One critical type of documentation in project management is the development of a lessons learned knowledge base. Of course, to take full advantage of the learning opportunities provided by mistakes and poor judgment calls, it is necessary to identify and acknowledge them. This means you and your team members need to be comfortable admitting to errors rather than trying to ignore them or “sweep them under the rug”. Placing an emphasis on solving the issue rather than placing blame is a good way to encourage transparency in this area.
It is also important to remember that lessons are also learned from perceptive choices and beneficial actions. These are patterns you will want to repeat in the future, so it is important to make note of them as well. Addressing lessons learned in a meeting format is an excellent exercise in constructive criticism if you lead by example. Just make sure to balance the positive with the negative and never berate a team member (especially in front of others) for a poor decision that resulted in a sub-optimal result. However, accountability should be emphasized. Stakeholders deserve to receive information about when, why, and how improvements can be made to ensure better outcomes in the future.
Types of Lessons Learned
Any aspect of the project management process can yield valuable lessons. For example, an unexpected problem may arise that demonstrates a serious oversight in the risk analysis phase. This will add an important data point for consideration in future projects.
Some other lessons you might learn include:
- That a project’s scope, time, and costs were woefully underestimated
- Which vendors to use and which to avoid in the future – and why
- Which members of your project team need extra supervision to get things done
- Which members of your project team can be given additional responsibilities and opportunities for leadership development
- That certain instructions and communication are unclear leading to confusion
- That your current tools/equipment/technology aren’t up to the task at hand
- That some corporate policies are outdated and decrease the efficiency of project processes
Current Project Improvement
Lessons learned don’t have to be reserved for use in your next project. In some cases, you can use these lessons to help you take immediate corrective action. This actually adds even more value to your knowledge base since you can document not only the cause of an issue but the steps taken to correct it (and the reasoning behind those steps).
The resulting library of knowledge will be invaluable not just for future project management improvement but also as instructional material for other departments in your organization. Seeing documentation of how continual learning works in practice may prompt them to make much needed changes to fix processes in their day to day functioning that are “broken”.