Don’t Miss the Opportunity to Keep Learning from Each Project

Learning from our mistakes…isn’t that what life is all about?  We make bad choices, bad decisions, bad partnerships and practice poor communication.  And in the end, we lose. 

Or if we don’t, then we probably just got lucky.  The good thing is that in the professional world, it isn’t necessarily your life you screwed up.  In golf, you get a mulligan (depending on who you’re playing with).  A do over.  In project management you get a next project….depending, of course, on how badly things went.  But usually you get another chance….and another, and another.  More than 50% of all projects fail to some degree.  Indeed, in a recent survey that I conducted a couple of years ago of actual project managers who are in the trenches leading projects, only 64% stated that their projects are successful 51+% of the time.  46% indicated that a majority of their projects fail.  And this is coming from those most likely to overrate their success – the project managers themselves.

Based on this, it seems that we all have lots of opportunity to learn from our mistakes in the project management.  It doesn’t talk so much about IT learning from mistakes as it does IT learning to innovate.  Still…learning needs to happen.  IT is often viewed as slow, outdated, and an island unto itself – unable to embrace and implement change quick enough to keep up with what the corporation needs to remain viable in today’s fast moving marketplace.  The article is basically stating the marketing has now had to take the lead in forcing that innovation – looking to the cloud and software as a service (SaaS) for their technology needs, thus bypassing IT altogether in some cases.

So how do we learn from our project and IT failures?  How do we take those frequent project failures and use that knowledge to equip ourselves to make our organizations stronger and better prepared the next time around?  I’d like to say we conduct lessons learned sessions on our projects and create a great common knowledge database.  But it just doesn’t happen.  I know I don’t always do it.  And from another recent survey I conducted of project management professionals I know they aren’t doing it very often either…it’s just not really part of the corporate culture yet.  66% of survey responders stated that they conduct lessons learned for fewer than half of their projects.  19% stated that they never do.

There may be hope, though - things may be actually changing for the better.  I frequently about conducting lessons learned on our projects and since that time I’ve had over 1,000 requests for my personal lessons learned template.  And I’m a firm believer that you don’t have to wait till the end of the project to learn what’s working and isn’t on your current project just so you can do better on your next one.  Conduct lessons learned sessions periodically throughout your current project – like at the point of major milestones or phases – so you can improve delivery on the current project as well.


The bottom line is this – very few organizations are spending the time to create good, solid project management infrastructures with repeatable processes and easy to use project management software.  That’s unfortunate because opportunities for these things abound – even easy to use, readily and inexpensively available MS Project alternatives that are web-based.

Sadly, only 35% of project managers surveyed on PMO effectiveness in their organizations indicated that their companies provided them with consistent tools, templates, and processes to perform their jobs.  The rest are basically winging it.  That’s leaving project success to chance and luck.  And it means that a vast majority our project managers and project management organizations are not learning from their project mistakes yet…and are destined to repeat them again and again and again.  Don’t fall into that trap – conduct the sessions no matter how painful they may be.  What you learn from them may be invaluable to future success.

Brad Egeland

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