The project is over. Now what?

Tips to help any project team learn from experience

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by Ty Kiisel, @task

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
--Rita Mae Brown, Sudden Death

Although there are times when I question the sanity of working in a project environment, hopefully it isn't because I am beating my head against the wall doing the same things and making the same mistakes project after project. However, I think most organizations don't spend anywhere near enough time at the end of a project to evaluate its successes or failures. A project isn't really over until after the retrospective has been completed.

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The increasing pace of change in the workplace makes it more important than ever to take the time to learn from experience. Doing this requires a regular and consistent approach that is often ignored in project environments. Here are a few suggestions to help any project team learn from experience:

Establish a venue for sharing lessons learned: It doesn't matter whether you call it a postmortem, a project review, or a project retrospective. It's a real shame that many project teams move from one project to another without even taking a breath; let alone taking the opportunity to capture lessons learned from the last project. What's more, the time taken to discuss where the completed project was successful or struggled allows team members to contribute to improving the project management process from the grass roots level.

I once worked with a project manager who created an environment where everyone could freely discuss the successes and challenges of every project in a formal meeting once the project was completed. Sometimes it included some pretty frank criticism of how the project was managed. Rather than become upset and retaliate (which could have been a natural reaction), he would take note of the critique and genuinely work to improve himself along with the rest of the team. It was a great example to me of how a competent project manager can become an even more effective project leader.

Share what has been learned: Although most organizations don't bother with a project retrospective, those that do don't always create an environment that encourages learning. If lessons learned are captured and then tucked away in a file somewhere, the lessons are of no value. Not only your own team, but also other teams within the organization can benefit from lessons captured upon completion of a project.

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