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Applying lessons learned is necessary in establishing and sustaining a culture of consistent project management improvement. A root cause analysis should be conducted for each project after the lessons have been captured. This will give the organization a better understanding of what can be improved.

A Root Cause Analysis is a technique used to identify the underlying reason or condition that causes the occurrence of an undesired activity or state. The objective is to identify reoccurring problems in late or failed projects. Once the root causes are identified, steps to eliminate them can be determined.

The analysis should provide true causes, not symptoms. To conduct the Root Cause Analysis the team should begin by using the Findings report or a list of the things that went wrong. For each item on the list the team should determine if it was a cause or effect. After the root cause has been identified it should be documented for follow up. All root causes should appear on a consolidated prioritized list and then assigned to a resource or team to develop a solution. The person or team responsible for developing the solution should be located at a level within the organization that will enable the person or team to implement the solution.

Many organizations have charged a program or project management office with this responsibility. In the beginning you may notice that many of the lessons learned generated the same root cause. Solutions are often in the form of process improvements or training programs. As solutions are implemented the earlier root causes may no longer appear and new root causes will begin to appear. If process improvement is the solution then new processes or procedures may have to be developed, or existing processes or procedures may have to retired or revised.

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Remember to engage the process owner in process improvement discussions so changes can get implemented across the organization and all of the supporting documentation can get updated. Process improvements are handled more efficiently if the organization has a process in place to communicate process changes.

In some cases processes and procedures may exist but the team lacks understanding on how to use them.

In this situation refresher training would be the solution. Training programs should be in place for processes, procedures and tools and revised to accommodate process improvements. Additional programs may be required for leadership development, team development or business knowledge training. Lessons learned can be used to create training examples, exercises and case studies, which will make training programs more effective and the learning more valuable. In addition to root causes, the analysis team should also identify best practices so they can be incorporated into existing methodologies, processes, procedures, and training programs.

The analysis team should also look at risks. Business risks should be communicated to the project sponsor. And project risks should be reviewed to determine if there is something that can be done to actively address risk mitigation at the organizational level. The use of a lessons learned repository will allow the teams to access lessons for future use.

However, in order to easily access these lessons, the information has to be store in a manner that is easily retrievable. Consistency of input information allows for speedier identification of reoccurring issues and proactive resolutions. The lessons learned input form is a key tool.

This document allows for more consistent data collection as well as provides a means for easier retrieval. The lessons learned template should include previously agreed to fields such as: category, lesson learned, action taken, how did you arrive at the action taken, root cause and key words. Keywords should always be identified. Keywords are ultimately one of the determinants of success in utilizing lessons learned Prichard, , p. The data on the lessons learned input form is transferred to the organization's lessons learned repository.

John C. Bowling

The lessons learned input form can also be shared with the project team during the lessons learned session. As a team member identifies a lesson, that needs to be included in the repository, the necessary information can be captured while the team member is available.

There should be a resource assigned to manage the lessons learned repository. This person would be responsible for ensuring that the required information is obtained and loaded the lessons learned repository. In order to keep the repository manageable, as lessons outlive their usefulness, they should be purged. The tool selected to store the lessons should be accessible across the organization, and also should be easy to use. Documentation and training should be available for new users.

Project managers should be responsible for making sure their lessons learned are included in the repository. The last but certainly not least activity is to retrieve lessons learned. By having a lessons learned repository with keyword search capability, the project manager can retrieve lessons learned and review them prior to starting a new project.

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Two things can occur with these lessons. The project manager can meet with project leadership and discuss the project approach, which includes lessons learned from previous projects. And the project manager can make discussing lessons learned from previous projects an agenda item during the kick-off meeting. Finally, during the risk planning sessions, the project manager can use information from previous projects as a means for identifying project risks and developing mitigation strategies.

The project manager is responsible for making sure lessons learned happen. Capturing lessons learned should be an ongoing effort throughout the life of the project. This mindset should be strongly encouraged by the project manager at the beginning of the project. The project manager should begin each project by reviewing lessons learned from previous projects, and encouraging team participation in future lessons learned activities. Lessons should be identified and documented with the expectation that they will be used to help other project teams.

The project manager should build learning opportunities into the project. Tasks should be included in the project schedule along with their expected deliverables. The team should be on the lookout for best practices and areas for improvement and communicate them for process improvements. As the project manager, you can make a difference. If the organization does not have a lessons learned process in place, or does not insist on all projects adhering to the lessons learned process, then you as the project manager should insist within your domain of responsibility, on your projects, that the lessons learned activities occur.

Treat each project as a learning experience and share your knowledge with your organization. As you apply the lessons, credibility for the process will increase. More team members will be willing to share their lessons learned if they know that their lessons learned will be used to initiate change. In order for learning to occur, the project manager must lead the effort.

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To lead is to go before or with and show others the way. It is to guide in direction, course, action, and opinion. Effective leadership is grounded in good character. Character defines the person. Your character determines who you are.

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Who you are determines what you see. What you see determines what you do Maxwell, , p. Your team should see you as one who promotes learning, makes time for learning and embraces the changes resulting from the lessons learned. Character is the inward motivation to do what is right in every situation.

It is important that the project manager exhibit the behaviors that support learning. Successful socialization of project information is dependent upon the project manager's interaction with the project team.

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Leading the project team in the right direction, and in the right way, is just one more way the project manager can make lessons learned happen. A best practice is something that has found to work over time. Below is a list of standard lessons learned best practices:. The questions asked at the beginning of this paper still remain.

Are you sharing your knowledge with others?


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Again I must say, a vast amount of learning takes place on every project. By not learning from project failures we are doomed to repeat similar situations. By not maximizing on project successes, we miss opportunities to implement good processes and practices to successfully complete existing and future work. Organizations must use projects as learning experiences. We must all learn to learn from project to project. We must understand the root causes for project delays and failures and then become part of the solution. This proactive mindset will allow us to drive a change from just capturing lessons learned to actually applying lessons learned.