Right from the start
Relegating lessons learned to the project close can hurt the team—and the organization.
BY DEBORAH A. DELL, PMP
Best practices dictate that the final phase of a project, known as project closure, brings everything to an orderly close and formal acceptance of the project's outcomes. It is in this phase that project practitioners typically concentrate on documenting lessons learned. Yet relegating that process to the project close does a disservice to our teams. By encouraging them to share knowledge throughout the project, we can foster more effective teams and bring larger value to our organization.
“Lessons learned are certainly valuable for the project manager, but more importantly the intellectual capital captured during the process produces valuable assets for the organization,” says Steven DelGrosso, MSc, PMP, the director of IBM's Project Management Center of Excellence and PMI vice chair. “In my experience, knowledge captured has driven process improvements that are leveraged by other project managers across the organization and, in certain circumstances, have produced hard assets replicated and used by other teams.”
Here are the do's and don'ts of helping your team get the most value from lessons learned.
Each team member may have a different understanding of what knowledge sharing means, when it occurs in the project process and what value it holds for the organization. To get everyone on the same page, meet early to discuss the desired outcomes of the project—including capturing key lessons for future projects. Make it clear that knowledge sharing must be an integral part of the team's day-to-day operations.
Oftentimes organizations have guidelines in place for lessons learned, and that can be a good starting point when crafting a plan. But the project manager has the responsibility to customize those requirements to the specific project and share with the team the reasons behind the requirements. Once you've communicated the plan, work to build a culture that embraces the value of sharing information and collaborating.
DON’T THINK TOOLS ARE ENOUGH
Today, project teams have numerous options that make capturing and sharing lessons learned in real time easier than ever before: digital collaboration tools; document repositories like project software, wikis and team rooms; and knowledge sources, such as websites and internal databases.
But it is not enough for the project manager to simply make these tools available to the team. He or she should craft a structured approach to knowledge sharing at the outset of any new project. Rather than default to using every tool available, consider which tool would be most useful to this particular project. Make measured choices and communicate that rationale to team members.
If this project's knowledge-sharing process includes the use of a new tool or application, don't assume that everyone is fluent in it. Ensure that all team members and appropriate stakeholders have access and training so that all can collaborate throughout the project.
DO SET THE EXAMPLE
The project manager must continually promote the capture of lessons learned throughout the project. Demonstrate the desired code of conduct for capturing and sharing of information in a professional manner through the tools of choice. Such actions by the project manager demonstrate and encourage an open environment for documenting lessons learned that may lead to process changes or improved team communications, both of which have demonstrable value.
DON’T LET ANYONE SLIDE
Collaboration tools and social media can pose a challenge in a world of virtual, global teams that cross time zones and cultures. Yet one of the biggest mistakes that can be made is not involving all team members and capturing their insights at all phases of the project. Regardless of their role or their time zone, all team members must be involved and recognized for their contributions to knowledge sharing.
If a virtual team member isn't able to participate during a real-time collaboration on lessons learned, consider posting the discussion instead. A thread to which all team members can add examples, cite solutions and document mitigation strategies may take more time to build when working across time zones, but the final result will be complete.
Just as important, team members will feel the importance placed on lessons learned and knowledge sharing. They'll also feel that their role in the process isn't diminished simply by dint of their availability.
DO NOTE LESSONS LEARNED ABOUT KNOWLEDGE SHARING
The project manager who is committed to continually seeking team feedback and soliciting lessons learned can not only make adjustments throughout the project but can also document insights that may apply to projects in all areas and phases of project management. Even the process of knowledge sharing and capturing insights should be subject to analysis and refinement. At the close of the project, take time to note what worked well with the team and what changes might be made to the lessons learned strategies on the next project you helm. PM
Deborah (Debi) A. Dell, PMP, is the manager of the Project Management Center of Excellence at IBM, a PMI Global Executive Council member. She works from her home in Delray Beach, Florida, USA.
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PMI research shows project teams that draw from an array of perspectives and skillsets deliver powerful outcomes.