When was the last time you looked for a Lessons Learned document concerning a project your organization completed last year? Yesterday? Yeah, right! Most companies doing software development perform formalized evaluations of their project performance however few have adopted an approach that ensures they will truly benefit from the value of their own experience. 1
We all know intuitively what it means to learn from our past experiences – typically that means learn “the hard way.” However, for an organization to really reap the benefits of learning, it must use a consistent process (i.e., applied project after project) that participants truly believe will lead to lasting change in the organization’s behavior.
Although the evaluation and disposition of Lessons Learned is normally completed during the project closeout phase2, they should be captured throughout a project. Too many organizations incorrectly refer to the lessons-learned process as a “post-mortem analysis.” This discredits the entire activity by giving it a negative connotation rather than promoting the potential value.
The key elements of an effective lessons learned process are:
- Leadership involvement and commitment to the process are the most critical factors to an effective learning process.
- Lessons Learned should be captured throughout a project. A centralized location in the project’s repository is a great mechanism to capture team member’s contributions.
- A structured method of collecting and analyzing the organization’s behavior and practices must be consistently applied over time.
- Performance assessment information for the project comes from honest self-examination by the project delivery team and experienced leadership within the organization.
- The Lessons Learned process is an investment. Real value is realized in changes to the organization’s guiding policies and procedures, not a bunch of dusty old Lessons Learned documents sitting in an archive folder.
At AVIO, we use what we call the “Project Review Board Process” to capture key learnings, update our documentation and knowledge and continually improve our implementation quality. A key part of our framework is the project review meetings that take place at key points during an implementation as well as at project wrap-up.
The project review board typically consists of two senior architects to provide a technical assessment of the project’s activities and products and two members of management to provide a level of accountability and breadth of knowledge of the company’s policies and procedures. Of course, the project team members are encouraged to provide an open and honest self-examination of the work performed to date. AVIO management has successfully fostered a culture that balances accountability and transparency leading to real candor in the evaluation.
Project reviews are based on a standard checklist to assess our execution of key project delivery practices. Each practice area has defined criteria to ensure a consistent scoring is developed. The checklist itself leads to a quantitative assessment however it is the dialogue between participants that leads to real learning. To really derive organizational value from the experiences of the project team, the lessons learned from the reviews (regarding both positive results and negative consequences) must be evaluated against the guiding policies and procedures for the organization.
AVIO management and delivery resources have embraced the philosophy of continuous improvement in a services organization. The investment into learning from our own experience has paid off. It is another reason AVIO is recognized as a top-tier service provider in the SOA and BPM delivery space.
1 – Knoco Ltd ‘The status of lessons learning in organisations’. Survey conducted summer 2009. 74 businesses responded; 76% claimed to have a Lessons Learned process with an additional 7% working on a formalized process. However, less than half felt they had an effective process.
2 - Project Management Institute (PMI) Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) definition of Lessons Learned as a best practice.