PMI-Montréal project management blog

Lessons learned: take them or learn them?

Author : Louis Duchesne, Force projets Conseils

Why is it so annoying to review lessons learned of previous projects before launching one’s own project? The idea of learning from the mistakes of others is full of common sense: being better informed, making better decisions and thus performing better and building a successful project. Who could be against that?

And yet…

Unless you are part of an organization that systematically manages its knowledge and forces a reviewing of lessons learned from previous projects in the planning of new projects, the process of the lessons learned is often informal and depends on the initiative of the Project Manager, or, it may be formalized but not implemented for a majority of organizations.


No, I will not argue that it’s terrible, but just make the observation that it is quite understandable and even desirable!

Repeating mistakes that could have been avoided is certainly not desirable you say. Indeed, but the fact that the first reflex of a manager is to experiment is part of a learning process. It’s healthy and it is surely desirable that our managers want to learn. Nowadays, we recognize learning as an integral part of our professional and personal growth, and this trend is increasing year by year. Professionals of all backgrounds are increasingly demanding regarding their work conditions, and learning plays a key role in self-realization and satisfaction at work.


So we dump the lessons learned?

Of course not. You just have to understand that they can be integrated in a complementary manner to the process of social and experiential learning that takes place in the normal way throughout a project. So instead of reviewing all project risks at once, there could be historical elements integrated into the project, according to their relevance to the project and the team members at one time or during a specific phase. The idea is to turn an otherwise boring exercise into a lively and interactive one and enable us to learn by doing.


An interesting application of this principle, in a perspective of continuous improvement this time, is the Pause and Learn (PaL) NASA: short, informal meetings throughout the project to (as the name says) pause and reflect on what has been learned so far and try to apply it to the rest of the project. The meetings are short because it is limited to one subject and there is no reporting! The Scrum also advocates this kind of activity after each sprint.

Brilliant ways to stimulate learning while ensuring the success of our projects!

Suggested articles