A major project successfully completed usually means a celebration and congratulations to all those involved in the design and execution. Difficulties are quickly forgotten as the team moves on to new challenges.
This approach, whilst very understandable, misses a significant opportunity to benefit the organisation for years to come. A formal project review of lessons learned at project closure stage.
LEARN FROM EXPERIENCE
Despite ‘learn from experience’ being the second of the seven PRINCE2 principles, the opportunity to capture the lessons learned from the project is often underdeveloped or overlooked. The collective sense of accomplishment at the end of a straightforwardly successful project can result in an underdeveloped lessons report, while at the closure of a project which has been beset with issues there can be a reluctance to revisit the challenges faced, and to explore and record these honestly. Given that PRINCE2 describes the purpose of the lessons report as “to pass on any lessons that can be usefully applied to other projects… to provoke action”, both in respect of positive lessons where these should be embedded in the culture of the workplace and negative lessons where steps should be taken to avoid repetition.
PROJECT LESSONS REPORT
There are several ways to identify the lessons from a project, not all of which are limited to the project closure stage; we have found the following two methods to be effective in the majority of project closure scenarios:
- The consequences of the most impactful negative lessons are likely to have already been captured within the issues log, highlight reports and any revisions to the business case. The project manager can extract these for consultation with the relevant project team members to determine the root cause(s) and relevance for inclusion in the lessons report.
- Identifying positive lessons (worthy of capture) relating to the project method, control and structure can be less straightforward; the differentiation between meeting and exceeding expectation is usually key. Issuing a well-thought-out survey for completion by the project team members and stakeholders can elicit numerous insightful responses –and, of course, previously uncaptured negative lessons may also be raised. The project manager can collate and anonymise all feedback for further discussion with the project team, during which the team can agree the aspects that are appropriate for the lessons report.
When it comes to drafting the lessons report there are some key guidelines:
- In all cases – positive or negative – where the project strategy, method, control or structure is determined to have been a significant factor the lessons must be captured.
- Where lessons relate to a very specific technical or business-related aspect of the project, which may not be replicated in a future project, they should still be recorded but may be better placed in a separate section of the report
- Significant lessons should be supported by sufficiently detailed descriptions of the event, cause and impact to be understood by persons not aware of or involved with the project.
- And, most importantly, where the project team has made specific recommendations to accompany the lessons learned these must be included for the benefit of future projects.
The most successful organisations not only learn from their mistake but from their successes too. Adopting a structured approach to project closure will ensure that all experiences can be used to improve the effectiveness of future project teams.
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