Monday, March 24, 2008

Documenting Lessons Learned

Each new project provides a unique opportunity to learn something new and then apply it to improve the planning and execution of future projects. The body of the knowledge gained while working on a project is sometimes referred to as "lessons learned."

Some of the most common lessons learned from the schedule control process are:
  • the causes of variance
  • the reasons a particular corrective action was chosen
  • the new processes that were implemented
  • the issues with internal or external sources
  • the successes or failures measured
Because lessons learned are helpful in planning future projects, care should be taken to document these lessons and make them available to future project teams. Consider the following example.

A company's planned launch of the space shuttle was set for April 1st. During the pre-launch servicing stage, workers inspected and tested the Orbiter wiring. During the testing a system malfunction occurred. Upon examination, the team discovered a short circuit in the wiring, which caused the malfunction. A complete system rewiring would be required. This procedure could significantly delay the project, since the wiring would have to be ordered from a specialty supplier in Europe.

The project team and shuttle crew met to discuss this dilemma. The team decided to increase the number of project workers. This would allow the rewiring to be completed while continuing with the remaining pre-launch servicing and testing. The target launch date could still be met.

The need for complete system rewiring and ordering the wires from an outside supplier was what caused the project to fall behind schedule. Therefore, the detection of the cause for the schedule variance was one of the lessons learned by the shuttle team.

Another lesson that can be recorded in the historical database is the approved corrective action. Adding more resources was positive and ensured the successful completion of the project. The target date was achieved.

A toy manufacturing company has just designed and developed a prototype of a new infant toy. The toy is to be launched at the International Toy Fair in two months. In order to prepare, the company needs to produce 2,000 prototypes, which will be available for sale at the fair. The project is running on schedule. However, during the testing phase, the company discovers a flaw that could cause the toys to malfunction. With only three weeks to go, the company cannot possibly start from scratch and reassemble 2000 toys.

Closer examination reveals that fixing the problem simply involves ordering a different part and replacing it. This will take at least one month, working solely with the current team. Management's only option at this time is to add project personnel, allowing the project to be finished in time for the toy fair.

A lesson learned, in this situation, is the discovery of the variance from plan. The manufacturing flaw resulted in the need to order and replace a fundamental part of the toy. This unanticipated problem has the potential to significantly delay the project's completion.

Another lesson learned is the reason for the corrective action chosen. Increasing man-hours by adding project personnel is the only viable option for the toy manufacturer, given the time crunch.

Once a project team has identified the lessons learned through the schedule control process, there are a number of succeeding steps that should be implemented to ensure the information is not lost.
  • Step 1: Record lessons learned - Information should be recorded and stored in a way that permits team members to easily identify any applicable lessons learned. This information is invaluable when planning projects and processes.

  • Step 2: Analyze information - Lessons learned should be analyzed to assess improvements, or identify valuable or detrimental project trends. The analysis should focus on improvement efforts.

  • Step 3: Measure effectiveness - Lessons learned programs should include a means for measuring project effectiveness. The purpose of measuring effectiveness is to determine if information is being disseminated and past lessons are being incorporated.

  • Step 4: Review and validate information - Lessons learned should be reviewed and validated for appropriate personnel to determine accuracy and applicability.

  • Step 5: Disseminate information - Information about lessons learned should be disseminated to all project team members as well as key stakeholders. Information dissemination may be accomplished through a variety of vehicles, the most common being written documentation or through meetings or workshops.

  • Step 6: Archive irrelevant information - Information that no longer has relevance to organizational activities should be archived or eliminated. Archiving is often the preferred choice, as currently irrelevant data may have inherent value in future project planning.

  • Step 7: Obtain feedback from stakeholders - Feedback from key stakeholders and users can assist saving time or money, preventing a recurrence of a problem, or improving project design or processes.
To ensure project quality, you will want to use the new insights and processes that result from lessons learned. To benefit from this practice, lessons learned must be well documented and reviewed occasionally to determine if past lessons are being realized and integrated into project planning and ongoing development.

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