The unloved lessons learned

The unloved lessons learned

All references mention the fact that the lessons learned in projects are essential to ensuring future success. PmBok refers to the term “lessons learned” 63 times, while Prince 2 has included the notion as one of their seven fundamental principles. So, why do so few organizations have an effective lessons learned process? Project management offices (PMO) are usually responsible for lessons learned, and having managed two large PMOs myself, I can tell you that this aspect always seemed to fall off our priority list.


I did a little more research on the matter and noticed that there is a fundamental aspect that we have forgotten.


In his book The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge demonstrates that in order to have an organization that learns, you need to have individuals who learn. The organization has to create a culture that allows people to learn. Thus, to put this principle into practice in our field, PMOs have to establish means by which project managers can learn.


But if we want to learn, we first need to understand how human beings learn.


Not everyone learns in the same way.


Does this profile describe you?


Some people love to be involved in planning and executing activities. These people tend to resolve problems by trial and error rather than by logic. They are intuitive risk-takers. They learn through experience, discussion and collaboration.


This profile sounds like someone you know? This profile describes a lot of project managers, doesn’t it? Therefore, how can PMOs create environments that foster learning for project managers who fit in this category?


In other words, how can a PMO create an environment that promotes learning for people who are either “accommodators” or “convergers” according to Kolb’s model?


Here are two ideas that I find useful:


-         Promote discussion between project managers. Co-development sessions are effective for sharing thoughts and lessons learned.


-         Coaching among project managers with different types of experience. I have implemented this before and found that it leads to a very sharp learning curve.

Instead of using a theoretical approach to lessons learned that will just sit on your intranet site, adapt your process to the way most project managers learn. You’ll make your project office and your organization more efficient—and you’ll have the means to improve.



Peter Senge and the theory and practice of the learning organization, Mark K. Smith, 2001.

Lessons Should be Learnt – But How Often Are They? Tony Kippenberger, June 2004.

Lessons Learned: Why Don't we Learn From Them? Derry Simmel.

What are the Characteristics of a Learning Organization? Prof. Eve Mitleton-Kelly.

Kolb, D.A., Rubin, I.M., McIntyre, J.M. (1974). Organizational Psychology: A Book of Readings, 2nd edition. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.


The unloved lessons learned


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