The goals of this process are to:
- review the lessons log;
- review delivery documents to identify additional lessons;
- prepare a lessons learned document.
In many ways this process is the most simple of all the processes that manage the life cycle but could also be seen as the most important.
Over many years, surveys of why projects fail demonstrate that the underlying reasons that cause failure remain mostly unchanged. Most organisations experience project or programme failure but then fail to learn from the experience.
At the conclusion of all projects and programmes time should be set aside to consolidate all the experiences gained that could help future projects and programmes run more effectively and more efficiently.
- Lessons learned
ISO21500 lists this input as ‘lessons learned’ but it would be better to refer to it as the ‘lesson log’. The lessons log is where potential lessons are recorded as they arise throughout the project or programme.
Just because something has been recorded in the lessons log does not necessarily mean it will be included in the lessons learned document. The lessons that were recorded during the performance of the work will now be reviewed with the benefit of hindsight and a decision made about their inclusion in the final report.
The final set of plans should be compared to the original baseline plans that represent the project or programme at the time it was approved. Understanding what has changed may reveal issues that perhaps should have been foreseen or risks that should have been identified.
It could even shed light on the validity of choices about working methods, technology, contractors, engagement with stakeholders and so on.
- Progress reports
The progress reports issued during the work will explain how the changes to plans came about.
- Change log
This log includes all the change requests that were made during the project or programme. Reviewing it is not an exercise in avoiding change in the future. Change is inevitable and should be welcomed, provided it is well managed.
Depending upon the chosen approach to agility, change may be actively encouraged to promote iterative development of products and deliverables.
Reviewing the change log may reveal whether the correct approach to change was taken and whether the management processes around change worked.
- Issues log
In contrast, issues are something that should be minimised but can never be completely avoided. Lessons should be learned from the frequency, nature and severity of issues that arose during the work.
- Risk register
Risks will always occur and hopefully most will be foreseen. A review of this document will assess whether risks were reasonably foreseen and responses implemented. It will also help reveal whether adequate contingencies and management reserves were included.
This process does not call on any specific tools and techniques of the project and programme management functions but it must gather information from all of them.
- Lessons learned document
After careful review, the project or programme manager and sponsor will agree a set of lessons that could help future projects and programmes run more effectively and efficiently.
These lessons must now be incorporated into some form of corporate knowledge base so that the relevant lessons can be extracted by new project and programme management teams for use in their work. All too often these lessons are filed away and do not contribute to increasing capability maturity of the organisation.
The corporate knowledge base should be actively maintained by a portfolio management team (possibly a PMO) who check for duplication before integrating the new lessons learned into the database.
Projects and programmes
The shorter and simpler the project, the less opportunity there is for lessons learned to improve the management of the current project.
As a project becomes larger and more segmented, the more opportunity there is to apply the lessons learned for future stages or sub-projects.
Programmes should consolidate lessons learned from individual projects and ensure these are used when setting up new projects within the programme.
Large programmes may be able to justify a localised version of a corporate knowledge based to ensure issues from which lessons have been learned are not repeated later in the programme.