Friday, November 14, 2008

Revving up your Lessons Learned Methodology

If your lessons learned process is not making a visible impact on future projects it might be time to make some changes to your process. The most common forum for project learning's is post project meetings or postmortems. Enriching the effectiveness of lessons learned should include formal project audits, project diaries, team member interviews, checklists/travelers or the use of an external facilitator. I will expand on a few of these additions below.

Project Audits
Project audits are merely a formalized approach at evaluating a projects execution. Where things did not go as planned, root cause analysis is critical to identify the remedy for future projects. Audits are much more time intensive that the standard postmortem approach, providing a commensurate improvement to the exposure potential of project challenges. A 3rd part audit will provide the greatest benefit due to the lack of any preconceived notions about how the project went.

Project Diaries or Journals
In this case everyone on the project would maintain their own journal of thoughts, ideas and problems throughout the project. This increases the effectiveness of lessons learned since no ones memory plays a role in the quality of the assessment. I don't know about you, but for me anything that removes a dependence on memory is a good thing. This one is pretty simple and effective, assuming you can influence your team to write things down in a nearly real time fashion.

Team Member Interviews
I would merge this in with a formal project audit to improve the depth of the assessments. During the interview you need to craft questions that would enable project challenges to bubble up during the discussion. Most of the effort here is the preparation of the high quality, challenge uncovering questions to pose. There is a lot to learn from the members involved in a project.

External Facilitator
Having someone unbiased by the project will always provide a much clearer vision of how the project went. For this reason I would suggest using someone outside the project to facilitate postmortems, audits as well as interviews. This also brings a fresh perspective to the analysis, always a good thing.

One aspect of lessons learned that is extremely important is this. Any item identified out of lessons learned must generate a specific action that will be tracked to closure. A lesson learned will have little value if it does not lead to a decision and plan for incorporating it for future projects. The objective is not that a lesson has been captured; it is how you have changed your development process based on the learning. Lessons learned must be an action-enabling activity!

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