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To all my PMO blog readers, I will be facilitating one day Project Closeoout and Lessons Learned Workshops in the following cities in May and June 2012:  St. Louis, Indianapolis, Memphis, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Detroit and Des Moines.  This is a part of a group of workshops sponsored by Gantthead and BOT International with the theme “Redefining the PMO.”  Details concerniing times and sign up information are in the following link.  Gantthead will be handling the registration.

http://www.gantthead.com/workshops/regions.cfm?region=North%20America

Please join me for a one day workshop.  We will be coverinng the Project Lessons Learned Framework I have discussed in my blog.  Thanks for your interest.

My recent PMO blog posts have consistently addressed some of the prerequisites for an “actionable” Project Closeout and Lessons Learned Process for the PMO or project organization.  In general, these have been activities or competencies or capabilities that the organization needs to nurture in order to really make Project Lessons Learned an active contributor to the overall Project Process.

In the course of this review of critical success competencies, we must also ask what skills and capabilities are required of project managers or project facilitators to enable the full development of project lessons learned? 

As we all know, people are what really make a difference in the deployment of corporate resources.  To make a real difference, and to stand out versus other organizations’ implementations of the project lessons learned process, your organization needs to ask what skills and capabilities it must develop and nurture in its project managers to fully realize the benefits of Project Closeout and Lessons Learned.

It is the combination of Process, People, Tools, and Capabilities that really make a successful package for Project Closeout and Lessons Learned.

So, what skills do your project managers need to develop to enable the full development of project lessons learned?

First, the project manager must be a good “facilitator” of the Perspectives, Facts, and Deliverables that are key to defining Significant Events for Lessons Learned.  The project manager or coordinator must be able to work with different Perspectives as to what actually happened in key project situations, sort through the various Perspectives, and then “reconcile” if necessary those Perspectives that would hinder gaining consensus on key Significant Events.

Second, the project manager or coordinator must be a good “reframer” if necessary to hold the dialogue with key project participants who might see situations differently but, in actuality, just need a “reframing” of the facts of the situation to be brought on board.

Third, the project manager or coordinator needs to be a leader of the discussion, at all levels, during which it is important to convert Significant Events, to Candidates for Lessons Learned, and finally, to the identification of Lessons Learned themselves.

Fourth, the project manager or coordinator needs to be a good documenter of the process using the Lessons Learned Template as a key documentation tool.

Fifth, the project manager or coordinator needs to be able to explain, and put into context, why certain lessons learned led to improvements in process, and how those improvements were actually realized.

In my experience, even the most experienced project managers have trouble working with the Framework at first and must develop some experience with using it effectively.  In most cases, it is these capabilities or competency areas that are being developed while the project manager or coordinator grapples with the details of Project Closeout and Lessons Learned.

I have also found in my work with PMOs that oral presentations of Lessons Learned by project managers to their peer group is a very effective way of building these capabilities, and also to build project leadership.  In a major PMO with which I worked, those project managers who consistently stepped forward and volunteered to lead this discussion of project lessons learned eventually became the leaders of the PMO.  Why was that?  Project managers who embrace change, who believe that Risk Management is a friend, and who want to be “curators” of the project knowledge in their own project communities are often the very ones who step forward and lead in the Project Closeout and Lessons Learned arena, as well as in their own PMO development and maturity.

So, please keep in mind that it is not enough to espouse good Project Lessons Learned documentation.  You must first look to how your organization is nurturing those Process, People, Capabilities, and Tools for Project Closeout and Lessons Learned.  You can start this journey in your own organization by volunteering to speak to other project managers about your own project experiences and by beginning to examine Facts, Perspectives, and Deliverables for your recent projects in anticipation of capturing Lessons Learned.  Integrate this zeal with a good Project Risk Management Plan and see how it contributes to the success of your PMO or project organization in upgrading the entire project process.

 

In the course of my work developing an “actionable” framework for project lessons learned, I have learned that one of the great facilitating actions contributing to a robust and “actionable” Project Lessons Learned Framework is an active Project Risk Management Plan

Many project organizations already incorporate Risk Management as a capability in their planning and execution of projects, but many others have not reached the stage where they really appreciate how a Risk Management Plan can contribute to project control, outcomes, and success.

Although it is not necessary to have a Risk Management Plan to apply the Project Lessons Learned Framework I have developed, the real power in having a Risk Management Plan lies in the fact that “Significant Events” that may become “Candidates” for Lessons Learned may already have been identified in Risk Mitigation Planning and Risks Triggered during a project.  That makes it easier to collect as many real Significant Events as necessary to complete a Project Lessons Learned exercise.

Risk Management is, of course, an attempt to anticipate actions and events in a project for which the organization has not formally planned, but which could impact the project. 

Risk Management is also a way to address a project’s “assumptions” that might previously have been considered to be unchanging during the course of the project.  We all know from experience in managing projects, however, that initial “assumptions” almost never stay the same during projects.  So, Risk Management is a technique for planning and taking action for assumptions that change during a project.

Risk Management is an exercise in which you identify possible events that might lead to adverse consequences for a project.  Mature project organizations or PMOs that embrace Risk Management techniques are also more likely to embrace “change” which, as we have observed in other blog posts, correlates highly with embracing Project Lessons Learned.

Risk Management also usually involves some discussion of how risks could introduce gaps in expected-versus-actual results for a project. 

Project organizations that do not formally have a Risk Management Plan in place for individual projects should, of course, still pursue Project Lessons Learned exercises at the close of their projects.  As the organizations gain more experience in capturing, documenting, and sharing lessons learned, they will also become more aware of systemic risks in their business or project context which, in turn, should make it easier to introduce a Risk Management Framework that addresses the portfolio of projects and individual projects as well.

Ask yourself whether your organization fully utilizes its Risk Management Plans and Frameworks in assisting in Project Lessons Learned exercises.  You can play a leadership role in introducing the link between Risk Management and Lessons Learned.

Thanks for your attention.

When I teach project managers about Project Lessons Learned for the single project case—that is, when a project manager identifies, documents, and shares lessons learned from a recently completed project—I emphasize three areas upon which they must focus their attention to in order to determine Significant Events for Lessons Learned.  The three areas are (1) Facts; (2) Perspectives; and (3) Deliverables.

Today, I am going to discuss the second aspect with you–Perspectives.

The end objective of a Project Closeout and Lessons Learned exercise is to determine “actionable” changes that can be made to basic processes in order to improve performance of projects and the organization in total.  “Actionable” changes need to be agreed to by the organization’s participants so they are committed to the changes, and work to sustain the changes over time.  And someone in the organization needs to be assigned the role to make the process changes, so that the actionable lessons learned fit easily into a “continuous improvement framework” for the organization.

To provide better understanding of “perspectives,” let’s give a definition and an example.

Perspectives are different viewpoints which people may feel or express about a situation or an action or an event which represents their interpretation about the “truth” of the situation as they perceive it.  An example would be the following exchange recently between David Gregory, moderator of the NBC News Program “Meet the Press” and a Republican Candidate for the Presidency. 

Mr. Gregory:  “Mr. Candidate, isn’t it true that none of your colleagues in the Congress have not endorsed your Candidacy for the Presidency?”

Candidate:  “The truth, Mr. Gregory, is that I have not asked any of my colleagues from the Congress to endorse me yet.  I will at the appropriate time.”

You see from this exchange that each person expressed a viewpoint about the same situation or potential action or event that represented their own interpretation of what was “true” for them in their business, social or political context.

Sometimes perspectives are reconcilable and sometimes they are not.  Two parties may continue to disagree about the “truth” of a given situation.  In this case, they cannot agree whether it was a Significant Event or how significant the event was to the overall outcome of their work.  Reconcilable perspectives are important in agreeing upon what really happened in a given situation.

Because project participants bring many different viewpoints to projects as to what was significant, and as to what really took place in the project, each of the project participants possess what I term “perspectives.” 

Perspectives are viewpoints that capture the truth as perceived by the viewer.  However, as we have alluded to many times, people act in accordance with the “truth” as they individually perceive it to be.  Project participants often “perceive” different outcomes and actions in projects and disagree about what really took place.  That is why I advocate starting with FACTS, the statements and data that no one can refute.

Timing is also very important for gathering and processing “perspectives.”  The closer to the project lessons learned exercise the perspectives were documented, the more they will reflect what truly happened in the project.  If we allow much time to pass from project close to the capturing of lessons learned, the perspectives will often be colored by other experiences that the project participants have been involved with after completion of the project.

A principle of Lou Tice’s is that “[p]eople act in accordance with the TRUTH as they perceive it to be.”  Their definition of a project’s Significant Event may be different from yours if they see a different TRUTH in the actions or outcomes of the project.  Reconciling different perspectives, and gaining agreement about the TRUTHS of a project, are often critical to gathering Significant Events and then qualifying them as Candidates for Project Lessons Learned. 

Project Managers and other project team facilitators must be adept at sorting out the feelings that project participants, sponsors, steering committee members, and subject matter experts express about TRUTHS and OUTCOMES in a project.

Even very experienced project managers often find it difficult to sort out and deal with the various “Perspectives” that project participants bring to the table to discuss as part of a Project Lessons Learned exercise.  Practice in identifying Project Lessons Learned, and in sharing with others, is a major step toward building an internal organizational capability to develop “actionable” Project Lessons Learned that can contribute to a “Continuous Process Improvement” Framework for a project team or organization.

Another aspect of reconciling perspectives that I have written about extensively in this blog is “reframing.”  Project managers and facilitators must be adept at “reframing” positions to bring out the relevant facts and viewpoints that make sense in identifying Significant Events for Project Lessons Learned.

I encourage anyone truly interested in becoming a “curator” for their project environment, in terms of capturing, documenting, sharing, and perpetuating project lessons learned, to practice the flow from “Significant Events” to “Candidates” to full “Lessons Learned” by actively involving themselves in the reconciliation of “Perspectives” in Lessons Learned exercises.

You will be happy that you took the time for focus on identifying and reconciling “Perspectives” because it will provide you with new insights into interpreting events, actions, and feelings on the part of project participants.  It will also help you record those TRUTHS about projects that can lead to more in-depth insights into project performance and ongoing project success.

Challenge yourself in the next Project Lessons Learned exercise that you conduct or facilitate for a project team to recognize and appreciate the different PERSPECTIVES and their contributions to fully understanding your project environment and context.

Those of you who have read my blog consistently know that I am interested in two cases in which Project Lessons Learned can be identified from projects.  I call these the Single Project Case and the Multiple Project Case. 

The Single Project Case involves a project manager and his team who wish to identify, document, and share project lessons learned at the completion of a project, usually during the project close process. 

The Multiple Project Case is the case in which several projects are subject to the same “project environment” and, therefore, may exhibit patterns of behavior that are the result of the structure of the project environment.  The “structure” of the project environment is the policies, procedures, standards, and working processes that the project organization establishes to govern the way that the project will be conducted.

As we have discussed previously, the real leverage in looking at patterns of behavior from several projects that are subject to the same project environment is that a single change to the structure could potentially improve the performance of all the projects in the environment.  This is because the structure has dictated some behavior or action on the part of project teams of others associated with the project that have contributed to suboptimized performance.

The purpose of this blog post is to provide a simple “analogy” to further explain the power and leverage associated with looking at patterns of behavior among projects, and tracing these patterns to some action or process in the project environment that contributed to those patterns. 

The simple analogy is the story of a breakfast buffet at a hotel.  From six AM to nine AM each morning, the hotel offers a breakfast buffet to its guests consisting of the usual breakfast foods:  eggs, sausage, oatmeal, coffee, orange juice, muffins, bagels, cereal, etc.  Guests usually serve themselves from a buffet and then sit in a lobby designed with tables for use by the guests during breakfasts and other meeting occasions.  Guests usually serve themselves and then clean up at the end, which assists the breakfast staff in maintaining a continuous flow of breakfast guests.

On one particular morning, as each table completed its breakfast and vacated the area, a member of the breakfast staff wiped the table clean with a damp cloth in preparation for the next guests.  Several breakfast staff noted that there was a sticky substance on each of the tables that resisted the usual wiping with a damp cloth, so that additional cleaning was required.  The incident continued throughout the morning. 

At about 8:50 AM, the manager, who had been informed by the breakfast staff of the sticky substance, observed several guests as they ate and completed their breakfasts.  He approached several tables, and asked if the breakfast staff could examine the tables while the cups, plates, and utensils were still on the table.  It was found that the sticky substance had been deposited on the table by the plastic orange juice cups. 

 A “pattern of behavior” had been identified.  A sticky substance had been identified with each table where an orange juice cup had been place by a guest.  The sticky substance appeared to be the same in each case.

The manager and several breakfast staff proceeded to the orange juice dispenser and observed the following process.  Guests would pick up a juice cup from a stack of empty juice cups and place the cup on a specific spot in the juice dispenser.  The guest would then push a button to dispense the juice into the juice cup.

The manager and the breakfast staff examined the single spot where each empty juice cup was placed by guests.  On that spot there was a sticky substance.

A process that had been put in place to facilitate ease of juice dispensing had caused a bad outcome at the customer environment location.  The process supported the overall structure of breakfast for guests during the time period six to nine AM. 

If the breakfast staff had not acted to identify the incident and its resulting pattern of behavior, the impact on customer satisfaction might have been negative.  At the very least, it might have contributed to the sticky substance being spread to other equipment and guest utensils.

Because the breakfast staff and the manager reacted quickly, however, the sticky substance was removed from the orange juice dispenser.

This analogy is far from being too simple.  It points out that “patterns of behavior” are so important in a project or customer environment that project groups should be attentive to them and act with haste to correct them.

Many such patterns of behavior occur in project environments every day.  Do you take the time to think through incidents and events in your own project environment which can be “patterns of behavior?”

The quick action of the breakfast staff and the manager in identifying the patterns of behavior were a significant step in making the improvement to the process which kept the structure working as planned.

In your own project environment, look for “patterns of behavior” and the underlying root causes for their occurrence.  The leverage you can apply in your business context is enormous.

And the next time you drink a cup of orange juice, think of this example.  You will be glad you did.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss BOT International’s  Project Closeout and Lessons Learned Advisory Services with Mark Price Perry, BOT International’s founder. 

Our podcast on this topic is available here (Podcast No. 229).

I have worked in this field for many years, during which time I worked with several major project organizations.  I feel that now is the time for increased emphasis on Lessons Learned. 

Early in 2011, I predicted that more companies would seek to close projects successfully and to capture project lessons learned.  In fact, I stated that those companies who successfully documented and shared lessons learned would gain a decided competitive advantage with regard to competition.

Today, I see a trend toward being more open in organizations with regard to “project failures” and poor performance of projects.  However, it is still a “culture” phenomenon, and much work must still be done with organizations to help them gain an appreciation for the full value of lessons learned.

Our BOT International work has shown that how project and PMO organizations embrace “change” is very much related to how they embrace lessons learned.  The discipline of lessons learned is all about change. 

To quote John C. Maxwell:  “Real change occurs as the result of either inspiration or desperation.” 

Project and PMO organizations that are “business driven” and proactive take a decidedly different approach to that of project and PMO organizations that are on the “compliant” end of the spectrum.  This difference between “commitment” and “compliance” when addressing change is important.

Our BOT International consulting offerings in the Project Closeout and Lessons Learned Advisory Practice take these CHANGE, CULTURE, and PMO MATURITY issues into account in their planning and execution.

All of our consulting offerings approach project lessons learned from a Framework which contributes to a continuous process improvement environment for the organization.

We have four basic consulting offerings from BOT International regarding Project Closeout and Lessons Learned.  I would like to review each one and provide the following information:  type of engagement, length of engagement, participants, focus, and outcomes.

First, we have a culture and change initiative (PCOLL010).  This is a three to five day on site intensive culture initiative to instill an appreciation for project lessons learned and the value to be gained by sharing information.

The second offering is a three day intensive workshop (PCOLL020) aimed at groups of 20 or less to discuss tactical aspects of documenting lessons learned. 

The third offering is a five day on site engagement (PCOLL030) which combines the three day workshop with intensive discussion of project culture and importance of lessons learned in a continuous process Improvement framework.

The fourth offering is an intensive one day on site workshop (PCOLL040) whose participants will become “mentors” to others in the organization with regard to capturing, documenting and sharing project lessons learned.  The selection of these “mentors” is a collaborative effort with the project organization.

Obviously, these four offerings can be modified to meet the needs of specific organizations based on their individual project and business contexts, project organization maturity or Management’s desire to change the culture.  I would be happy to work with any Managers who wish to emphasize a specific aspect of Project Lessons Learned or Knowledge Management in our consulting work.

Please contact me at mbost@botinternational.com to discuss how BOT International can assist you with Project Closeout and Lessons Learned or any other aspects of PMO Setup and Maturity.

 

 

Those of you who follow my blog site know that I have written recently about the fact that Lessons Learned are all about us.  They occur in every discipline and field of endeavor we might pursue.  They arise as the result of actions of the participants and consequences of those actions or what is commonly referred to in project jargon as “outcomes.”

Everyone can participate in gathering, sharing, documenting, and capitalizing on lessons learned, no matter what their individual backgrounds might be or what field they may be interested in.

I am particularly interested these days in “innovative” techniques and methods for capturing lessons learned and the various ways that they are used to improve processes in daily life.

This morning I heard about a new venture that Marlo Thomas is pursuing on Broadway.  You will remember that Marlo Thomas is the daughter of Danny Thomas of early TV fame and a staunch supporter of St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis.  Marlo herself starred in the TV show THAT GIRL with her steady boyfriend Donald.  I am not sure we ever heard what Donald’s last name was.

Marlo Thomas is appearing on Broadway in Relatively Speaking, three one-act plays by Woody Allen, Elaine May, and Ethan Coen that “explore the often outrageous reality of relatives.”  When she discussed the specific details of the performances on TV this morning, one thing particularly interested me.  The playwrights for each play attend a play each week to see firsthand how the performers interact, how the plot unfolds, how the emotion runs, what the audience reaction is to various actions of the actors, etc.  In other words, the playwrights are getting an “in process” look at their own work each week.  They use this insight to change certain aspects of the play for the upcoming stage productions of the plays.

What an innovative approach!!!!   Reminds me a little of our discussion of project managers identifying lessons learned at the end of each major stage of a project which we have discussed several times in this blog.  This method also gives the actors insight into how their performances are being perceived and received by the audience so that they can adjust their actions accordingly.

If you are a project manager looking for ideas about how to improve your project, why don’t you try to “observe” the actions of your actors in their natural setting at least once a week.  How do they interact?  How do they interpret their lines and deliver the outcomes?  How does the entire project “play” out under your direction and initial charge to the group about what was the desired outcome of the project.

I will bet that many of you project managers have never attended a project review for another project in progress.  Try that sometime to see how others are approaching similar situations and how the various project actors are playing out their parts.

You will be very happy when you do this for the insight will rush over you like a wave on the beach.

Let me hear about your successes.  Good luck.

Recently I was watching an episode on HGTV–Home and Garden TV–in which a couple was renovating and redecorating a patio area of their home.  They wanted to place some three foot high planters with flowers at different locations on the patio perimeter for privacy and for decoration. 

The HGTV consultant they were using suggested that they fill the planters with empty plastic water bottles to a certain height and then fill the remainder with dirt to adequately cover the plant roots and provide the irrigation needed.  Why?  The explanation was that the planters would be much easier to move around on the patio for different settings since the plastic water bottles, as opposed to soil, would make them not weigh as much. 

Now, this insight on the part of the HGTV consultant was very valuable to the homeowner.  It had been derived from the consultant’s experience gained in other such patio decorating, and made possible from collaborating with other consultants who worked in this field.

Sometimes “finesse” is what is needed in a project–rather than brute-force implementation.  In the case of the patio, the “finesse” of using a proven technique for the planters that would allow the homeowners be able to move them in the future was insightful, productive, and yet easy to implement.

How many times have you, as a project manager, examined your potential actions to decide if “finesse” could be used rather than “brute force?”  How many times have you collaborated with other project managers to describe a situation that you are facing that might be leveraged by “finesse” rather than by your own blind experience?

As Project Managers, we must look for “finesse” in everything we do.  It pays dividends in little ways.

Under the leadership of founder Mark Price Perry, BOT International, the company in which I am a Principal, PMO Practice, has assembled subject matter experts in PMO Setup, Project/Portfolio Management (PPM), Governance, and Project Closeout/Lessons Learned to create an integrated project and program management consulting group.

This team recently assembled in Orlando, Florida at the 2011 PMO Symposium to demonstrate their process assets “Processes on Demand” to Symposium participants and to discuss their expertise in any field of PMO maturity and development.

The principal subject matter experts and their fields are:

Mark Price Perry:  PMO Setup and Maturity

Terry Doerscher:  Project and Portfolio Management (PPM)

Steve Romero:  Governance

and me, Mel Bost:  Project Closeout and Lessons Learned

Another BOT International consultant and facilitator, Cornelius Fichtner, interviewed the four subject matter experts during the 2011 PMO Symposium to provide his PM Podcast and PREPCAST listeners with the latest news on the BOT International talents.  Check out his podcast here.

BOT International is a global firm specializing in Project and Program Management Office (PMO) competencies.  Contact me to find out more about how BOT International can help you.

Early in 2011, I predicted that we would see more Program Management Offices (PMOs) focusing on Project Lessons Learned as a primary rather than a secondary focus (as has been the case in the recent past).  My interactions with many PMOs have revealed that more organizations are seeking to close out projects in a more formal, systematic, and documented manner, and that Project Lessons Learned is an excellent framework to follow when closing-out projects.   There is no doubt that those organizations who successfully “convert” Project Lessons Learned into process improvements will gain a competitive advantage.

Here are some other factors that contribute to this trend:

1.  The need to include Risk Management in every aspect of Project Planning and Execution.  Risk can be included as a variable in the Project Lessons Learned framework, especially if applied in a Project Lessons Learned schedule that calls for a review at each of the Phase Gates of the project process.

2.  Web-based tools such as the Microsoft Project 2010 client and server or Basecamp allow Project Lessons Learned to be easily recorded so that they will be treated as just another piece of performance reporting information for a project.

Project managers who fully experience the project process—including the use of Project Lessons Learned—learn and acquire truth, knowledge, decision-making skills, and good judgment. 

There are three primary methods by which project managers may learn these valuable lessons:

First, “reflecting” is the preferred method because it results in the highest value to the project manager.  “Reflection” means focusing attention on or studying an event or outcome to understand its origin and root causes as they apply to new project situations.

Second, “imitating” other project managers’ documented, shared experiences is the easiest method by which project managers may improve their skills.  “Imitation” means to behave in a manner which mirrors the actions or behavior of others.

Third, “repeating” his or her own bad experiences and unplanned or poor outcomes may also result in the project manager developing his or her skills, although this method causes the most pain and, in most cases, creates the least value addition.

These concepts paraphrase Confucius’ fifth-century B.C. quotation concerning “wisdom” and “lessons learned.”  They relate concepts of “behavior,” “actions,” “outcomes,” “experiences,” “pain,” “ease,” “value addition” and “knowledge.” 

Why is it that project managers refuse to accept the reality that it is more painful to keep repeating the same mistakes in their projects, rather than to learn and benefit from the experiences of others? 

Lou Tice teaches us two principles of personal growth and development:

1.  People act in accordance with the “truth” as they perceive it to be.

2.  People move toward and become like that which they think about.

As Lou Tice suggested, project managers who act as if Project Lessons Learned can have no positive impact on their future success, act in accordance with their perceived “truth” that Project Lessons Learned aren’t valuable.  Similarly, many organizations have been reluctant to require their project managers to take the time required to reflect upon their completed projects and to document their Project Lessons Learned—despite the fact that most PMBOK practices suggest that project managers properly close-out projects with an after-action review and documentation of Project Lessons Learned. 

Today, however, I believe that this reality is finally beginning to change.  Many companies have begun to take Project Lessons Learned more seriously, and they are now  interested in closing-out projects with documentation preserving the “knowledge” created by the project, and the “experiences” of the project’s participants.

On the other hand, what do project managers want to do more than anything else when they successfully complete a project?  Those of us who have observed this behavior over time can tell you that overwhelmingly project managers want to get on to that next great assignment, that next great challenge, that next great project.  Rarely do they want to pause and reflect upon what they have just accomplished, or what the organization could gain if they documented and shared their project management experiences. 

So, what should be the driving force for properly documenting and sharing project lessons learned?

We all know that most organizations now recognize that there are certain Best Practices—in both their project management processes and in their business context—that they employ over and over again.  This is to be expected; when an organization experiences a successful outcome using a key Best Practice, the organization is likely to have successful outcomes in the future if it employs that same Best Practice again.  Often these Best Practices are specific to that organization’s culture, and they fit into the project process naturally in the course of executing projects.  Indeed, many organizations are now employing Best Practice intuitively.  Few companies, however, are adept at recognizing and employing their own Best Practices.     

Just like Best Practices have become—no pun intended—Best Practices within many companies, shouldn’t PMOs look upon Project Lessons Learned as having the same potential to lead to “success” in their project work? 

Here is a “process” and “framework” for looking at Project Lessons Learned that will allow the project lessons learned process to become a Best Practice in your PMO. 

What would constitute a “capability based system” for capturing and sharing Project Lessons Learned?

1.  There must be some process or mechanism for sorting out the FACTS in stories, experiences, and anecdotes, versus the ASSUMPTIONS and PERSPECTIVES contained therein.

2.  There must be a recognized “review” process to identify SIGNIFICANT EVENTS and CANDIDATES for Project Lessons Learned. 

3. There must be willingness on the part of project managers and project team members to speak directly, concisely, and with conviction about project events and lessons.  This involves a risk-taking attitude that only comes from developing an internal capability in the organization to acknowledge that Project Lessons Learned add lasting value.

4.  There must be a “review” process which addresses the following questions:

        –What were the Expected Results from the action or behavior of the project team?

        –What were the Actual Results from the action or behavior of the project team?

         –What is the gap between Actual and Expected?

         –What are the Lessons Learned to be captured, shared, and documented?

5.  There must be an internal knowledge-management system (such as, as mentioned above, Microsoft Project 2010 or Basecamp) devoted to storing Project Lessons Learned documentation so that project managers may easily retrieve and apply the lessons contained therein to new projects.

6.  There must be a single person who is the coordinator or caretaker of the Project Lessons Learned process and the knowledge-management system, so that he or she can analyze the documented lessons learned in order to identify any broader lessons learned that may be applied to the policies, processes, and procedures governing the organization’s project management processes.

Once you have mastered these basic elements and gain some experience in applying the process to a number of projects, you can begin to add some sensitivities. 

For example, you could relate Project Lessons Learned to the risks existing when you are developing a new technology concurrent with the project within which the new technology is being applied.  At the outset of such a technology-driven project, you can establish a plan to prove-out the technology as the project progresses.  A lesson learned could then be documented in terms of the risk of the new technology being proved-out successfully during the project.  Such a scheme could introduce concepts such as “controllable” and “uncontrollable” risk.  “Controllable risk” could be associated with those portions of the technology prove-out where there is a high probability of success.

Likewise, you could look at Project Lessons Learned at the end of each major phase of your project, and apply some “integrative thinking” principles.  This allows a reexamination of original “assumptions” for the project and sets the tone for good project planning for future project phases.

Does your organization have a capabilities-based strategy for making project lessons learned a Best Practice?

As a Principal Consultant with BOT International, we are interested in assisting PMOs and project groups with PMO Setup, Project and Portfolio Management (PPM), Governance and Project Closeout and Lessons Learned.  Call on me or email me if you would like more information about our consulting services.

I find it really interesting that people are all clamoring to get copies of Steve Jobs’ biography.  And the press is continually revealing their own interpretation of passages from his book and key events from his life.  Why is this?

Because people are looking for that instant key to “wisdom” that Steve Jobs exhibited which made him a successful entrepreneur and innovator.  People are not content to reflect on their own experiences about successful activities from their own lives, and their key interactions and relationships with others, to find the lessons learned that they desire. 

Instead, they are looking for that instant “wisdom” that Steve Jobs talked about throughout his life.  Interesting that people are studying him now more than when he was alive.

One of my favorite quotes from Steve Jobs was the following:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. ”

In the past, “Lessons Learned” evoked a connotation of taking time away from “valuable” activities that supported ongoing interests to look back at some activity already completed in order to record someone’s mistakes and provide guidance to them in how to proceed next time.

We need to reframe our thinking about “Lessons Learned.”  We need to see “Lessons Learned” in any situation as an “opportunity” to improve performance, create more successful outcomes for ourselves and for the people affected by our activities, and to improve the overall processes by which we live our daily lives.

In a recent audio CD interview for “Success” magazine, Dr. Oz stated an interesting perspective on getting second opinions for a diagnosis which your physician might have given for an ailment or disease.  Many people refuse to get second opinions because they fear that their physician will take offense at being second guessed.  But he stated a statistic that one of every three second opinions results in a reversal of the original opinion.  So a “reframing” of this situation means that if a second opinion were shared with the original physician with good, sound, medical and scientific evidence that the second opinion should be acted upon, then the original physician stands to benefit as much from the opinion as does the patient.  Think of how many patients the physician will see going forward for which he will have more knowledge and opinions to provide an original opinion.  The “Lessons Learned” from this example are enormous in terms of future diagnoses and resulting treatments.

We must begin to think of “Lessons Learned” in terms of opportunity and the value that they add to all stakeholders including those in the future who could benefit from the capture, documentation and sharing of the “Lessons Learned.”  To connect the dots in the future, as Steve Jobs alluded to in his quote, we need to use all of our backward looks to gain a better appreciation for what is possible in the future.  We need to think of the “value” we can create for the world at large by creatively looking at lessons learned.

Several project managers have asked me to expound on my blog post about conquering the great challenges in life, and the six “ADD-vantages” one gains by this effort.  In this post, I want to share about the self awareness that I gained as a result of developing and facilitating Lessons Learned classes for the Panama Canal Authority.

On the first day of class, I let the class set the schedule based upon their normal working hours.  They chose to have the class run from 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM with a one hour lunch break from noon to 1:00 PM.  So, my day was set early!  I was up at 5:30 AM every day, I ate breakfast at 6:30 AM, my taxi left the hotel at 7:00 AM, I arrived in the classroom 7:20 AM, and the class started at 7:30 AM.  After a few days, I began to realize that my best, most energetic time of the day was between 6:00 AM and noon.  So, I tried to plan my interaction with the class around that same energy level.  Since returning from Panama, I have maintained that 5:30 AM awakening, and have had my most energetic and productive time between 6:00 AM and noon.  This self awareness of energy level and corresponding times of the day has been very productive in planning work cycles and downtime for rest.

The first day of classes, I was uncertain whether “language” differences might be an issue.  In our contract, it specified that the course would be offered in English.  As it turned out, I had to spend a great deal of energy and time covering the introductory material because of language-related issues.  When it came time for our lunch break, I was uncertain as to what to do about lunch.  Several people had told me there were small restaurants within walking distance of the facility.  But I really felt that I needed to prepare for the afternoon session.  I had brought a box of granola bars with me for snacks in case I needed extra energy.

As a result of this “lunch dilemma,” I ate a granola bar everyday at lunch in my classroom and prepared for the afternoon session.  This resulted in a much smoother class than if I had tried to find a local restaurant with time constraints and not knowing how my stomach might react to the cuisine.   This self awareness of integrating food intake with the needs of the class was very important.

One area that I have been studying lately is “risk analysis.”  For example, on my taxi ride to the training facility on the Monday of the second week of training, I began to think of the “risks” I might encounter that week.  One risk was that my classroom location might have been changed from the location of the first week’s training.  This was highly likely due to the way the second week of training had been scheduled at the last minute.  Similarly, during the first week, I had to acclimate myself to the audio and video equipment and my laptop computer connections so that the class would run smoothly.  One thing I thought I might have to my advantage was the fact that most of the training rooms seemed to be set up with the same equipment and tables/chairs, whiteboards, and visual equipment.

When I arrived, my HR/Training contact informed me that I would, in fact, be in a different training room that week.  I requested his assistance in helping set up the equipment so the course would proceed smoothly.  My experience during the first week helped me to identify and plan for “controllable” and “uncontrollable” risks.  Risk analysis is a very valuable tool to keep close at hand because it deals with not only the likelihood of the possible event, but also the possible impacts if such an event occurs.

So, here are the big takeaways in terms of personal awareness and the big challenges:

1.  It is easy to plan for the major activities associated with a big challenge, but it is difficult to plan in advance for personal aspects such as food, rest, relaxation, energy level maintenance, language differences, etc.  These personal aspects, however, also contribute to your ability to tackle a challenge.  Take the time to plan for these personal aspects, and you will see your successes grow exponentially.

2.  Work to match your energy level characteristics with the scheduling of your big challenge.  If you can identify the times during which you have maximum energy and can sustain maximum concentration, you will be more productive and your stakeholders will, in turn, be rewarded.

3.  Utilize risk analysis and risk management techniques both to plan your big challenge, and to monitor your progress during the big challenge.  You will want to conduct your own “lessons learned” analysis of your big challenge, so, remember, the Significant Events that you identify in your lessons learned analysis frequently become the risks that you identify when conducting a Risk Analysis for your next big challenge.

4.  Remember, your stakeholders and clients are expecting you to produce a memorable “experience”.  To achieve that goal, you will have to closely monitor other people and processes that will impact your challenge.  Be sure your analysis accounts for these people and processes and plan accordingly.

Your personal growth and awareness during and after conquering your next big challenge is very important to everyone with a stake in the outcome.  Do everything you can to make this challenge a great experience and produce an excellent work product for both your stakeholders and yourself.

Last week’s episode of Parenthood on NBC had a number of dimensions.  I would like to review, from my perspective, what happened in this episode, and then draw some conclusions for the project community followers of this blog. 

In this episode, one of the main characters, Adam Braverman is faced with a number of issues.  He is the father of a teenage daughter and a grade school son and his wife is about to give birth to another child.  He has recently lost his job, and is evaluating several possible jobs, each of which are really at a lower level than his previous position.

Here are the issues he is faced with in this episode:

1. His son has a learning disability which causes him to speak out in class inappropriately.

2. His daughter is dating a gentleman (Alex) who has a criminal background, and is now being charged with assault and battery by the parents of another teen whom Alex fought with at a recent party.

3. His brother is seeking to get a lease on an old recording studio in hopes of reviving the studio.  He has used Adam’s background information—without Adam’s knowledge—to secure a position to bid on the recording studio space.

4.  He has no traditional job or income at present.

5.  His wife is about to give birth, and there is a possibility that the baby could also have the same learning disorder that their son experiences.

Now, we all talk a lot about rational decision making being the basis for business interactions and business contracts. 

Adam thinks that the “rational” choice is for him to accept a job that provides an income, but not a fulfilling experience.  He also knows that there is very little he can do about the assault and battery charge against his daughter’s boyfriend, but, in his mind, it’s just another indication that their relationship was a mistake from the beginning.

So, what decisions does Adam make in this episode?

First, when Adam and his brother meet with the landlord of the recording studio building, they are initially met with rejection because the landlord says that he wants a safe and reliable tenant that he can count on.  At the heart of this conversation, Adam takes over the dialogue, and tells the landlord that he believes in what his brother is doing.  What’s more, he tells the landlord that he has business skills that he has not tried out in this context before, but which could be exactly what the new startup recording studio needed.  In doing so, Adam surprises both the brother and the landlord.

Second, when Adam’s daughter tells him that she feels really powerless because she can’t help her boyfriend with the charges leveled against him, Adam tells his daughter that everything will work out.  He then goes to the parents of the assaulted teenager and speaks to them from the heart about how he first doubted Alex, but was impressed when he learned how Alex had moved from using a soup kitchen as a source of food, to actually running the soup kitchen.  Adam’s eloquence in this dialogue resulted in the parents dropping the assault charges leveled against Alex.

Now, was this irrational decision-making?  At first glance, it appeared to be just that….in the face of harsh facts that pointed in one direction, he reversed his field and stood up for his brother and for Alex.

Meanwhile, the side story about Adam’s son’s learning disability, and his inability to get along with the other kids in the class, developed into an asset.  When the kids in the class found out that Adam’s son had advanced to a high level in their favorite video game and knew how to beat a major obstacle, the kids sought him out as an “authority” that could help them achieve the same success with the game.  His “influence” with the classmates increased.  Seizing upon this success, Adam’s wife and the teacher developed a strategy for Adam’s son that they hope will result in him getting along better with his classmates.

At the end of the episode, Adam is still faced with no income, and an uncertain position in his brother’s recording studio venture.  He feels, however, that he “did the right thing.” 

The real story here is how reframing the issues provided Adam with a greater ability to make difficult decisions.  Until faced with a decision, Adam had not focused on his own skills and competencies to see how they might apply to his brother’s recording studio venture.  Adam was uncertain about how to proceed with Alex until they learned more about his past, and how his drive to succeed and survive led him to run the soup kitchen.

Reframing is a very important tool in project management and in life.  It is why I tell my Project Lessons Learned students to get as many perspectives as possible when describing a “Significant Event” that may eventually become a “Candidate” for a Lesson Learned—”People act in accordance with the truth as they perceive it to be.”  Everyone sees different outcomes from the same scenario. 

In this episode of Parenthood, Adam reframed the issues, and acted at the right time, with the right intent, and with the right IMPACT to make a difference.

Every project manager and every PMO leader is, at some point, faced with a difficult decision.  It is our job to face the facts, reframe if necessary, move toward action, speak with conviction, and lead by leading.

Sometimes project managers are as much informed by their projects, as they inform their projects.  And sometimes the lessons they learn are as valuable to the broader scheme of life, as they are to their projects going forward.

What does that mean?

It means that the total experience of carrying out and managing  a project sometimes adds a richness to a project manager’s experience that no training, no development course, no experiential modeling, no simulation, and no textbook could ever provide.

It is these experiences that project managers should reflect upon in order to draw out some real lessons when dealing with the physical, mental, social, and emotional states of project management.

This is the story of one such encounter from my experience.  I hope it provides you with some insights, and I hope  that you share your own similar experiences in projects so that others in the project community may benefit.

In 1996, while working for UNOCAL 76 Products Company as a Marketing Operations Analysis project manager, I was pressed into service opening convenience stores under our “Fastbreak Format” program.  This was an initiative to construct and operate convenience stores ranging from 1500 square feet in interior size to 2500 square feet interior size.  Many of these convenience stores also included fast food sections that featured Carl’s Jr., Subway, or another food brand.

As a project manager, it was my job to take the site from the Construction group, and then implement a plan for completion of store’s interior layout (including fixtures for the display of soft drinks, candies, and snacks) while also completing the store’s exterior layout (including underground fuel storage tanks, fuel dispensers at the islands, and other features).  Systems in the store included Point of Sale equipment that was sourced by major suppliers and installed by a special UNOCAL systems group. 

Obviously, coordination and timing were of the essence in such an operation.  I had at least ten bosses from various groups who always wanted to make sure that their portion of the exercises was completed on time, on budget, and fully operational.

There were two C-stores in particular that I remember from this experience. 

One was located in an inner city area of Los Angeles.  It was a 1500 square foot interior C-store that was to be franchised by a couple in the local area. 

The other was a 2500 square foot interior C-store that was to be a company-operated store on a freeway location just north of San Diego. 

The larger C-store was equipped with several islands for gasoline dispensing, while the smaller C-store had only two islands for gasoline dispensing due to the small lot at the inner city location.  The smaller C-store was equipped with a bulletproof glass partition that separated the operator from the customers after certain hours of the evening.  The larger C-store, on the other hand, had an open and spacious layout with extensive coolers for a variety of cool drinks and beverages.

The larger C-store had a company-employed manager who was already a manager at a nearby C-store about ten miles from the new location.  Although it was his responsibility to manage the store upon opening and to assist me prior to opening, it was solely my responsibility to manage the project, interface with all the suppliers and vendors, work with all the company systems groups for installation of systems, and determine when the store was ready for operation. 

In the case of the smaller, franchised C-store, my principal responsibility as project manager was to complete the project, interface effectively with the couple who would operate the store upon opening, and determine when the store was ready for opening.

The couple who had franchised the store had two children under age ten, and a grandmother who was always with them during the construction, installation of equipment, training, and opening of the store.   Although the manager of the larger C-store was extremely helpful in carrying out routine tasks in getting the store ready to open, he was also very impatient to “get his hands on the reins” and drive the stagecoach.

These two stores were going up concurrently, and I lived about half way between the two stores.  I divided my time each week between each location as I managed the various project tasks that had to be staged to bring each store to a ready state.

Occasionally during the work, a representative from another UNOCAL group would appear on-site to talk to either the franchisee or the company store manager.  These discussions, of course, always involved me as a principal participant in the preparation of the site. 

There were always issues in the opening process that required my liaison with another UNOCAL or supplier group.  For example, we encountered systems problems with installation of the Point of Sale equipment in the smaller C-store because the satellite communication equipment for credit card authorizations was not working properly.  So, a supplier from the network systems vendor was on-site much of the time during that phase of the setup, diagnosing and troubleshooting the satellite communications.   This meant that I had to describe the problem, the planned solution, and the timeline for fixing it to the franchisees.  Although nothing in the project plans called for informing them about how this interface with going, I felt an obligation to let them know exactly what problems we were encountering since they seemed to be at the site 24 hours a day.

As the two stores slowly took shape, my drive from my home to each location each day provided a good time to reflect and plan and digest and understand the C-store operators’ different agendas.  My obligation was to provide an open C-store, free of any systems issues, and ready for steady state operation. 

The smaller C-store was ready first even though we had been delayed with systems problems several times during the project.  I began to think of the training that the franchisee couple had received as the store neared completion and wondered if they were really prepared for what was to come.  They would have control over when the whole C-store would be open to the public and when customers could interface with the manager only through the bulletproof glass partition.  This was in stark contrast to the freeway location for the larger C-store where hours were almost unrestricted.  Although 24 hour operation was not common at that point in time, the store was open from 6 AM to 10 PM.

On the last night when I drove away from the smaller C-store, I was assured that the couple had sufficient training to see the store’s opening through.  I made sure that company personnel and vendors/suppliers had called on them enough that they had phone numbers and contact information with backup numbers if necessary.  The wife asked “does this mean we will not see you again?”

I wasn’t sure how to react.  All I could say was “yes, I had completed my project and felt they were prepared to operate the store successfully.”  But that is when I realized that this was more than just a project; it was their livelihood, and lives were dedicated to making this venture work.

As I drove away that evening, I questioned whether I had done my best to prepare them for the days ahead.  Had I coached them enough on the credit card system?  Had I helped them enough to understand the dispensers and the card readers?  Had I really treated them like they were going to be successful in this endeavor?  Only time would tell.

Meanwhile, the larger C-store was nearing completion.  More corporate people were appearing everyday to question the store manager and his staff on their particular areas of influence and control.  As we neared completion, I participated in the training of the staff to handle every aspect of the store.

It was solely my call whether the store was ready for operation.  As project manager for this C-store opening project, I weighed all the evidence and decided that we needed one more day to be sure that everything was in working order.   My store manager disagreed and voiced his disapproval to the Business Development Manager for the region.  Although the BDM was concerned, he recognized that I was the only person who had been on-site every day, knew every piece of ground, had talked with every vendor, had questioned each systems development specialist, had operated each dispenser, and each card reader.

As it turned out, we did have a minor systems problem on that last day before officially opening—a problem that no one, not even me, could have foreseen.  It took several hours to resolve, but I knew better at that point than to make a big issue of why we needed one more day.

As we opened the larger C-store, I thought of the smaller C-store and the vast differences between the two….the differences in location, market, operations, and especially the challenges for each.  Had I done my best to prepare each one to succeed?  I learned so much from the experience that I am sure it affected my approach to future projects and the people involved.

John C. Maxwell can be a mesmerizing speaker.   When he exhorts you to give your best, you give your best.  When he beckons you to take on a great challenge, you say “How soon can I start?”

I just listened to his audio CD lesson on “Conquering Life’s Great Challenges” for the fifth time, and every time I felt like he was speaking directly to me.  Maxwell’s theme is that everyone is faced with great challenges in their life, and those who successfully conquer these challenges are enormously enriched, and better equipped and prepared for the even greater challenges that await them later in their lives.

Preparation is a key ingredient.  Keeping a positive outlook about the end result is essential.  Keeping the drive going when obstacles seem formidable is essential.  But you can do it.

Maxwell says that there are SIX great “ADD-VANTAGES” that one gains from conquering a great challenge:

1.  Adds Self Awareness And Understanding Of Self:    Conquering a challenge makes you more aware of what your real capabilities are, and helps you solidify your thinking about what you have to contribute.

2.  Adds And Builds Confidence:  Conquering a challenge gives a person great confidence to proceed to the next challenge with the knowledge that you have a process for facing and conquering that next challenge.

3.  Adds Personal Growth And Stretch:  Expands your capabilities to handle key issues.

4.  Adds Momentum:  Creates the drive to move forward proactively with other key challenges.

5.  Adds New Territory and Growth into New Activities.

6.  Adds Great Value To Others, Their Lives, And The World In General.

Maxwell goes on to say that, before an individual attempts the challenge, an individual’s world is filled with questioning, intimidation, fear, and uncertainty about his own ability to meet the challenge.  But completing the challenge creates a sense of breakthrough, encouragement, strength, purpose, and value.  What a difference completing a challenge can have on the willingness and proactive behavior of an individual.

In my case, my most recent great challenge was to develop and facilitate a new Project Closeout and Lessons Learned training for an organization that specifically requested the training because it desired to fill a void in its current project process.  The organization also wanted to instill a culture that valued the discipline.  The organization was itself faced with a great challenge in the form of a major super-project that was taking place over a number of years.

While Project Closeout and Lessons Learned is one of my favorite topics, and one I had been preparing to tackle for many years, my work for this organization spurred me to focus in-depth on the area for a sustained period of time, leading to my own personal development in each of the six Add-Vantages mentioned by Maxwell in his lesson.

At first, like many of us when faced with a new project, I faced all of Maxwell’s classic roadblocks.  I felt fear and uncertainty that I would be able to deliverm, but I forced myself to overcome this fear.  After I prepared a training manual and a well-choreographed presentation, I still had to travel to the organization and present the final product.  As I was leaving, one of my closest friends said “Just think how much you will be contributing to their capability… continuous improvement and lessons learned will be invaluable to this organization in creating overall project and program success.”

Once there, I knew that preparation would be the key to overcoming any remaining fear.  I surveyed the training facilities carefully and I was committed to make the training times as compatible with the participants’ normal workdays as possible.  Since everyone agreed the 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM were their normal working hours, we adopted that timeframe.

I disciplined myself to be ready to fire on all cylinders at 7:30 AM each morning, to have a working lunch prepared for the lunch break, and to be ready to answer the participants’ questions and to rephrase any concepts necessary to make sure they understood.

As the class days advanced, my confidence was building–I was very assured that my Project Closeout Framework was sound.  Our group discussions yielded some great insights.

In my experience during this training session, I gained a great deal of insight into my strengths.  My best times for action are between 6 AM and Noon.  So, it is best for me to capitalize on that timeframe for my most significant work of the day.   I also learned that I have a tremendous network of willing colleagues in the project community who can be counted on at a moment’s notice.  I also learned that my Framework applies equally well to contract closeout and to project closeout.  I learned that a simple feedback diagram showing “Process,” “Result,” “Lessons Learned,” and the feedback to continuous improvement of the “Process” can apply generically to just about any process an organization wants to pursue.  What a grand revelation and one that would not have been recognized without the assistance of a flip chart and an attentive class that demanded the very best of my efforts.

So what is my next great challenge?  Writing my book on Project Closeout and Lessons Learned.  The Framework, which once graced a few napkins on a lunch table, will now be immortalized for everyone to use.  The application of this Framework will be a leverage tool for project groups and PMOs to succeed and to produce significant results in their work.  This book will also complement BOT International’s new Advisory Services for Project Closeout and Lessons Learned Consulting.  As Practice Head for this new Advisory Services area, I will be responsible for assisting companies in instilling a new Project Lessons Learned culture that will enable project practitioners to “master” lessons learned as a continuous process improvement discipline.

So Mr. PMO–when you are faced with your next challenge, take heed to John C. Maxwell’s words on conquering great challenges.  Not only will you prepare yourself to willingly take on those challenges, you will also add tremendous value to your PMO in your ability to tackle ventures and projects that Management dictates.  It will also build “resilience”–a leadership trait that is highly valuable in this risky economic and political climate.

Step up to the plate–you have the ability to innovate, to meet any Challenge, to conquer any language barrier, to overcome any cultural conflicts…if you will only focus on the task, and keep a positive attitude in the face of any setbacks.

Let me know what great project challenges you are tackling.

 

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