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  • Writer's pictureAngeline

What did you learn from your last project?

Illustration by Angeline Veeneman, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Each project represents an incredible opportunity to learn, and classic project management methodologies will tell you that lessons learnt form a key aspect of a project completion’s activities. Yet, in that, they face a fundamental flaw: being identified and shared at the end of a project, lessons learnt usually get promptly filed away, if done at all, as people move on to their next endeavour. So if the principle is sound, and the intention commendable, essential even, why do lessons learnt rarely go beyond project closure and how do you actually learn from your projects?

Failure to learn

Even if as the Project Manager, you did have good intentions and included lessons learnt activities in your project plan, you will often find that at the end of the project:

  • there’s probably not much money left (if any) to allow you to do it properly

  • most people have already moved on (you rarely keep the entire team on board until the end)

  • most of all, few people will have the appetite to sit in a meeting and to talk about how things went (especially if they have been through a tough project, people will rather not reminisce about the journey and just enjoy the destination)

  • finally, if you do get people to talk about lessons learnt, the process often focuses on the “what went wrong?” and can quickly turn into an unpleasant blame game.

Make lessons learnt part of your project’s life, from start to finish

Don’t wait for the end of the project to talk about lessons learnt. In fact, share lessons learnt from a previous project right at the start of a new one. I like to include this as part of project kick-off meetings, and ask team members and stakeholders which lesson learnt they would like to bring to the table. This gives people a chance to not only think about what they got from their last project, but also to contribute to make their new project a success.

As you manage your projects, make lessons learnt part of your problem-solving process and include them in your conversations, as part of your one-on-ones with your team members and your team get-togethers.

Give as much attention to the things that went right than the things that went wrong. If people do something well, it’s worth sharing and learning from it.

If not for others, do it for yourself

A project is not just an opportunity to learn how to become a better project manager; it’s also about learning something about yourself. So at the end of each project, I always ask myself:

  • what project management lesson can I take from this and bring to my next projects?

  • what did I personally learn that I can apply to myself?

Some projects have taught me that sometimes you need to say no even to your sponsor, that obsessing about not changing your scope is a lost cause, and that bridges can always be mended.

And even if your project wasn’t quite the success you expected and you wish you had done things differently, as long as you learnt something, it was a project worth doing.

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” - Henry Ford


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