Are lessons learned – not really?

I have written before about the need for capturing lessons learned (here, here, and here) all the way through projects, and using the end of project review meetings to cement that learning and agree ways to share with others.

However, I have noticed a trend…..a trend that is counter productive for projects, for project management, and for learning.

There is no formal project closure. Or, if there is a project closure meeting then it is perfunctory and has no real meaning for the company or those taking part.

Projects are full of learning and that learning needs to be corralled – like loose horses. Ways to identify and share the learning needs to be agreed. Without this approach companies are throwing away vital pieces of intellectual property.

I wonder if they would do this with those ‘great ideas’?


Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG

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8 Responses to Are lessons learned – not really?

  1. Pamela Woldow says:

    Ron – Learning by brief reflection at the end of a project is absolutely critical for true excellence. As you point it, it drives the improvement of services, and permits professionals to identify and repeat successes. I work with lawyers who, unfortunately, live and breathe the billable hour mentality. The number one reason lawyers cite for their refusal to review and incorporate lessons learned is that it is not a billable event paid for by clients. They only want to do billable work. And, yet, clients increasingly are cutting lawyer’s invoices for reinventing the wheel, excessive work, and duplicative work. It seems so obvious that if they learned a few lessons, they would reduce the writeoffs and actually be more profitable and delight their clients.

    • Ron Rosenhead says:

      Thanks for this Pamela.

      Many years ago I worked with a company involved in mergers and acquisitions. They were under severe pressure to reduce due diligence costs and one of the suggestions made was let’s review how you are working and learn from this. Your words came to mean so much when you said:

      “The number one reason lawyers cite for their refusal to review and incorporate lessons learned is that it is not a billable event paid for by clients. They only want to do billable work.”

      As you point out so well if they did learn they would reduce write offs and be more profitable. This was a good few years ago so hopefully this has changed. But maybe…..

      I feel I should be looking at a Dilbert cartoon!

      Thanks again.


  2. Pingback: Are lessons learned – not really? | #PMChat

  3. I’d go further than Pamela and argue that doing the “lessons learned” bit should take as long as is necessary. It’s like the point I made responding to another post here where I argued that more time needs to spent on preparation than is usually done; likewise, at the end of the project, it seems absurd not to capture all the experience gained. If, in fact, there were problems on the project, their causes really must be identified and analysed in a constructive, non-judgemental way, if the business is to learn and grow.

    Historically, lawyers have not considered themselves as businesses. Why go through a review process at your cost when the next client will pay you to learn the lessons all over again?

  4. Ken Burrell says:

    Good point, I quite agree! As I highlihgted in a recent blog post (; please excuse the long link but I can’t see how to do hyperlinks in this comment box), I have seen many excuses for not doing closure properly, including: the project was too small / too simple; the project finished too long ago / hasn’t finished yet; I don’t have the time; the project team is now working on something else / has all left the company; nothing happens with Lessons Learned anyway; I don’t think it’s worth the effort (delete as applicable!)
    I think there is also another factor at work here: the problem of admitting you may have been wrong, even just once. To declare a Lesson Learned in a project closure report is tantamount to saying “Don’t make the same mistake I did!”, whereas some (most?) PMs would rather learn their lessons privately whilst publicly declaring that everything went perfectly on their project.
    I think that any PM worth their salt will have at least a few battle scars (, and that as a result they will be better project managers than those for whom everything has run (or who claim everything has run) perfectly.
    Perhaps the time has come for us as a profession to be a bit more prepared to show each other our scars?

    • Ron Rosenhead says:

      Ken, I agree with everything you have written and do commend readers to read the highlighted blog posting above.

      I think this merits a phone call Ken!



  5. Ian Cribbes says:

    Sadly what many miss when carrying out a Lessons Observed / Learned (I’ve written before on the difference between Lessons Observed and Lessons Learned) is that there is as much (maybe even more) benefits to be gained by looking at what went well as well as what went wrong.

    • Ron Rosenhead says:

      Thanks you Ian for your comments.

      Totally agree with you – spread the word and save some ££$$ – I would have thought the lure of this would encourage more work in this area but sadly, this is not the case.

      There’s not enough common sense around!

      Yes, there is a difference between lessons observed and lessons learned. Action is the thing in the middle that is needed.

      Many thanks Ian

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