Tag Archives: Lessons Learned

Learn from it, then leave it.

Last week is behind you. Are you working on your status report? Good. Now is a good time to pause and reflect, what lessons did you learn?

Depending on the template you use for your project status, you are probably answering questions like:

What happened as planned?   What did not go as planned?   Why or why not?

The real learning comes from that last question. Why did things go as planned? This represents the actions you want to carry forward. Why didn’t things go as planned? Not the excuses, what are the real causes? For example, did a task go uncompleted because your subject matter expert was ill?

Great, never allow your subject matter expert (SME) to be sick ever again. That is NOT reasonable. If your SME is the only one who can complete a particular activity, then you have a risk. And if you are not able to cross-train or to have more than one resource with this expertise, then the time will come when work will not go as planned.

Now is the perfect opportunity to capture lessons learned. In fact, I once worked with a project auditor who required a lessons learned section in all project status templates. Her point was that if we do not capture the lessons as we go, we will forget them. And she was right.

The end of each day, each week, each month is a perfect time to reflect. So far, we have been discussing your project status report. Now is the time to take an honest look, not just at your project, but at yourself as well. What are the personal and professional lessons that you wish to carry forward? And just as important, what do you need to leave behind?

Happy is the person who knows what to remember of the past, what to enjoy in the present, and what to plan for in the future.
– Arnold H. Glasow

Several years ago, I worked for a manager who was very Theory X. He did not seem to believe in our ability to behave as professionals. He would go through our files and folders on a regular basis to ensure that we were not hiding anything from him.

He was a big believer in the post error walk through. It did not matter how small the error, you needed to resolve it and then you needed to sit in his office and go through what you did step-by-step. He always made sure to ask you multiple times exactly what your mistake was. I always walked away feeling like he had rolled up a newspaper and smacked me on the nose with it saying, “Bad software developer, bad software developer!”

Lessons learned are not just about what to repeat and what to improve. Lessons learned are also about letting go of the things that do not serve you. Not every mistake needs to be examined and discussed and turned into an opportunity for growth. Some things just need to be released. That one time error that your overworked and overtired team member made? Let it go. Or take the lesson to stop over allocating your resources.

Move forward with the valuable lessons and leave the rest in the past.

How to Conduct a Lessons Learned Session

We all know that gathering lessons learned is a best practice and part of our professional responsibility. But that doesn’t mean that we all do it. If the reason you do not is because you don’t know exactly HOW to conduct a lessons learned session or you think conducting a lessons learned session is too complicated, here is an easy and effective approach for you to use. When I was a new (and accidental) project manager I was taught this approach by a consultant who had been hired to teach a group of us how to be project managers. I still use this approach today!

Invite your team to a lessons learned session. You want them to know the purpose of the session in advance, so that they can come prepared to share. If you believe that your team will not be able to speak freely in front of you, you should recruit someone else to facilitate the meeting and you should NOT attend. I don?t think this will happen to you, it has not happened to me yet; but you really do want your team to be able to openly and honestly share their thoughts.

Now it is time for the lessons learned session. Consider following this process:

  1. Start with ?Things we could have done better/differently?.
  2. Explain to the team that each of them will have an opportunity to provide their ideas. Lessons learned are NOT meant to be personal. The lesson is NOT that JOE should not go on vacation. The lesson is that key resources should have back up resources in order to allow for absences such as vacation, sick time etc.
  3. Let the team know that each person can speak, but does not have to speak. If a team member has nothing to contribute, they may say, ?pass?.
  4. Go around the room three times. Each time each team member has the opportunity to provide their lesson learned OR to pass. Write the lessons learned on a white board or a large piece of paper, do NOT list names next to each lesson. It does NOT matter who said what, in fact you want some anonymity.
  5. Usually after three times around the room, everyone has exhausted their ideas. If not, keep going!
  6. Once all the lessons have been called out, it is time to select the lessons which are the most significant. Each team member receives 3 votes. They can ?spend? these votes all on one lesson or on three lessons, however they see fit. I usually accomplish this by having team members come up to the whiteboard and place check marks next to the lessons they are selecting as the most significant.
  7. After everyone has voted, review the results. Most of the time you will have some lessons which the majority of the team has selected as the most important lessons learned. If not, you can vote on any items that tie. You are not going to get rid of any of the lessons that do not make it into the top three or top five, you are just going to pay more attention to the lessons that are voted as the top three or top five.

Repeat steps 1 thru 7, this time using ?Things we did well or should repeat?. NOW you have your lessons learned. Documenting these lessons should be easy, start your document by discussing the process and then provide your results. Emphasize the top three to five things that could have been different as well as the top three to five things that should be repeated; but do not throw out the items that did not make the top three to five spots, keep them and place them later in the document so that these lessons are not lost.

There you go, an easy and effective way to conduct a lessons learned session.

Project Management Institute NA Global Congress 2010 Webcast ? Part 3

Dux corralled Bas De Baar, Cornelius Fichtner, and myself and we did a collaborative webcast on Ustream while we were at the Project Management Institute’s North America Global Congress in Washington D.C.

Bas provided several lessons learned for us in this video:

  • Focus on “What does ‘done’ look like?” – specifically to your stakeholders
  • Focus on providing feedback on how stakeholder interests are met
  • Focus on 1 and 2!

We realized the focus on communication and people.? Then Dux said something that set me off about trying to schedule before it’s time.

Project Management Institute NA Global Congress 2010 Webcast ? Part 2

Dux corralled Bas De Baar, Cornelius Fichtner, and myself and we did a collaborative webcast on Ustream while we were at the Project Management Institute’s North America Global Congress in Washington D.C.

Cornelius discusses the importance of building customer relationships early in this segment, and focusing on your customer. His second point is on the importance of project management expertise or industry expertise. As a part of that discussion, I relay a discussion I had with Hal Macomber about the need to have a foundation in whatever type of work you are trying to manage.

Finally, the question of Agile comes up, and why it seems to be such a focus of this particular conference.? I think it’s a class of methodologies that are starting to come into their own.? Glen Alleman comes up on this point and how he has said in the past that many defense and space programs have been doing Agile for a long time.

Project Management Institute NA Global Congress 2010 Webcast – Part 1

Dux corralled Bas De Baar, Cornelius Fichtner, and myself and we did a collaborative webcast on Ustream while we were at the Project Management Institute’s North America Global Congress in Washington D.C.

We went around and discuss our top 3 lessons for project managers in general, and then gave our thoughts about the conference.

I’ll be following this up with the comments from Cornelius, Bas, and Dux in forthcoming posts.

[The video is a bit choppy, but it was a live webcast…the sound is not choppy]

Lessons Learned for Project Management Conferences from #pminac

lessons learned from project management conferences

(right to left) Dux, Bas, Cornelius, and I

I’ve been at the 2010 North America Global Congress put on by the Project Management Institute over the last 4 days.? I’ll be posting video and photos over the next few weeks from the event.

It has been a great time and I have gained much value from the experience.? I would like to offer lessons learned for the PMI and other organizations who are putting on conferences of this kind.

Don’t take this in the wrong way; I enjoyed the congress.? We can always improve however!

Plus you know me, I like to tell it like I see it.? [update – I received an email from PMI this morning with a survey link to give feedback.? Please be sure you fill out the survey and help PMI make future events even better!]

Moderation of Questions in Large Sessions

After the Vivek Kundra talk in particular, the first few questions from the audience (especially the first one) were in serious need of moderation.? These opportunities can be taken advantage of by people who want to get up on a soapbox, and

I recommend setting ground rules for the group as you would do in a business meeting.? Before opening up to questions from the audience, specify that everyone gets 1 question in order to allow as many people to ask questions as possible, and each audience member has about 30 seconds to state their question.

In this way, the moderator can cut off someone without looking like a jerk.? Without these ground rules, you have a difficult choice of either 1) looking like a jerk or 2) letting someone with their own mission take the session over with thousands of people looking on and cringing.

Clarity of Scope for Area of Focus Sessions

I like to ask total strangers what they think of the event so far when I’m in an elevator, grabbing some food, or whatever.? In response and without prompting, 30-40 people I spoke to offered the same critique without my prompting.? I have the same critique.

Too many sessions are attended where the initial expectations based on the presentation descriptions were not met.? This happened in two specific ways.? Either the session was 1) not really focused on the topic the attendee thought going in or 2) was not really at the level (beginner, intermediate, advanced) that was advertised.

Why is this a problem?

As in projects, if the customer (conference attendees) receive a result that is not at all in line with their expectations going in, dissatisfaction results.? Attendees leave with the impression that it’s a roll of the dice regarding whether the sessions they signed up for are really what they wanted.? This means less future attendance from these individuals, especially the first-timers who PMI should want to wow and have them coming back next year.

How to Solve It?

My recommendation is a more rigorous and complete description of the presentation with specific “questions in the mind of the attendees” to answer.? This will be drafted by the presenter and reviewed by a PMI volunteer organizer in correlation with the materials to ensure quality of the description.? Assessments on level of difficulty (beginner, intermediate, advanced) shall be performed by the PMI volunteer organizer, not the presenter.

Attendees should have access ahead of time and at the congress to a 300-500 word abstract for each presentation.? This is not totally free-form, the presenters must answer a set of questions such as the following examples to help potential attendees make up their minds.

  • What level of experience/knowledge should I have coming in to the presentation?
  • What value should I expect to take away by attending?? What will be the take-away items I can go back to my own organization with and implement?
  • What format will the presentation take?? Should I expect a PowerPoint lecture, group activities, or role-playing, etc?

Clarity on Who is Presenting

We need more information about who is presenting.? Who is the person we are going to devote 90 minutes of our lives to, after having spent a considerable sum and time of money to come here?? I have been to 3 congresses and I know a lot of people who are doing the presentations, so I will sometimes select a presentation to attend simply because I know the presenter is awesome.? If you have an awesome presenter, you are probably going to learn something valuable.? You don’t even have to try.

My suggestion here is to require a 30-second video from each presenter along with their submissions to present.? In this day and age it’s not an unreasonable request.? This is a 30-second commercial explaining the 3 bullet points I discussed above, selling the attendees on why they should attend a particular session.

It will also help PMI volunteer organizers screen out unimpressive, boring presenters.? We need excellence here, both in content and presentation, not just one or the other.

[steps down from soap box]

Thanks for reading my rant.? PMI volunteers and employees, I sincerely hope you are reading this in the spirit of continuous improvement, and I’m willing to help out where I can with implementing some of the enhancements I’ve just suggested.

Did you attend the congress?? What feedback do you have for PMI?? What critiques of my ideas above can you offer, along with your own ideas?

Lessons Learned- What (if anything) can or should project managers learn from the IEEE approving the 802.11n WiFi Standard

Very interesting article on standard setting organizations as obstacles rather than enablers.

At Last: IEEE Approves 802.11n Wi-Fi Standard After 7 Years


Pay special attention to the comments, as those are as telling as the article itself.

Ode to a Jedi Master – Who is your mentor?

PMP Training Course $99 dollars

Orange Belt – Microsoft Project $850 dollars

Advanced Project Management in Primavera P6 $1,200.00 dollars

Advanced Earned Value Management Techniques $1,800.00 dollars

Having a mentor?


project management mentor - by fuzzcat via Flickr

project management mentor - by fuzzcat via Flickr

I learned more in two year under my mentor, Carl, than I did in the four years of college. Fortunately a major change occurred in my work place, which opened a huge opportunity that allowed me to work more directly with Carl. Right away he took me as his Padawan and started to challenge my abilities. He gave me his vision and set the standards high. This was my first big project of significant size and was a green project controller. He gave me the tools I needed to be successful and share his program management experiences.

Carl taught me many important lessons such as the importance of watching body language. Sometimes actions speak louder than words. He also showed me how to think at a micro-level, but then to present information to executives at a macro-level. Last but not least, the power of a high five after

nailing a planning drill translates into the power of having fun at work. He showed me that leadership can make all the difference in an ever changing program environment, because he led by example. Often he was the first one in the office and the last one to shut the lights off at night. Carl is sincere when he speaks, deliberate when analyzing any given situations, and most importantly he is a consistent leader.

Thank you Carl.

Do you have a mentor that changed your career or taught you valuable lessons? Recognize those who make a difference by sharing your mentor stories.? Leave a comment!

News Flash: Project Manager Discovers Why He’s Pulled All His Hair Out

Why - by annnna via Flickr

Why - by annnna via Flickr

tony had just finished a year-long project, and was exhausted.? As a good project manager should, he had been keeping a lessons learned file throughout the project, and now that it was completed he was making a final entry, looking back over the whole year.

Let’s peek into one of the lessons learned Tony and his team picked for this particular project, and how they got to the root cause by asking a simple question. Why?

Symptom: The project had gone through several “re-scoping” activities during the year…it seemed as if the goals were always changing.


Why was the scope always changing?
Because the direction and needs of the customer changed throughout the year, and we responded to those changes.


Why did we receive different direction at different times?
Because a different individual customer was giving the direction at different times.


Why did the individual customer who was giving us direction change?
Because we didn’t have a clear idea of who was responsible for which area of scope.


Why didn’t we have a clear idea of who was responsible for which area of scope?
Because we didn’t push the customer to agree on a responsibility matrix for their own people; we only did this for our own team.


Why didn’t we push for a responsibility matrix including the customer staff?
Because we did not include the customer as an integral part of the project team. We focused too much on our own team as the performing organization, and not enough on the external stakeholders.

Lesson Learned: Always require a clear responsibility matrix, including decision authority, for the whole project team, including the customer’s staff!

Do you have an example how the 5 Why’s technique was (or could be) used to uncover the root causes in your projects?? Leave a comment below and share your experience!

Do you act on lessons learned?

Lessons Learned by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via Flickr

Lessons Learned by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via Flickr

“Lessons Learned” gets thrown around a lot as something we should be “doing” as project managers.? In most cases however, the “what to do” here is fairly fuzzy and inconsistent.? I’m guilty of verbally recognizing lessons learned throughout a project, but never really doing what should be done to document them properly, validate the conclusions, or take action so they are implemented in the future.

In an effort to get better at this and share with everyone else, I’ve created a Google document template to help document, understand, validate, and act on lessons learned.? There is a sample filled out, and I hope you will click the link at the top to share your suggestions for improving the template.

I will update the template over time as I get feedback, because one of my lessons learned is that progressive elaboration is awesome!

Download the template here.

Suggest improvements below: