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Author  Ana Bertacchini, project management expert

July 19, 2017 |

 4 min read

  • Blog
  • Leadership
  • Project management
  • Requirements
  • Value

According to the 2017 Axelos PPM Benchmark study, nearly half of project managers who rarely or never conduct project reviews have experienced project failure in the past 12 months – this compares to only 34% of those who review either always or most of the time.

These findings give further weight to the argument that ‘lessons learned’ should be an integral part of project management. So why is it so often overlooked?

Overcoming barriers

Project Managers don’t ever want to fail. At the start of a project you have are emotionally invested in making it work – so the concept of failure is not even a consideration. Pressure from the business to show tangible outputs also adds to this drive to get it over the line – even if this means making shortcuts. With all of your energy focused on the end point, it is rare to acknowledge failure on any level – despite the business case telling you to do exactly that.

There is also a general lack of discipline in reviewing performance during or after completion of a project. Once a project has been delivered, the natural instinct is to move on and focus on the next challenge. So if the culture within an organization is all about celebrating success rather than taking a step back to consider how things might have been done better, this vital step will never happen.

When so much has been learned, it is a real shame when this knowledge just dies at the end of a project.

Embrace failure

Changing the mindset of an organization to one where employees are encouraged to share what they have learned during a project – the good and the bad – starts with an understanding of why it is important and the potential wider benefits.

First and foremost, it helps to promote employee engagement. Investing time to really listen shows a supportive leadership and facilitates a positive working environment – both of which can be a hugely positive force within an organization. In fact, handled correctly, it can be more effective and relatively less expensive than other more artificial means of team building.

By asking everyone to provide feedback and express opinions in a formal way, an organization can also create greater empathy between team members, where there is better understanding of each role and how they function together to get the job done.

On a practical level, “grabbing the bull by the horns” and providing a constructive forum for people to talk about their frustrations, means any issues are resolved quickly and potentially toxic gossip is redirected into a much more productive conversation.

Gain maximum value

It is vital, however, that organizations pay more than just lip service to the idea of capturing lessons learned – done badly, it will undermine any chance of successfully delivering any of the benefits.

This is when The Learn From Experience PRINCE2® Principle can provide a very useful best practice structure, if it’s followed correctly. If not, it will simply be seen as a corporate tickbox exercise. Led by the project manager, the lessons learned log should be used from the outset as a live document rather than left to revisit at the end when much of the information has been forgotten. Its true value is in sharing this knowledge among numerous project managers and, by making it visible, lessons learned becomes part of the team’s DNA.

Beyond this, project managers should:

  • Set the tone: if you don’t value the output from lessons learned, no-one else will. So it’s important to organize a session where everyone’s voice is heard.
  • Consider a mediator: you may have to pull yourself out of the driving seat and ask someone else to chair the meeting. Establishing ground rules will provide boundaries and create a neutral space in which to discuss the issues.
  • Focus on improvement: objectivity is key; this is not a forum for finger pointing or blame. The aim is to build trust in the management process and belief in the value of the outcomes.

A new mindset

Failure is not something to be feared. It shouldn’t be a taboo subject, rather one which is openly acknowledged as part of moving forward and empowering a team to develop new ways of thinking.

Many successful entrepreneurs have got to where they are now by learning from early mistakes. The trick is to analyze them and do it differently next time.

Put another way, in the words of playwright Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

For more information, see AXELOS' PPM Benchmark Study 2017.

Read more Axelos Blog Posts by Ana Bertacchini

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