You’ve Conducted Your Project’s Lessons Learned: Now What?

Alexa Beavers, PMP, submitted the best comment on Bernadine Douglas' Getting Real with Lessons Learned post. Ms. Beavers is a Petersburg, Virginia, USA-based associate director and global project manager at German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim. She has managed projects for more than 15 years, and specializes in large-scale change management. Ms. Beavers founded the project management community of practice at her previous employer, and assisted in the development of Boehringer Ingelheim's. Follow her on Twitter at @awbeavers.

Read her thoughts on realizing change from lessons learned below:

You're feeling really good because you took the time to gather your project team and key stakeholders, to reflect on what went well during your project and what did not go so well. You even took the critical step of leaving the meeting with an action plan, with clear ownership to pursue the actions you identified. But are you getting the most out of your lessons learned?

If you don't have a simple process to build improvement into your next project, then you're not reaping the full benefits. Many project managers are familiar with W. Edwards Deming's Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle. It's meant to be a continuous cycle. Our lessons learned is the "check" stage, where we review results and identify learnings. But we can't stop there -- we have to move into "act" to get the true value of a lessons learned. Here are some ideas for how to do that. 

  1. Assign ownership and follow up. Coming out of the lessons learned, you have created an actionable plan. Make sure that you also assign a clear expectation for closing the accountability loop. Lessons learned often come at the end of a project, when project meetings are no longer routine, so it's extra important to set up a way to ensure this "crowning" moment of your project doesn't fall flat. 
  2. Look for trends. The Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle is about continuous improvement. Use your lessons learned findings to look for patterns and trends. You may find trends in traditional project processes, technical specifics or cultural aspects. Set up lessons learned standards so you can see if you are making positive strides over time.
  3. Revisit lessons learned with each new planning phase. At the start of each new project, build in a step where you look back at trends from past projects. Use this step as you build your new project plan with your team, so you can learn from experience. 
  4. Set a goal. Make it clear to your project team that you are committed to their development and growth. Part of helping your team develop is to set a goal for everyone to reach for. Look to the lessons learned from your last projects and set goals around continuous improvement.
Read other comments submitted for the guest post, or tell us your thoughts on turning lessons learned into real change below.
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