Evaluating a project through lessons learned!

00 Project Management

Why do so many professionals
say they are project managing,
when what they are actually doing
is firefighting?
Colin Bentley (1997)

In this paper I will not cover what is already well known about the various elements that define the success rate of a project. Experts and specialized documentation have enough well covered this topic, the interesting thing to note though is most studies and guidelines express advice before or after a project starts or finishes. Very seldom project managers and their team are assisted during the life of a project.

To my opinion, I find it enough easy for an expert to point at what could “have been done” once a project ends. Instead, I would have been very happy to benefit from such expertise as a full available guidance during the various steps of a given project.

A few weeks ago I wrote a paper about project management on how to add to its process a human touch. People – and this is not a new discovery – can make the whole difference in any task or activity that involves more than one person.

When I started in project management, I have to admit that my exposure to real life project’s specific was limited, I requested help and guidance from a senior fellow-worker, who also was my mentor during the years I worked as a PM on various mandates.

One of the questions I used to worry about (I guess most PMs do the same), was how to define its keys of success, in fact I was looking for the magical recipe. I guess nothing unusual for such legitimate concerns.

My mentor, was known for his upmost skills and level of expertise, but soon I found out he was an excellent educator, (It took me time, years to say, to recognize the depth of his guidance). He always cared to make me understand that his presence was to show me avenues, potential solutions, but he never influenced any my decisions I took even if knowing I could face issues. I knew it was very tempting for him to interfere and take the lead, or ask me “to see and learn” from his actions. Today I know he was avoiding to teach and transfer his habits. Many exerts and seniors tend to show their habits to their audiences thus depriving their followers from learning by themselves, acquiring the most suitable know-how that is inspired from their own personality.

My mentor used challenging approaches where I had to fight my own limitations but also my own ego: “The beginner who knows all ego kind of thing!”

I wanted to learn from other colleagues, and hoping to make my learning path worth, I usually looked at the documentation from previous projects, reading through reports more specifically the lessons learned document. It was surprising to notice that lessons learned contained very valuable information, points who could teach any beginner PM lots of things to help make their project a success, yet these points were repeated (almost the same) from a project to another.

Asking my mentor on such thing, he explained that even though a project’s closing process was meant to help the following project’s teams to “learn” and prevent errors or poor decisions, most PMs did not benefit of these, for various reasons. One of his comments became, with time, a lesson of life. During one of our conversations he said that a lessons learned report, if used properly, should carry less items from a project to another!

I thought he was sort of joking or picking my brain on something, I did not get the message until later during the closing of my project and after reading the list of key-points of the lessons learned report.

It was the same scenario once again: many good points to learn from, but also many issues the same show stoppers, the same story repeating itself! Every word my mentor said came back to my mind, clear crystal! I think it was my 1 point lesson learned…

Learning has never been a complex thing to achieve, unless of course if we enjoy complicating things, learning from past experiences has a little price compared to the fortune we waste fixing bad decisions we make by not learning from peers or past experiences, that is the price our ego make us pay often.

I always wonder why do we need to make things look hard to solve and why are we so diligent to “fix things for the next time” when the next time happens from the same poor judgement? As if such resolutions and reporting were meant to make things in conformity with procedures and less to be used in a meaningful way to prevent and make things better. The form prevailing over the real content!

Personally I would name this deliverable “Lessons to learn from people” and start any project by writing this document before any further activity, team members contributing each in their field and being fully aware how important every activity is critical for the rest of the team. I am a believer that people can make the difference to bring a project to a level of success and satisfaction, all the rest is useful but comes as a supporting kit of tools not the other way!

Until the next lesson to learn!

Michel – December 27, 2014

Image Courtesy: The Project Management Pattern


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