Learning from performing any task is essential. Finding out what works and what does not is a positive way to achieve this and should improve future approaches and therefore likelihood of success. This learning process is integral to everyday life, but often runs into difficulty when applying it to projects.

How do we learn?
We learn by our mistakes and our successes and by applying learning to future tasks. The more people involved and bigger the project, the more difficult this seemingly simple process becomes. It is suggested that this learning be facilitated by Post Project Review process. This could be in the form of a close down meeting or more complex report building, employee interviews, questionnaires and audits. Project success criteria are usually determined by Time, Cost and Specification (and Benefits if a change project). In order to gain the best understanding of the project these factors at the very least require measuring against the original project brief.

Few people like admitting to making mistakes, therefore learning needs to be addressed in a supportive and open manner. Does your Post Project Review look more like a big stick to beat the project team with? This situation is a relative of blame culture, and should ideally be avoided at all costs. One thing that’s worse than not reviewing a project is hiding the problems occurred in fear of a chastising. In our experience it is often the larger and more established organisations where this situation is most common. It is advised that measures be taken to counter this wherever possible.

“Phew! – Next”
The reality of reviewing projects is that when the number of projects and day-to-day tasks are mounting up, it is easy to neglect this side of project management. It can also be the key to individual and organisational learning and progression. Creating and updating a Lessons Learnt Log from the start of the project gives much better value that having a scratch of heads at the end.

Feeding lessons learned back into the organistion brings us the phrase “Knowledge Management”.  The concept of Knowledge Management is notoriously difficult to tie down, often ending with a helpful comment such as “well it’s the management of knowledge, isn’t it?”

Essentially Knowledge Management is concerned with the storage and use of knowledge within the organisation. It should also aid the process of converting data into knowledge via the Data – Information – Knowledge development model. The idea being that if this knowledge is captured, it will not be lost when employees move to another job. This point also highlights to recent interest in the topic, as the rate in which people move from one job to the next continually increases.

One definition suggests that Knowledge Management, at its simplest “is about encouraging people to share knowledge and ideas to create value-adding products and services.” (Chase, 1997). It is concerned with extracting learning and knowledge and recording this into the organisational process, approach, training, selection etc. for the future improvements.

Knowledge Management is also about creating an effective environment for learning to flourish – which unfortunately puts it into direct conflict with the cultures of many organisations and the status quo of blame culture, as discussed earlier.

At its simplest in project terms, Knowledge Management is recording lessons learnt and establishing a feedback loop so those “lessons” are “learnt”. At a more advanced level it is a full framework and culture designed (yes designed – rarely accidental) to extract, capture and learn from all staff, projects, activities, process and software in order to keep and maintain competitive advantage.

References

Chase, Rory, L (1997) Knowledge Management Benchmarks. The Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 1, No. 1