You might have heard that Wellingtone is continuously pushing the boundaries of thinking and like to do things a little bit different.

Do not just take our word for it: have a look at our FuturePMO conference or the recently APM (Association for Project Management) Accredited Wellingtone PMO Leader training course!

In fact, we are really proud of the PMO-L course and how it uses project-based learning (PBL) and instils principles of critical thinking and reflective practice in future PMO Leaders.

In this article, we are going to look at the last pillar of the course, reflective practice.

What is Reflective Practice

When we think about learning we tend to think about classroom training courses, reading books and articles, listening to podcasts, watching a LinkedIn Learning short video or a TEDx presentation, or perhaps working with a coach. However, make no mistake: you might not notice it, but we are learning all the time.

That is the very essence of reflective practice: the ability to recognise and make sense of what we are learning.

While closely linked to reflection – the clue is in the name -, reflective practice involves an active, systematic, and conscious effort to reflect on one’s action as part of the process of continuous learning, whereas reflection is what one can consider simple casual thinking.

The idea of reflecting about practice was first formulated by Dewey (1933) in “How we think” but gained strength with the seminal work of Schon’s (1983) “The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action”. Nowadays, it is understood as a much-needed competence associated with the concept of professionalism. The argument being that a good professional is one able to reflect on his/her practice and continuously learn from it, or as put by Schon, “reflective practice is a dialogue of thinking and doing through which I become more skilful” (Schon, 31:1983).

Because it originates from an individual’s experience, reflective practice implies that practitioners are self-aware of the context and can critically evaluate their own responses to practice situations. When applied effectively, reflective practice results in the creation of purposeful “pause-think-learn” moments, where our usual daily activities are integrated and articulated on a routine basis with the specific objective of raising awareness, prompting critical thinking and improving (or learning from) our practice.

The cycle of reflecting expresses the different steps involved in the gathering, analysis, and action resulting from the reflection, as proposed by Gibbs (1988):

Cycle of Reflecting Expresses

How to develop my project management competences with reflective practice?

Continuous professional development (CPD) is an example of the relevance of reflection for competence development where practitioners improve their practice through a variety of methods that stimulate and demand reflection. In fact, being a professional requires continuous professional development which is leveraged by reflective practice.

Experience is therefore obviously necessary for career and competence development. However, experience without meaning and purpose is empty and represents a lost opportunity for further improvement of one’s own competences. Reflection is needed in order to gain meaning of past and current events and lead to better actions in the future.

But what does this mean in practice?

I’m sharing my own reflections on my practice as a project lead, with some real examples below, to make the idea clearer:

Table of content - Reflective Practice Examples

Where do I start?

Indeed, reflection on its own is not enough, it needs to lead to better practice if it is to be effective. The use of reflective journals and the development and following of a personal development plan exemplify the relevance of reflection for competence development, but there are many others you can use.

There is no magic formula for developing as a reflective practitioner. But you can count on the following guidelines to get you started (from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development):

  • Time: if you are serious about reflective practice, you need to find the time for it and build reflective time into your learning schedule. Make it a habit – even if that means adding it to your Outlook!
  • Attention: reflection demands focus and that means no distractions of any kind.
  • Pace: breathe, no need to hurry. Trust me, the world is not going to end just because you haven’t replied to that email yet.
  • Curiosity: there is no one right way to reflect and learn, so you should experiment different approaches – whatever works for you, from post-its, to video blogs, or writing a personal journal.

And remember, while you are applying reflective practice for your own benefit, there might be no harm in sharing your reflections with others and grow and learn together. Being an internal wiki or OneNote, there are plenty of tools available to assist you in supporting your own development but also in allowing you to contribute to a learning organisation. At the end of the day, when it comes to learning, sharing is caring.

Now, please take the time to reflect.

Yes, I mean it.