Lessons Learned needs a rebrand

George Santayana, a Spanish-American writer once said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

For the life of me, I can't understand why lessons and issues and the ability to retrieve lessons from the past isn't more deliberate and focused. We spend a lot of time in projects looking at dashboards and reports. Yet the archival system of storing people's experience seems to have been missed. What is it about lessons learned makes an engineer roll his eyes? Perhaps its the name, the inherent and subtle title 'lesson' implying you are about to be taught? Perhaps its how the staff are laboriously poured over comprehensive forms, spreadsheet and interview questions, only to see the hard work sucked into the vacuum of space never to be seen again?

I can't tell you how many projects I've been working in when I ask ' can I see your lessons learned or knowledge hub' they all cross-fingers and hope I mean the issues register. whilst I'm not out to tell anyone how to run their project or business, it seems good sense that we consider Knowledge and Data an 'asset' and not a 'liability' of people's time and money. It can not make sense as George states earlier to go on with projects, repeating lessons of the past. When writing this blog, I'm building a solution for a client to assure adoption. After all, I think the real reason is intrinsic or perceived value.

No one has given the why. No one is educating teams on the value, giving them access and linking lessons with existing work statements, risks and schedules. For the astute builders out there perhaps there is a market for making capturing knowledge attractive again.

The perplexing part of this is Google. We all know it well. The data behemoth that provides us with the answer to anything we wish to ask about anything! So why is it on projects the idea of retrieve and recall is replaced by excuses and a lack thereof control, governance and asset protection. I certainly believe its perceptional. Assume for a moment you are called in at your project work, for an 'asset knowledge workshop' how differently would you consider the contents and thus the importance of this meeting? The way we label things has a huge impact on our desire to engage. This is why User experience and Marketing exist! its to make the recipient less resistant to the ideas and products or services that ensue. sure we could say there isn't a lot of structure around what Lessons Learned should look like, but it does not mean we should not take it seriously for our projects.

I take the argument, lets call it data. A company that does many of the same types of projects aims to have a lot of repeat mistakes, opportunities and knowledge. Should they capture this data for later use, they're making an active decision to turn data to an asset repository. With machine learning on the mainstream precipice, natural language processing being used more and more in projects, this becomes a long term investment, a competitive strategy and an advantageous way to plan and mitigate and condemnation as George puts so poetically.

So how do we do it? Well, PMI already has a pretty good high-level process:

  1. Identify

  2. Document

  3. Analyse

  4. Store

  5. Retrieve

I would wager we can all get to step 4. With Microsoft 365 making it easier than ever to create cloud-based repositories and reporting on that data with ease. The snag for me is step 5 Retrieve. How are you going to make sure this is integrated into your forward planning exercises? Here's some suggestions:

  1. Inputs require WBS and other structure identifiers. Link to your schedule

  2. Review lessons during rolling wave lookaheads. Keep a relatively close eye on upcoming works

  3. Integrate lessons with WBS dictionary, risk, issues and opportunity register.

  4. Link lessons to assumptions and basis of estimate documentation.

  5. Ensure the lessons are championed for each key area of the projects. Ownership and accountability of knowledge assets are important!

  6. Build lesson learned reviews into the business rhythm of the project. Analyse, debate and discuss. Build a culture of knowledge workers

Whatever strategy you put forward, do put knowledge and data in front of mind. In a world now traded on data exchange, attention and machines, it's important we recognise that projects of the future will require data of the past, if you don't have it, you will miss any advantage and be condemned to repeat the past.

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