Friday, October 31, 2008

The Lessons Learned Lie

It is likely that every organization has some type of lessons learned methodology in place to assess previous projects. Output of this process is assumed to be positive changes in the way future projects are handled. Some may call this activity project postmortems, however the objective is the same; to identify areas for improvement and to take note of what worked well. Do keep in mind that a postmortem should only be considered a subset activity in an ideal lesson's learned framework.

Most organizations will minimally capture the most obvious project challenge areas via a lessons assessment. Some will implement changes to those challenges and others purely retain a learning for future reference. The more in depth challenges tend to remain elusive to most organizations lesson's learned process, remaining undiscovered because the process to uncover them was not comprehensive enough. In the majority of cases either the lessons learned depth is not sufficient to expose low level systemic issues, or many of the learning's never lead to a positive change in future projects. Where does your organization stand on the quality of lessons learned?

The practice of lessons learned in a New Product Development process is not an indicator that an organization's development process is optimized or even close to optimized; believing otherwise is one aspect of the "lessons learned lie".

The overall effectiveness of the learning's process varies greatly, with most agreeing that there is a large gap between what is being done and what could be done. A lack of time is the primary reason that I hear for limited quality of lessons learned. This is really more of an excuse than a reason. The fact is if there is time for unknown challenges to impact projects in ways that can't even be fathomed, there is certainly time to learn about and fix them. Not enough time to properly assess a project and make changes is another facet of the "lessons learned lie".

Effective top down support of a lessons learned strategy comes down to an unreserved sponsorship of a continuous improvement culture and mindset. Either an organization is doing it, or they are talking about doing it. One provides visible results Lessons Lessons Learned Lie'sand the other is a smoke screen promising better results tomorrow, a tomorrow that never comes. Management support of a high quality continuous improvement environment will be rewarded with a never-ending stream of incremental improvements in project execution.

Toyota has set the standard for making lessons learned work in auto manufacturing. Consider setting a new standard for lessons learned in your organization by means of this clear-cut leadership attitude: positive emphasis on the value of thorough learning's and their application to continuous improvement. If competition is whittling away an organizations future, it's time to come to terms with the "lessons learned lie". Is your organization up for the challenge in revving up lessons learned to become a major player in continuous improvement?

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