Updated Dec. 8, 2022.
Project management is an important skill. Successful project managers know how to run a good team, keep multiple balls in the air, and ideally bring their project in on time despite whatever problems might emerge.
Of course, project managers are also human. Project outcomes can vary, and they can obviously make mistakes. A good project manager is not somebody who never makes a mistake. Instead, they are somebody who learns from their mistakes and, of course, from those good things that can happen through serendipity.
Successful project managers track and reflect on the outcomes of their projects and take steps to improve their processes continuously.
How to "Capture" Lessons Learned
The first step is to understand the lessons learned during the project and how to capture them for future use. It is an ongoing process that good managers conduct throughout projects instead of waiting to do so after the project ends. Lessons should be written down and discussed as they happen. Sometimes, they may need to adjust processes during the project as they notice issues early. In all cases, writing lessons down straight away prevents people from forgetting them and ensures discussion and analysis happen while things are fresh in everyone's minds.
Then you set up a lessons learned session, which includes the entire team, where they discuss the situation and offer suggestions to resolve future issues better. The manager should document and share these with stakeholders before storing them in your project repository. Over time, your repository will include past and present best practices to manage new projects to the best of your ability.
A common issue is that failures get tracked more than successes. It is just as important to record a lesson learned that leads to unexpected success so that you can attempt to duplicate it in future projects. Additionally, focusing excessively on failures can negatively impact your team's morale. Sitting down to discuss success can help everyone feel better about what they do and reduce stress.
How to Share Your Knowledge
It is vital that project managers do not hoard their knowledge but rather share it with the team and with other teams and project managers within the organization. This process, called cross-project learning, is essential for IT projects where teams tend to be formed for a specific project, then disbanded with members assigned to different teams.
However, if your organization has multiple project managers, trading your knowledge and best practices helps everyone manage their projects more efficiently. Ensuring that they share all lessons and outcomes with the entire team maintains efficient processes if you must take time off in any form.
How to Track Project Outcomes
At the end of each project, the team should come together and discuss all aspects of the project outcome. It includes what went exceptionally well and what proved to be a problem.
All of this needs to be documented, stored, and shared. Project outcomes can range from resounding success to dismal failure, and sometimes failure (or, for that matter, success) hinges on things beyond your control. You should put together a database of project outcomes and lessons learned, which is searchable on keywords. Make sure to assign plenty of keywords so you can always find this documentation. Ensure your knowledge repository does not turn into a "black hole" from which information cannot escape.
It is also essential to track and record factors beyond your control so you can better analyze how they might affect future projects and devise ways to compensate for them. Some issues require mitigating damage, though it's possible to prevent others by managing timing or team composition changes.
Why Is It Important to Track Outcomes and Lessons?
So, why is all of this so important? Successful project management is an integral part of ensuring that your organization thrives. It encourages effective communication, improves productivity, and helps people to see the bigger picture.
However, many organizations do not learn from failed projects, let alone from successful ones. As the complexity of workplaces grows, project management becomes more critical. Learning and improving is how you go from basic project management training to the next level.
Tracking outcomes also helps you analyze the performance of your team. If you switch people around, tracking results can show combinations that work particularly well (or poorly) together.
Lessons learned during a project can often translate to future projects and other aspects of the business, such as customer service.
Take Your Project Management Skills to the Next Level at PCC
PCC offers courses to help you learn project management or develop new skills after working in the field for some time.
Learning project management is helpful for anyone entering a leadership position, and part of that is understanding how to track outcomes and lessons learned. Project management courses can give you the tools you need to do this properly and to become the kind of project manager your organization (or future organization) needs.