In engineering & construction there is an urgent need to improve project performance and results. Performance improvement means changing behaviours – doing something differently and better. Projects offer massive learning opportunities resulting from the experiences of the people engaged on them. Consider the lost opportunities to the organisation if those experiences are not captured effectively and change does not take place. But how to turn these learning opportunities into effective actions on future projects?
Only useful experiences
Most Lessons Learned processes do not meet the desired outcomes. There is a need to be selective and focus on the lessons that really matter in terms of improved performance, delivery and results on future projects. Thus, Lessons Learned must be effective and add value to an organisation.
Barriers to changing behaviours
Getting people to change behaviour, especially those based on long-held beliefs and practices, is a challenge.
Simply telling people that they must do things differently is unlikely to result in change. Therefore, getting a project manager to present all the Lessons Learned on his project and that should or should not be replicated on the next projects is, in learning and behaviour change terms, ineffective – few, if any people, will do anything differently and / or better as a result of passively hearing someone else’s “pearls of wisdom”.
Moreover, a long listing of Lessons Learned is a waste of time because it overwhelms people and not all such items are likely to have the potential to significantly improve performance and results. In my experience, there is unlikely to be more than five Lessons Learned on any project that have the potential to drive the desired improvements.
People are more likely to embrace change if they feel they are active participants in determining the changes to be made and can see for themselves the value added that adoption of such change would create.
Lessons Learned Workshop
In Kingsfield Academy we have adopted a format of facilitator-led Lessons Learned Workshops. These sessions provide an ideal forum for selected senior project and people from different departments to work together to consider no more than five important issues / circumstances that have occurred on the respective project.
Such a forum presents learning opportunities through individual and collective sense-making, reflection and active engagement together with colleagues on issues that, if dealt with effectively, will lead to improved performance and results on future projects.
The benefit of this approach is reflected in feedback by a participant in a recent Lessons Learned Workshop designed and facilitated by Kingsfield Academy who said
“…thanks for the workshop last week, it was very useful and given in an enjoyable way. For sure we are going to take advantage of it in our work…”.
The sponsor of this workshop also observed that unlike their regular Lessons Learned sessions, participants had been markedly more energized and engaged.
This is how people learn – when they are actively engaged!
How we prepare for a Lessons Learned Workshop
To create this forum, we work with the project team to determine the lessons to be learned and develop a corresponding case study. We then prepare specific activities and questions that encourage the participants to address, for example, the contractual / commercial implications of the issues / circumstances, how these might have affected the risk balance represented by the contract and what actions they would take if confronted by similar circumstances on current and future projects.
In the Workshop, participants work in groups to explore the selected issues and situations that arose on the project. Discussions and sense-making in the plenary help identify and consolidate the lessons to be learned. Finally, future improvements are planned and recorded.
Normally we allow about five hours for the workshop and can cater for up to 30 participants. It is an effective, economic means of learning from project experiences that is likely to lead to change to improve performance and results. Hence, the cost to benefit ratio is very favourable.
Our Lessons Learned Workshops are in effect training sessions and manage to bring about valuable learning because of the highly relevant subject matter and the active engagement of participants. These Workshops demonstrate that effective training with the potential to improve performance and results need not be expensive or time-consuming. Instead they take and build on naturally occurring opportunities to improve business performance.
Can your organisation afford not to learn from the experiences gained on your projects?
John Fotherby – Executive Chairman Kingsfield Consulting