to come up with the tasks that are needed to complete specific deliverables, and PM time consumed looking for SME resources will be spent in additional project work.
By reviewing lessons learned and conducting best practice impact analysis on a frequent basis the EI&A organization will be able to quickly assess the causes of changes and to propose action plans to prevent issues from impacting projects, and to mitigate existing issues.
It is also advisable to eliminate manual steps associated with the lessons learned process. Eliminating manual steps in the lessons learned management process will potentially result in more improvement to the infrastructure projects that are closed way beyond the initially estimated project close date.
Best practices identify processes and procedures that will contribute to improved project management.
The higher level to be demonstrated in organizational maturity in most of the models that measure maturity is achieved through continuous improvement (Lazar, 2014). Continuous improvement and innovation associated with the processes in place have a direct impact to the products and services that are delivered by any organization.
There are different levels of organizational maturity as the following chart from a PMI conference paper shows:
The ultimate goal of EI&A should be to have “continuous organizational focus on innovation and improvement”. Climbing up to that level requires the ability to improve processes through learning cycles based on the ability to recycle information and use objective analysis of mistakes and errors made during the application of the project management processes. It also implies being able to reuse historical data from past and parallel projects and initiatives. (Lazar, 2014).
This is what a lessons learned process is all about. The goal of a lessons learned process should be to introduce improvement, and change unsatisfactory situations most of the time. Lessons learned is a trigger for change for the better, it is about innovation.
To be successful in innovation the lessons learned process:
- Needs to be supported at the organizational level
- Must have the ability to help the organization absorb change by exploiting the outcomes of new projects and initiatives, and by developing new capabilities and operational processes to improve the way the organization delivers projects.
- Need to leverage a knowledge base and support portal
A knowledge base and support portal may be used as a “one-stop location” for all project-related information. It could provide a way for project team members to support each other. Any of the following could be part of the knowledge base/support portal (Abudi, 2009):
Collaboration and information sharing forums
Best practices knowledge base
Listing of all organizational project resources
Current project information
Past lessons learned project information
Strategic plan for future projects
Access to tools, templates, job aids, project management software
Tracking of project status
Project schedules and budgets
Resource allocation, workforce planning
Just-in-time learning components
Certification study group “meeting place” (Abudi, 2009)
The above become resources for project managers and others to collaborate in several key activities such as problem and issue resolution, best practice sharing, brainstorming, etc. The EI&A organization may already have much of the information needed in such a portal. However, all of that knowledge needs to be consolidated into one central location, and it must be distributed and shared. This will help better support the needs of the project management function within the organization.
The key to success in building an innovative and sustainable organization in today’s changing market is to focus on continuous improvement and innovation. It will be the result of aligning business strategy, leadership style, culture, capabilities and competencies (Penker, 2016). A well-defined lessons learned process helps challenge the status quo by helping make good processes, procedures and practices better. Lessons learned can help make something possible that was not possible before.
In a recent survey by PMI, “just under half of organizations report having a formal knowledge transfer process—a decline of 5 percent since 2015” (PMI.org). “As technology grows and expands our range of communication, social media is becoming vital tool for daily social interaction and knowledge sharing. Social media creates opportunities for people to interact with each other in a way that is both helpful and essential to socially motivate people” (Reider, 2014)
New avenues for facilitating daily information have been opened by the advent of social media. There is no longer a need for people to speak face to face or to communicate over a phone. Millennials and other generations have acquired a new “rapid-fire communication style”, one that now uses a computer or mobile device screen. Social media has led to the era of virtual communications and online collaboration.
Collaboration tools allow teams to share information, improve communication, and to take projects to the next level. There are multiple collaboration tools in the market today. One tool that is gaining momentum in the business world today is Yammer. Yammer has already been made available in EI&A. It is an ideal social network for business, and provides a platform to communicate and collaborate privately and publically with colleagues. It also allows for document sharing and can be easily integrated with other tools such as Sharepoint. In addition, it also allows users to participate via web, desktop application, email, smartphone, etc. and it is very easy and quick to learn.
- Encouraging team members to reach out to others and contribute by sharing knowledge and status updates on what they are working on.
- Promoting team work by sharing reports, products or other outputs produced, or project events being organized.
- Live reporting on meetings. Giving timely information about key conclusions or good sound-bites to help document the meeting in real time and share what is happening with those who cannot attend the meeting in person.
- Sharing links to prior lessons learned that might be useful to colleagues
- Having quick exchanges of ideas and discussions with team members (without having a meeting, or having a long back and forth e-mail exchange)
- Asking questions and asking for help and finding who knows what.
- Getting to know and better connecting with other team members and stakeholders by finding out what they do, what they know and what they are interested in.
One challenge of any knowledge sharing tools is that it might be restricted to a specific organization. Since on many issues the expertise might reside outside the organization, Yammer helps create virtual circles of people from multiple organizations. Using social media tools such as Yammer to communicate lessons learned and real time interaction about key project information is vital in today’s technologically savvy and advanced business world.
Sharda et al (2015) state that having knowledge implies that it can be “exercised to solve a problem”. The authors indicate that two people in the same context with the same information may not have the same ability to use the information to the same degree of success. The EI&A organization is a geographically dispersed organization. Employees in various geographies holding the same type of degree, and even having worked in the same capacity for some years will not necessarily be able to “pick up where the others left”.
In this global environment and in order for knowledge to be used successfully, the EI&A leadership team needs to make available a transition plan to local and global teams with the tools and techniques that are needed in order to capture and transfer valuable knowledge to the new employees or to new project teams. A global environment could potentially create a situation where very little if any collaboration would take place, and ultimately, a loss of the explicit knowledge needed to carry forward with the business and satisfy customers and shareholders.
The best possible scenario is for EI&A to implement a state-of-the-art knowledge management expert system that would allow for all explicit knowledge acquired through lessons learned to be captured into a decision support system platform that would make available all the know how to any employee at the click of a mouse. Sharda et al (2015) indicate that the structuring of knowledge “enables effective and efficient problem solving, dynamic learning, strategic planning, and decision making”. They teach that knowledge management initiatives focus on explicating knowledge in such a way that it can be shared in a formal manner, and “leveraging its value through reuse”.
Teams located all over the world would be encouraged to contribute, or in other words, collaborate by inputting their ideas and know-how to the system, and/or sharing their explicit knowledge directly with their peers, so that peers can then document or ensure that the information is saved and retrievable for future use.
In order for an Enterprise to be successful in its embrace of collaborative working practices, a cultural shift is required. Patterns of behavior established over a century and a half of working practice are not easily broken. To succeed, collaborative ventures require more than unbridled communication between employees while retaining the same level of support given by managers. Even with the best of intentions, there is a strong tendency to return to the status quo.
In a geographically dispersed environment there are constraints that may hinder the effectiveness of collaboration. For example, the different time zones, the different languages, the cultural differences and so forth. According to the article “Expertise and Collaboration in the Geographically Dispersed Organization” by various authors, distance decreases the opportunities for “spontaneous, informal talk” and increases the likelihood of time zone “separation”. The authors of the article also say that compared with local project teams, projects with team members in different locations “struggle to foster a social environment” (Kraut et al. 2002, Nardi and Whittaker 2002).
Reality is that in order to survive companies need to be innovative in their respective markets to be competitive and grow. “Innovation and collaboration are necessary and there must be thought outside the paradigm that created the current situation. The collaborative paradigm, when allowed to form for the mutual benefit of the people served, results in amazing process improvement, innovation, and change.” (Brock, 2012).
Employees at EI&A all over the world, need to embrace the changes being made and take the initiative to help build the collaborative environment that will be needed in order for smooth knowledge transfer transition to take place. Due to the high cost of travel, training for this environment will need the learning and use of the tools and group collaboration technologies made available over the Internet, such as Yammer, video conferencing and remote screen sharing tools, etc.
In the 21st century, the continued trend is to create global teams. Organizations must depend on virtual teams, in which interaction and collaboration take place among geographically-distributed, and often “culturally-disparate individuals”. (See “Virtual Teams and Group Collaboration Technologies: Challenges in Supporting Distributed Groups” by Charles Steinfield). Steinfield indicates that it is by no means guaranteed however that virtual teams will be successful. He indicates that participants often find the experience to be frustrating even when work is supported by sophisticated group collaboration technologies and by the leadership teams. “The best technology cannot work if team members are not prepared for the challenges raised by working across time zones and national borders”. (Steinfield, 2006)
The acquisition of Alico Corp. and the creation of the new Technology Hub in North Carolina have broken ground to new challenges and opportunities that are necessary for the EI&A organization and its employees to achieve an environmental balance that promotes both individual and team work on a global scale. In general, the most innovative companies usually create their own business practices and do not implement practices just because they are commonly used by the industry. To state it in the words of a colleague “work cultures that support collaboration can invigorate innovation within organizations”.
A new process where lessons learned data is captured in the CA PPM tool is recommended. CA PPM is already an existing tool in EI&A. It is currently available as an on premise implementation. However, CA PPM is also available as a SaaS (software as a service) in the Cloud. There will be no upfront investment needed for additional software, and although not all functionalities are currently active in the CA PPM tool, most of the functionalities that are needed already exist within the tool. There might be minimum development hours needed to enable certain features.
- Capture lessons and update lists in real-time
- Write lessons in terms of generic, actionable recommendations or tasks
- Make a list of considerations (lessons written as tasks) part of the information the teams use to execute projects
- Proactively encourage a review of the lists and incorporate appropriate plans at regular project reviews
The following activities should be completed for the new lessons learned process:
Deploy CA PPM in the Cloud. It will allow for data to be proactively gathered in order to be able to measure what is important, and will be available through the use of multiple devices, including smartphones, tablets, etc.
Use the CA PPM cloud solution to help coordinate changes to project and program management; and, to provide a more efficient manner for handling the lessons learned management process. This will result in overall project lifecycle management improvements.
Capture lessons as they are discovered. It is generally a wasteful practice for teams to wait until the end of each phase or the end of the project to be trying to “resurrect” lessons from memory. There is also the possibility that an important lesson may be forgotten. Also, the lag between the error and recording the error may leave a window of opportunity for other projects to repeat the same mistake.
Lessons must be presented in a form that is useful for the current project team and other teams. One way to accomplish this if by writing lessons in terms of actionable recommendations or tasks, and to make them generic for all projects rather than writing something specific such as “vendor xyz underestimated the time it takes to deploy network circuits”. Another way to present lessons in a useful format is by classifying them into specific fields of application and interest. For example, technical design, supplier capability, or specific tools.
Once lessons are being captured in real-time and written in terms of actionable items, the next step would be to constantly encourage project and program managers and team members to review and act appropriately upon those lessons. This may be accomplished by including lessons learned discussions in each phase gate review. And by asking which considerations have been addressed and which are worth addressing in the next part of the design or deliverables.
In summary, EI&A is already taking initial steps into improving the way that projects are managed. Despite these initial steps, and due to the fact that it is not always possible for project managers to perform a clear decomposition of requirements during the initiation phase of a project, additional process improvement is required to help EI&A project managers analyze project attributes and characteristics, and to understand how to best manage requirement decomposition, and effectively manage projects.
A lessons learned process is vital for taking the necessary steps toward improvement and innovation. The lessons learned process must begin at the initial phase of each project. A recommended way to start gathering feedback and knowledge from past lessons learned and completed projects is to hold “debrief” sessions early during the initial phases of a project. Debrief sessions are conversational meetings in which team members use dialogue to address project issues in a structured format. They allow team members to give direct feedback about the project, including an in-depth view of issues impacting project execution. They are also a good place to begin capturing what is going well. The entire project team should be invited to participate. (projectview.net)
Once lessons learned have been captured, it is important to ensure that they are easily referenced by other project teams. To achieve this, lessons learned must be kept in a location where they can be easily found and searched, for example, a project portal or intranet site, and/or a collaboration tool such as Yammer.
Every project initiation phase should include a requirement for analyzing past project lessons learned, and to track improved effectiveness and efficiencies on projects based on applying the lessons learned from past projects. In this way, the lessons learned from past projects help to increase the success of future projects. Organizational leadership need to strive to create a set of enabling conditions that foster an organizational culture of capturing and adapting behavior based on identified lessons learned.
Given that the faster projects are completed the greater will be the resulting return on investment and value to the business, using a best fit project management lessons learned methodology, processes and tools is crucial in helping ensure that projects are completed in a timely manner, within budget, with the highest quality, and with the highest business value possible. The process should include lessons learned about team skills and performance.
“To be really efficient the lessons learned processes have not only to be applied all along the projects’ lifecycles but they have to be operationally connected to concrete sets of actions and clearly defined as project activities, not only addressing the improvement of the project management process quality but also delivering concrete outcomes for the project. That is why the lessons learned process have to be driven at the organization’s level and not limited to a single project”. (Lazar, 2014).
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