Project management best practice recommends that lessons be learnt and applied to future projects or later stages of the same project. Do you follow best practice with regards to lessons learnt? Here is what typically happens:
1. A lessons learnt workshop is conducted at the end of the project (if time allows before the project team is re-assigned to another project). This means that many lessons are forgotten and those that were captured are not leveraged into the current project.
2. A lessons learnt log is completed to tick the box on the project closure form and once filed the lessons are never looked at again. The effort of capturing the lessons are wasted and the value of the lessons lost.
3. New projects are initiated without any consideration of lessons learnt from previous projects. Lessons are NOT learnt, but mistakes are allowed to be repeated and flaws perpetuated.
Why are we not learning our lessons? At the start of a project, everyone is focused on getting on with the project and supercharged with optimisms. Once a project is underway, the focus is on meeting milestones, managing scope and dealing with in-flight challenges that reflective lessons learnt workshops are postponed to the end of the project. When the end of the project is finally reached, the incentive to do a lessons learnt workshop is low as any lessons will only benefit future projects. This is a vicious cycle.
In summary, few lessons are captured, even fewer lessons are benefiting the current project, and hardly any lessons are considered by future projects. The consequences are that many organizations stagger from one project failure straight into another failure. This reminds me of Albert Einstein's definition of insanity: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".
With the benefit of a lot of cumulative hindsight, we would recommend that the Project Management Office (PMO) takes the lead in conducting lessons learnt workshops during and at the end of each project and applying these to future projects. Alternatively, an independent expert such as Caleidoscope Associates can help companies to benefit from lessons learnt by capturing, analyze and leveraging these.