Exploring lessons learned for IT program management

Abstract

Organizations are increasing their use of program management as a means to realize their strategic and business objectives (Blomquist & Müller, 2004, 2006; Görög, 2011; Thiry, 2004). The primary reasons organizations create programs are to coordinate distinct projects using a common resource or skill base, to develop completely new systems or services, or to enhance existing functionality or service delivery (Pellegrinelli, 1997, p. 143). Programs establish a bridge between the strategic goals and the projects of the organization by setting the boundaries in which projects operate (McElroy, 1996; Pellegrinelli, 2002). The problem is that knowledge sharing among projects within the construct of the program is not always efficient and effective, resulting in repeated mistakes and a lack of growth in project management effectiveness. Research was conducted to explore and provide an understanding on the use of lessons learned to facilitate knowledge sharing for information technology (IT) program management. This problem was examined from the perspective of three program management roles: program manager, project manager, and subject matter expert (SME).

The purpose of this paper is to share the results from the qualitative research and to discuss how lessons learned can be used to facilitate knowledge sharing among projects within IT programs. This paper begins with an overview of how the lessons learned research was conducted. The research findings are then presented by section: program stakeholders’ perception of the role of lessons learned in knowledge sharing in IT program management, practices for capturing and sharing lessons learned, expectations for capturing and sharing lessons learned, perceptions of facilitators and barriers for capturing and sharing lessons learned and, finally, what participants would do differently, followed by a discussion on the lessons learned culture. The paper ends with a conclusion on how lessons learned can be used for knowledge sharing for IT program management.

Lessons Learned Research Overview

It is important to begin with how lessons learned was defined for this research. Lessons learned are the “key project experiences, which have a certain general business relevance for future projects. They have been validated by the team and represent a consensus on key insights that should be considered for future projects.” (Schindler & Eppler, 2003, p. 220) They also are “the learning gained from the process of performing the project. Lessons learned may be identified at any point” (PMI, 2008a, p. 429). Specifically for programs, “lessons learned include the variances from the program management plan, corrective actions taken and their outcomes, risk mitigations, and other information of value to management and stakeholders of future programs.” (PMI, 2008b, p. 39)

This research was framed to answer a central research question and sub-questions. The central research question was: how does the use of lessons learned (as defined herein) facilitate knowledge sharing for IT program management? The four sub-questions included in this research were:

  1. What are program stakeholders’ perceptions of the role (capture and use) of lessons learned in knowledge sharing in IT program management?
  2. How are lessons learned captured for knowledge sharing in IT program management?
  3. How are lessons learned used for knowledge sharing in IT program management?
  4. What do program stakeholders perceive to be the facilitators and barriers to capturing and using lessons learned for the benefit of knowledge sharing among current and future projects within IT programs?

This research was conducted because although there is information available on the topic of lessons learned; there is not a lot of information available specifically on how to capture and share lessons learned. While conducting the research, project and program practitioners shared that both capturing and sharing lessons learned were challenging activities, further indicating that there was a need to better understand the importance of lessons learned and how to capture and share lessons learned for IT programs.

The use of a social constructivist perspective provided an opportunity to look for complexity of views (Creswell, 2007), to pull together disparate participant experiences, and construct meaning from those experiences (Charmaz, 2009; Corbin & Strauss, 2008; Creswell, 2007). The qualitative method, exploratory qualitative inquiry, allowed for the use of in-depth interviews, which were conducted to understand the personal experiences of the participants, and the meaning that they make of those experiences (Charmaz, 2009; Seidman, 2006). This research was conducted using a purposive sampling strategy, which allowed for the selection of participants based on their expected ability to provide insights (Flick, 2009). Throughout the data collection process, constant comparison was used to identify themes and generate a composite synthesis of the data. The unit of analysis was IT program stakeholders with program management and lessons learned experience. Eighteen participants were selected based on three different roles: program manager, project manager, and subject matter expert (Table 1).

  Program Role Number/Percentage  
  Program Manager 9 (50%)  
  Project Manager 5 (28%)  
  Subject Matter Expert (SME) 4 (22%)  

Table 1 – Research Participants

A Concept Map as shown in Figure 1 was developed to provide a visualization on how the interview questions were organized into five sections for data analysis and how the results were organized by awareness and themes.

Lessons Learned for IT Program Management Concept Map

Figure 1 – Lessons Learned for IT Program Management Concept Map

Responses from the first research sub-question: What are program stakeholders’ perceptions of the role (capture and use) of lessons learned in knowledge sharing in IT program management provided an awareness of the participants’ understanding of a program, lessons learned and program success as it relates to the capture and use of lessons learned.

Responses from the second research sub-question: How are lessons learned captured for knowledge sharing in IT program management and the third research sub-question: How are lessons learned used for knowledge sharing in IT program management were combined into practices for capturing and sharing lessons learned, and generated six themes: occasion, process, knowledge management, setting, project management sharing, and culture.

Responses from the fourth research sub-question: What do program stakeholders perceive to be the facilitators and barriers to capturing and using lessons learned for the benefit of knowledge sharing among current and future projects within IT programs were separated into three sections; namely, 3, 4, and 5.

  • Section 3: expectations for capturing and sharing lessons learned provided an awareness of what the participants were expecting, which provided a common platform to discuss their facilitators and barriers for capturing and sharing lessons learned, and identified what they would do differently. Prevalent expectations were capture and share lessons learned, and eliminate the repeat of mistakes.
  • Section 4: perceptions of facilitators and barriers for capturing and sharing lessons learned generated five themes of which two were facilitators and three were barriers. The themes were: facilitator-culture, facilitator-personal success, barrier-culture, barrier-time, and barrier-process and tools.
  • Section 5: what would the participant do differently generated two themes: process and tools, and communicate value/awareness.

Section 1: Program Stakeholders’ Perception of the Role of Lessons Learned in Knowledge Sharing in IT Program Management

Responses for the first section: perceptions of the role of lessons learned, provided an awareness of the participants’ perspective on programs, lessons learned, and program success.

All of the participants provided an understanding of programs, lessons learned, and program success. In general, the participants considered a program to consist of a collection of multiple projects. They considered the purpose of lessons learned was the capture of the positive and negative lessons that were learned from a project or program and to use them to improve the success of current and future projects or programs. However, the definition of program success did differ among the roles. Program managers indicated the success is measured individually for each program and that program success criteria should be determined at the beginning of the program. All of the program managers agreed that success in a program is collectively doing the project and the operational work that make up the program, meeting the program objectives, and realizing the objectives that were stated at the beginning of the program. Project managers define program success as completing all of the projects within the program and meeting the requirements. The SMEs were focused on the projects within the program and defined success based on completing the project deliverables. All of the participants agreed that the cost of not using lessons learned was repeating the same mistakes, which could lead to rework or loss of credibility.

Section 2: Practices for Capturing and Sharing Lessons Learned

The second section: practices for capturing and sharing lessons learned resulted in six themes: occasion, process, knowledge management, setting, program management sharing, and culture. The description for each theme is shown in Table 2. Subthemes were also identified within each of the six themes.

Theme Description
Occasion The particular time, need, or reason that the lessons learned event occurs. The five sub-themes for Occasion are capture at the end of the phase, capture throughout the project, share during learning activities, share at start of a new project, and share during team meetings.
Process Step by step activities that define the actions for completing project deliverables. The two sub-themes for Process are process improvement, and risk management.
Knowledge Management System A knowledge management system incorporates the processes and tools used to store and access data, and the documents used for sharing the information. The two subthemes are electronic storage and reports.
Setting The setting indicates the how the lessons learned were captured and who participated. The two sub-themes are facilitated sessions and participants.
Program Management Sharing Program management sharing specifically addresses how lessons learned are shared for IT programs. The sub-themes focus on two different ways this sharing occurs: sharing among projects within the program and sharing for projects that run concurrently within a program.
Culture Culture represents the organizational environment and belief system for capturing and sharing lessons learned. The two sub-themes are institutionalizing lessons learned and program participants not willing to share.

Table 2 – Themes for Capturing and Sharing Lessons Learned

Section 2, Theme 1: Occasion

Occasion represents the particular time, need, or reason that the lessons learned event occurs. Participants were asked when they capture lessons learned. None of the program managers waited until the end of the program to capture lessons learned, which is consistent with Kasvi, Vartianinen, and Hailikari (2003), who observed that when lessons learned are reported at the end of the program, other projects within the program miss the benefits of those lessons learned. Another consideration that did not receive a lot of support from the participants is at the end of the project. The capture of lessons learned usually occurs at the end of the project (Kasvi, Vartiainen, & Hailikari, 2003; Schindler & Eppler, 2003); however, only one program manager waited until the end of the project to capture lessons learned. The other program managers provided two main reasons for not waiting until the end of the project. One reason is that towards the end of the project people are exhausted, trying to tie up loose ends, or thinking about the next project, which can cause some important things to be missed. The other reason is at the closing of the project, people who may have been instrumental and had a large role to play on the project may have completed their role before the project was delivered and are not there anymore to participate in the lessons learned discussion. Schindler and Eppler stressed the necessity of continuous project learning through regular reviews and determined that the regular gathering of key experiences had a positive impact on both the motivation of the team and on the quality of the gathered insights. The research provided five sub-themes for the occasion for capturing and sharing lessons learned.

Sub-theme: Capture at the End of the Phase

Program managers and project managers are capturing lessons learned at the end of the phase because there are things that can be learned within each phase, and it is best to capture it at the end of the phase while it is still fresh in everyone's mind, and the focus is still on that phase. Capturing at the end of the phase also allows lessons learned to be discussed while the appropriate team members are still part of the project. Both project managers and SMEs found capturing lessons learned at the end of the phase to be important because each phase is different. SMEs participate based on their subject matter expertise and may not be available to participate after their phase assignment ends.

Sub-theme: Capture Throughout the project

Program managers indicated that the ideal time to capture lessons learned is throughout the project, as they occur; however, this is hard to achieve. A project manager indicated that the best quality lessons learned are obtained when lessons learned are documented as they are learned. Another project manager suggested capturing the lessons learned as the lessons learned occur and then revisiting them at the end of the phase. This would allow project participants to capture, discuss, and follow-up on lessons learned throughout the project.

Sub-theme: Share During Learning Activities

Sharing during learning activities took the form of meetings specifically scheduled to discuss the lessons learned results. This could be a post-implementation meeting with program stakeholders, or a monthly or quarterly meeting to feature a project's lessons learned by sharing lessons learned reports and other documentation with program stakeholders or the PMO community. Another learning activity is project management training. A program manager incorporates a lessons learned activity and a handout documenting lessons learned from actual projects as part of a project management seminar that is offered three times a year. By incorporating lessons learned in with the project management training, this sets the expectation of the importance of lessons learned, especially with new project managers. The final learning activity discussed was lunchtime learning sessions, which included project managers from different projects. This forum allowed project managers to talk openly about project successes and failures. Project managers found that the lunch sessions created a sense of community among people in project management positions, which developed a connection among project managers.

Sub-theme: Share at the Start of a New Project

Program managers indicated that sharing at the start of a new project could occur during the kick-off meeting and suggested inviting people from other projects and having them bring their lessons learned. Another suggestion for the kick-off meeting was to have a slide dedicated to lessons learned as part of the kick-off presentation.

Sub-theme: Share During Team Meetings

The final sharing activity identified was to share lessons learned during team meetings either by having lessons learned as a regular agenda item or by adding lessons learned to the agenda when needed.

Section 2, Theme 2: Process

Process is the step-by-step activities that define the actions for completing project deliverables. The two subthemes are process improvement and risk management.

Sub-theme: Process Improvement

The use of lessons learned can help to improve processes. A program manager mentioned that lessons learned would need to be integrated moving forward into the next project of that program. When things go wrong it is important to document the process to ensure that the same things do not go wrong in the future. Another project manager said, every process can be improved over time and the lessons from a stellar project can be used to help a project that may be floundering. According to an SME, lessons learned can be used to identify an ineffective process, which can then be changed or eliminated.

Sub-theme: Risk Management

A program manager indicated that the use of lessons learned will help reduce the risk that something bad will happen and increase the opportunity that something good will happen. This should also reduce the amount of risk, if only by a small amount, on the next project within the program. Program managers also promoted the use of risk registers and risk management questionnaires as input to lessons learned. As a program manager said that the risk management questionnaire feeds into lessons learned and if we encounter the same risk more than once, it is an indicator that we did not learn a lesson. Risks can serve as a check and balance to lessons learned.

Section 2, Theme 3: Knowledge Management System

A knowledge management system incorporates the processes and tools used to store and access data, and the documents for sharing the information. The two sub-themes are electronic storage and reports.

Sub-theme: Electronic Storage

Program knowledge management includes the system where the program knowledge and artifacts are stored (PMI, 2013). The research revealed that organizations should have a process for capturing lessons learned and the right structure in place to store the lessons learned data. Participants found the use of a database or Intranet site to be an effective way to allow program participants to have easy access to the information. Program stakeholders should be able to go into a knowledge database and access examples. For this reason, a program manager indicated, it is important to have the right fields based on how people will learn or how they will use the information. Search words are also important for ease of use because it would allow the program participant to use a search word to obtain documents from previous projects, which is more efficient than asking people who were on these projects with the hopes that they remember what occurred.

Sub-theme: Reports

The knowledge management system should also contain reports, which would allow the data to be extracted and converted into information that could be used by the program stakeholders.

Section 2, Theme 4: Setting

The setting indicates how the lessons learned were captured and who participated. The two subthemes are facilitated sessions and participants.

Sub-theme: Facilitated Sessions

The participants indicated that the majority of the time either the program manager or project manager facilitated the lessons learned sessions. In some cases, the facilitator was neutral to the project, such as a PMO resource, a peer project manager, someone from the audit or process improvement departments, or if necessary an external consultant. This is consistent with the literature. Julian (2008) recommended the use of a skilled neutral facilitator. To be effective, the facilitator will need to have people skills, as one program manager said, “the ability to get along with people in a very simple and humble way.” The facilitator will also have to have facilitation skills, including knowing how to use facilitation tools and must be able to get information from the team members.

Sub-theme: Participants

The research revealed that the project team attends the lessons learned sessions. Program managers also invite the program support team, which could be representatives from the PMO who assist with the capture and storage of lessons learned. The project sponsor and functional managers are also invited. Sometimes it is necessary to separate lessons learned sessions by role or team; such as business, IT, and vendor.

Section 2, Theme 5: Program Management Sharing

Program management sharing specifically addresses how lessons learned are shared for IT programs. The sub-themes focus on two different ways this sharing occurs: sharing among projects within the program and sharing for projects that run concurrently within a program.

Sub-theme: Sharing among projects within the program

For knowledge building to be effective, learning must occur within and between projects (Kotnour, 2000). The findings in this study supported the literature. Program managers integrate lessons learned across projects within a program. There is a lot of sharing that occurs at the project level among projects within a program, especially if there is a dependency among the projects, or if deliverables are shared among projects. As one program manager indicated, if multiple project managers report to a program manager, the program manager should be helping those project managers to identify lessons learned and preventing them from stumbling on some of the same issues that the program manager has seen occur on some of the other projects. A project manager suggested that program managers should have lessons learned sessions with the project managers who are part of their program so the information can be passed among project managers effectively because, although projects managers do talk to each other, it is more based on their informal networks of relationships than on formal sharing.

Sub-theme: Sharing for projects that run concurrently within a program

If all of the projects are running concurrently, the opportunity to share lessons learned within the program decreases; however, the lessons learned are still valuable and can be used for other programs.

Section 2, Theme 6: Culture

Culture represents the organizational environment and belief system for capturing and sharing lessons learned. The two sub-themes are institutionalizing lessons learned and program participants not willing to share.

Sub-theme: Institutionalizing lessons learned.

The research indicated that the success of capturing and sharing lessons learned is more behavioral than technological. As a program manager indicated, it requires the organization to have a learning culture and to be supportive when mistakes are made and things had to be fixed. It requires both individual learning and organizational learning. A program manager stated, “the process to learn in an organization is essentially observing something that should be remembered, remembering it institutionally, capturing it in writing, and then recalling it institutionally at the right time.”

Sub-theme: Program participants not willing to share

Program managers also found that team members are not always willing to share information with other team members. People are competitive and they do not share their knowledge because they see knowledge as power and they do not want to lose any of their perceived power. A program manager stated that lessons learned are about sharing knowledge.

Section 3: Expectations for Capturing and Sharing Lessons Learned

Responses for the third section: expectations for capturing and sharing lessons learned were used to gain awareness of what the participants were expecting, which provided a common platform to discuss their facilitators as well as barriers for capturing and sharing lessons learned. Prevalent expectations were capture and share lessons learned and eliminate the repeat of mistakes. All of the program participants expected lessons learned to be captured and shared not only with the immediate project team but also throughout the organization. Some of the program managers also expected that capturing and using lessons learned would eliminate the repeat of mistakes because making the same mistake reduces productivity, which contributes to loss. Program managers expect learning to occur from mistakes and SMEs expect lessons learned to improve their personal and project success.

Section 4: Perceptions of Facilitators and Barriers for Capturing and Sharing Lessons Learned

Responses for the fourth section: perceptions of facilitators and barriers to capturing and sharing lessons learned generated five themes as shown in Table 3.

Theme Description
Facilitator-Culture that Supports Lessons Learned Culture that supports lessons learned is present in the organization and allows the program participants to use lessons learned processes and tools, and the leadership in the organization understands and values the program participants’ lessons learned activities.
Facilitator-Personal Success Personal success represents the program participants’ position on the reason they use lessons learned. It is their intrinsic motivation.
Barrier-Culture that does not Support Lessons Learned Culture that does not support lessons learned is present in the organization and does not encourage or allow the program participants to fully utilize lessons learned processes and tools, and the leadership in the organization does not fully understand or value the program participants’ lessons learned activities.
Barrier-Time Time is represented as a measure or a component of a schedule, indicating the participants’ ability to perform the lessons learned activities.
Barrier-Process and Tools Process and tools are the step-by-step activities that define the actions for completing project deliverables, along with the technology to support the process.

Table 3 – Themes for Facilitators and Barriers for Capturing and Sharing Lessons Learned

Participants were asked to discuss their perceptions of the facilitators and barriers to capturing and sharing lessons learned. Two of the themes were facilitators: culture that supports lessons learned and personal success. Three of the themes were barriers: culture that does not support lessons learned, time, and process and tools. The participants indicated that culture could be both a facilitator and a barrier.

Section 4, Theme 1: Facilitator – Culture that Supports Lessons Learned

This theme indicates that a culture that supports lessons learned is present in the organization and allows the program participants to use lessons learned processes and tools, and the leadership in the organization understands and values the program participants’ lessons learned activities. A culture that supports lessons learned is a facilitator because trust is established through communications, which allows program participants to openly discuss lessons learned. Leadership supports lessons learned by understanding its importance and allowing the program participants the time to capture lessons learned, but more importantly, allowing program participants the time to go through lessons learned in detail to see what was learned and to then share that information at the beginning of the next project or program.

Section 4, Theme 2: Facilitator – Personal Success

Personal success represents the program participants’ position on the reason they use lessons learned. It is their intrinsic motivation. Nobody wants to make the same mistake twice. Participants found it acceptable to make a mistake, but it becomes a problem if they are repeatedly making the same mistakes. In addition, participants expressed their desire for personal success because being more successful at executing programs or projects could provide more career opportunities. As one program manager said, “personal success is at stake”, making mistakes will hinder personal success.

Section 4, Theme 3: Barrier – Culture that does not Support Lessons Learned

Culture that does not supports lessons learned is present in the organization and does not encourage or allow the program participants to fully utilize lessons learned processes and tools, and the leadership in the organization does not fully understand or value the program participants’ lessons learned activities. If an organization does not provide leadership support for lessons learned then participation from the project team suffers. Another concern is that leadership is needed for decision-making. Decision-making for the organization is an essential behavior of managers, which includes daily operational decisions (Shimizu, 2012). The daily operational decision-making incorporates the allocation of resources in the form of budgets, planning time, schedules, supervising, and controlling (Shimizu, 2012). Decision makers need to allocate resources for lessons learned. If the culture does not support lessons learned then the decisions that are made that impact lessons learned activities are not made in the most efficient manner.

Section 4, Theme 4: Barrier – Time

Time is represented as a measure or a component of a schedule, indicating the participants’ ability to perform the lessons learned activities. The participants express the concern that everyone is busy doing other things. Lessons learned need to be planned, and team members need to be given the opportunity to make themselves available. Project managers work on several projects at the same time and as one project manager indicated, at the time when you are dealing with the project issues and learning, you are least likely to have time to capture those lessons learned.

Section 4, Theme 5: Barrier – Process and Tools

Process and tools are the step-by-step activities that define the actions for completing the project deliverables, along with the technology to support the process. There were two findings related to process and tools. The first finding is that a process and tools are needed to capture lessons learned. The second finding is with the use of lessons learned. Although some organizations have a process and tools in place for capturing lessons learned, after these lessons learned are captured, there is no formal process for sharing them.

Section 5: What Would the Participant Do Differently?

In the fifth and final section: what would the participants do differently, the participant responses generated two themes, which are shown in Table 4.

Theme Description
Have a Process in Place A documented methodology for capturing and sharing lessons learned and tools to support the methodology.
Communicate Value / Awareness Provide an understanding of the importance of capturing and sharing lessons learned.

Table 4 – Themes for What Participants Would Do Differently

Section 5, Theme 1: Have a Process in Place

Having a process in place would include a documented methodology for capturing and sharing lessons learned and tools to support the methodology. Program managers wanted the process documented so people will know what to do, and which tools to use. One program manager wanted a web-based system so that as people are learning the lesson they could enter it in real-time. Project managers wanted standardized processes, templates, and a standard set of questions so there would be consistency. The lessons learned process should be clear, concise, and mandatory. Finally, to improve the lessons learned process, a program manager suggested doing a lesson learned on the lessons learned process

Section 5, Theme 2: Communicate Value/Awareness

Communicating value/awareness sets the expectations of the importance of capturing and sharing lessons learned. Leadership sets the tone, which allows program participants the ability to participate in lessons learned activities and build relationships with other program participants

Lessons Learned Culture

The overarching result from this study is the importance of culture. Culture was identified as a finding in the second, third, and fourth research sub-questions. For this reason, it has been determined that culture has the greatest impact on the use of lessons learned to facilitate knowledge sharing for IT program management. Culture represents the organizational environment and belief system for capturing and sharing lessons learned. It is also a facilitator as well as a barrier to capturing and sharing lessons learned. The main finding related to culture for capturing and sharing lessons learned was institutionalizing lessons learned.

Organizations need to have an environment that encourages people to share their lessons learned. Decisions regarding capturing and sharing lessons learned need to come from the top down. The findings revealed that C-level and executive-level leaders need to buy-in to the importance of lessons learned. This is consistent with literature on culture. Organizational leaders are responsible for giving purpose, meaning, and guidance to the organization (House & Aditya, 1997).

The purpose of lessons learned for IT programs should be defined and documented; processes, tools, techniques, and timing for capturing and sharing lessons learned should be communicated to program participants; and education and training in support of lessons learned activities should be available.

The findings suggest that it is not that program participants do not think lessons learned are important, they just think that the issues they faced are isolated to the current project. One reason is project managers and SMEs are capturing lessons learned for their individual project, based on their roles, and do not always consider the program perspective. They are not always aware that what is happening on their project could also be happening on other projects within the program, or could be used to help other programs or projects in the future.

Program participants, alone, should not be expected to determine if, when, and how lessons learned should occur. Leadership must understand the need to capture and share lessons learned and distinguish the responsibilities based on the program role. The program manager is responsible for making sure that collaboration and information sharing is occurring for the projects within the program. Project managers and SMEs are responsible for participating in the lessons learned activities.

Another component of a culture is trust. Establishing trust through project activities and communications is a facilitator for lessons learned activities. Trust also means allowing program participants to be comfortable with sharing bad news or reporting what went wrong. Lessons learned should be seen as learning opportunities. Participants should be encouraged to speak openly and honestly about what actually occurred and not say what they think their leadership wants to hear. Lastly, program participants must be willing to share. Leadership should motivate program participants to share lessons learned, and providing a supportive culture can act as a catalyst for the motivation to transfer learning. A culture that supports lessons learned allows the program participants to fully utilize lessons learned processes, tools, and techniques, allows time for capturing and sharing the lessons learned, and facilitates knowledge sharing among program components.

Conclusion

The purpose of this paper was to share the results from exploratory qualitative inquiry research designed to explore and provide an understanding on the use of lessons learned to facilitate knowledge sharing for IT program management. One central research question and four sub-questions guided this study.

The central question for this study was how does the use of lessons learned facilitate knowledge sharing for IT program management? The four sub-questions were:

1. What are program stakeholders’ perceptions of the role (capture and use) of lessons learned in knowledge sharing in IT program management?

2. How are lessons learned captured for knowledge sharing in IT program management?

3. How are lessons learned used for knowledge sharing in IT program management?

4. What do program stakeholders perceive to be the facilitators and barriers to capturing and using lessons learned for the benefit of knowledge sharing among current and future projects within IT programs?

The participants in this study represented three IT program roles: program manager, project manager, and SME.

The results from this study are presented in five sections: (1) perceptions of the role of lessons learned, (2) practices for capturing and sharing lessons learned, (3) expectations for capturing and sharing lessons learned, (4) perceptions of facilitators and barriers to capturing and sharing lessons learned, and (5) what would the participants do differently.

Responses for the first section: perceptions of the role of lessons learned, provided an awareness of the participants’ perspective on programs, lessons learned, and program success.

The second section: practices for capturing and sharing lessons learned, resulted in six themes: occasion, process, knowledge management, setting, program management sharing, and culture, which also contained sub-themes.

Responses for the third section: expectations for capturing and sharing lessons learned was used to gain awareness of what the participants were expecting, which provided a common platform to discuss their facilitators and barriers for capturing and sharing lessons learned.

Responses for the fourth section: perceptions of facilitators and barriers to capturing and sharing lessons learned generated five themes. Two of the themes were facilitators: culture that supports lessons learned and personal success. Three of the themes were barriers: culture that does not support lessons learned, time, and process and tools. In the fifth and final section: what would the participants do differently, the participant responses generated two themes: have a process in place and communicate value/awareness.

The findings suggested that lessons learned should be captured at the end of a project phase and throughout the project. Capturing lessons learned as they occur could be handled with less formality; however, lessons learned, whether captured at the end of the phase or throughout the project, should be revisited in detail at the end of the project. Facilitated lessons learned sessions provide an effective way to capture lessons learned and these sessions are even more effective if the facilitator is skilled and neutral.

The study provided key findings for sharing lessons learned. Lessons learned could be shared during learning activities; such as a post-implementation meeting held for the purpose of analyzing the lessons learned, meetings specifically held for the purpose of featuring the lessons learned artifacts from a specific projects, lunchtime sessions which provide project managers the opportunity to discuss lessons learned and build relationships with other project managers, and training sessions which provide a case study or handouts of actual lessons learned.

Lessons learned can be shared at the start of a new project during kick-off meetings or planning sessions. Lessons learned supports process improvements because it allows the learning to be reinvested in the organization. The study identified a need for an electronic means to store and share program data. The electronic solution should be developed to meet the needs of the organization, based on how program stakeholders will use the information and it should be easy to use. Lessons learned should be shared among projects within the program. The program manager should assume the responsible of sharing lessons learned with the project managers assigned to the program.

Facilitators and barriers for capturing and sharing lessons learned both included culture as a key result. Culture was also indicated as important for capturing and sharing lessons learned. For this reach, culture was identified as an overarching result for this study. The findings show that culture has the greatest impact on the use of lessons learned to facilitate knowledge sharing for IT program management. A culture that supports lessons learned has executive leadership support, documented processes, tools, techniques, and timing for capturing and sharing lessons learned, trust among program participants, and a willingness to share program information.

Results from this study confirmed the existing literature and shed light on the importance of lessons learned and how lessons learned can be used for knowledge sharing among projects within an IT program.

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This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

©2013 Sandra F. Rowe, PhD, PMP, MBA, MSCIS
Originally published as part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – New Orleans, Louisiana

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