When a project fails, it can be very discouraging. All project managers undoubtedly have ups and downs. However, it is up to them to make what they can out of these situations and turn them into a learning experience.

Every mistake leads to learning experiences that leads to others. Robert Kelly, co-founder and managing partner at Kelly Project Solutions knows this very well. He even admits he once considered a career change. As project manager who has over a dozen years of experience leading complex projects and having his projects realized in over 40 countries around the world and across multiple sectors, Robert has learned many important lessons. Below, he shares what he has learned from making project mistakes how he developed the lessons learned.

Developing Effective Lessons Learned from Project Management Mistakes

by Robert Kelly, PMP

When properly worked through and efficiently documented, lessons learned can be a very valuable tool for project managers and the larger PMO. However, like many PM tools, remember that garbage in is garbage out. That was one of my first mistakes as young project manager….trust without verification. I was leading an update and assumed the lessons learned from the last project were accurate. Unfortunately, they were done in a bubble that included the PM and well, the PM. As the project quickly went off the rails, I began to question a career in a project management but quickly learned to trust but verify.

Through the years, I have learned a bit more about developing effective lessons learned:

1. The comprehensive project plan and its respective artifacts must be maintained and up to date with version control, through to the end of the project. Lessons learned references may lose context if you can’t look back at earlier versions of the requirements document, risk register, or the stakeholder doc. One of the few downsides of a career in project management is the administrative aspect, but your documentation is just as vital later as it is throughout.

2. Set expectations early. Often, the kick-off meetings are relegated to introductions and logistics of the upcoming project. This is a great time to inform everyone of the process, admin aspects, and lessons learned. People will know performance/participation will be reviewed at the end and documented for management to see. Adds to the buy-in.

3. Get ready for finger pointing, excuses, and defensive attitudes. When you start saying that a function or requirement was not executed well, someone is going to take offense. I have found that a little pre-wiring ahead and some homework works best. Go to the various team members and ask them for some input heading into the call. If there is something very direct to another team member/function, then you can help bring that up in a more general manner. The homework will also allow you to present some of this in a more neutral manner vs. asking colleagues to call each other out in front of one another. The homework will also provide an outlet for colleagues to open up…some may be friends outside of the office and wouldn’t think of sharing a potential area for improvement with regards to their buddy.

4. Lastly, it always helps if you call yourself out first. If you show that everyone or every function can use some improvement, the others will start to let down their guard a bit.

Robert Kelly, PMP
Managing Partner, Kelly Project Solutions

Twitter: @rkelly976
Blog: Kelly’s Contemplation

Company Website: http://kellyprojectsolutions.com
KPS on Twitter: @KellySolutions

Robert is also the co-founder of #PMCHat, during which PMs and PM enthusiasts meet on Twitter and discuss best practices in PM. Join in every Friday from Noon to 1 p.m. EST.

This “Lessons Learned” series is published every Tuesday. I would love to hear your stories about lessons you have learned from working in project management. Don’t be shy to send your stories to kim[at]onedesk[dot]com.

One Comment

  1. Mohammed Shahjahan

    Hi Robert,

    I’m interested to join and learn Project Management intensely.Though I’m PMP certified but I have to go a long way in grasping it thoroughly.

    Appreciate if you could connect me via shahjahan.md@gmail.com

    Best Regards,
    +65 98577186 (M)

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