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Project Management – Why ‘Lessons Learnt’ is the real silver bullet!
"There is no single development, in either technology or management technique, which by itself promises even one order of magnitude improvement within a decade in productivity, in reliability, in simplicity."
Frederick Brooks “The mythical man month’
I have been working in IT and project management for over twenty years and for as long as I can remember there has been a quest for a ‘silver bullet’ that would make software costs drop rapidly as hardware costs have.
Frederick Brooks maintains in his book, ‘The mythical man month’ that there are no silver bullets. Despite this IT has always looked at ways of speeding up development and reducing costs.
We have had, fourth generation languages, object orientated programming, agile development and a host of other technologies / processes.
If we extend the silver bullet idea to project management, we can also see a number of ‘silver bullets’ that have promised improved project delivery.
The latest of these is agile which is taking on an almost religious fervour
I for one see the benefits of agile but do not think it is applicable for every situation or every organization. It is, however, being perceived as the latest silver bullet.
However, I doubt whether the usual project success statistics in a few years’ time will show any improvement in the success rates of project delivery.
Yet there is one ‘silver bullet’ that has been there all along but because it isn’t sexy or exciting it is often overlooked.
I do appreciate that I am stretching the silver bullet concept from reducing the cost of software to improving project success rates.
Although every project is, by definition, unique, there are always similarities and lessons that can be gained from similar projects in the past or similar situations.
Having the experience of a previous situation in a project and learning from it, so the mistake or pitfall is not repeated, is an obvious and effective way of improving project success rates.
Too few project managers take time to document lessons learned and even fewer, in my experience, take time to review similar situations from other projects in order to avoid pitfalls in their own projects.
Although, not quite a silver bullet, ‘lessons learnt’, if reviewed, will definitely help in improving project success rates.
In PM3, Bestoutcome’s PPM tool, we have just introduced our lessons learnt log where each project can capture lessons and their associated recommendations. Each lesson can be categorised using hashtags for easy searching.
Each new project can search for a similar project or a hashtag that is relevant. Once the relevant lesson is located, the project manager can import the lesson into his or her project. Having seen this functionality in practice, I am now a fully-fledged convert to the ‘lessons learnt log’.
Reviewing lessons learnt from other projects could have a significant effect on the success of projects and we may finally see those project failure rates come down.
Learning lessons may not be as glamorous as new methodologies or toolsets, and although not quite a silver bullet, they should result in more successful project outcomes.
About the author
David Walton - I am David Walton, Programme, Project and Portfolio Management specialist and director of Bestoutcome here in the UK. We make the PMO tools PM3, PM3time and PM3NHS, the only PMO tools designed by practitioners for practitioners.