Lessons Learned - Why do we never learn the lessons?

Ute Kraus, Physics education group Kraus, Theo...Image via Wikipedia

I've worked in companies in the past who insist on performing "lessons learned' exercises after each of their projects. This is an excellent idea.

When each project has finished, the team gets together and dissects what went wrong, what went right and what they would do differently the next time. The points are noted down and documented in a "lessons learned' document.

I remember after we had implemented a particular financial system (Which I came in on the back end of, I might add) we sat around the table and came up with the following points:

  • Better communication of objectives
  • Keep the users informed. Often!
  • Identify Early Adopters and use them to move the project forward
  • Build great buzz to get the project excited
  • Allocate budget for celebrating success.
....(The list went on and on)

My initial thought on reading these was that they were all pretty valid and all pretty obvious. In fact I would go so far as to say that they were all common sense. (But as readers of this blog will know, I regularly remind them that 'The problem with common sense is that it isn't that common!')

Let's skip forward now about 5 years. The company had taken a decision to replace their multiple financial systems with a single, global SAP implementation. The project started and had been progressing for about 18 months. I spoke to one of the local folks who was working on it to understand what they were doing and how they were getting on. In the space of about 20 minutes I found out the following:

  • Senior management had changed their minds 5 times about the objective of the implementation
  • Nobody in the proposed user community had any idea what was happening with the project
  • They were not involving early adopters or people who were anxious to be involved, instead they were using mostly internal project people to get this going
  • Nobody had a good word to say about the project
  • Budgets were so tight nobody could afford to even buy branded pens or mugs let along have a team dinner to celebrate when something was implemented. Moral was quite low.
About this time I started to remember the lessons learned from the previous financial implementation and I dug out a copy of the document. When I matched the problems the SAP implementation was having with the problems the previous project had I could see a very close similarity.What it meant, in reality, is that despite the fact that we had identified and documented the lessons learned from the previous project, NOBODY HAD, IN FACT LEARNED THE LESSONS. Which got me thinking: Why?

I was obvious that there were problems in the way this company ran projects. They were repeating the same problems over and over again without understanding why. They were also wasting time on capturing lessons learned as they obviously had no intention of referring to these lessons in future. Or maybe it was something a little simpler than that. Maybe it was simply the fact that there was no process to integrate the lessons learned into future projects. The documents were created and filed, but at no point in the project initiation processes was any further reference made to the previous documents. The effectively fell into a black hole never to be referenced again.

Another simple case whereby a small lapse in process had resulted in wasted time, effort and money.

I wonder how many 'lapses' like this exist in your organisation...?

Related Posts by Categories

Widget by Hoctro | Jack Book
For blog comments policy see this post
blog comments powered by Disqus