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There is no doubt in my mind that you have heard the term lessons learned before.

It is mentioned extensively throughout A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, (PMBOK® Guide), I teach it as part of my Project Management Professional (PMP)® training lessons and my favorite search engine gives me over 51,000 results for the search term “lessons learned in project management”. In fact, as an experienced project manager you have probably participated or even chaired one or two lessons learned meetings yourself on your own projects.

But let’s consider the bigger picture around lessons learned. What process do we follow? What management techniques are there for lessons learned? Are all documented lessons learned equally valuable?

These questions need answers. And so I’m happy to welcome Elizabeth Harrin ( -- - ) who has the answers for us!

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best 1Here is another one of our Best PM Podcast episode that garnered 49,330 total downloads.

Today you will be treated to another PMP exam success story. I proudly present to you David Kornaros ( who is one of my successful PMP students. He has used The PM PrepCast, which is my PMP training videocast and also The PM Exam Simulator in his preparation.

As always with these interviews, they are intended for those among you who are currently preparing for their PMP Exam because the in-depth knowledge that I can take from someone like David who has passed their PMP exam will help you understand how to prepare for PMP.

This PMP exam lessons learned interview reviews David’s journey from start to finish, including many tips and tricks that he picked up along the way. ‪#‎BestofPMPodcast

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It is difficult to address all the potential services having to do with PMOs, but here is an attempt to summarize some of them. Keep in mind that probably no single PMO will undertake responsibility for all of the services mentioned below. However, understanding the nature of the many services that can be offered will help you determine the most important areas that will be offered by your PMO.

Establish and Support a Document Repository

One of the value propositions for deploying common project management processes is the ability to reuse processes, procedures, templates, prior examples, etc. However, the ability to reuse documentation does not come about like magic. If project managers want to see whether there might be pre-existing material that would help them, they are not going to be expected to contact every other project manager. To facilitate process and document reuse, the PMO needs to establish and manage a Document Repository. This could be as easy as setting up a directory structure that everyone in the organization can access. It might also be more elaborate and multi-functional, like a tool specifically designed for document management. Depending on how you implement this facility, you need to properly set up a classification structure, make sure that only approved information is posted there, make sure the information stays current and relevant, and make sure that the facility is actively marketed and utilized by the organization.

Convert Key Learnings to Best Practices

At the end of every project, the project manager, team, client and major stakeholders should get together in an end-of-project meeting to discuss what was planned and what actually happened. At some point in the meeting, you should turn your attention to lessons learned. The lessons should be collected and consolidated in the Document Repository. However, one problem with lessons learned is that they typically only apply to that one project.

As the PMO collects more and more key learnings, they may start to see patterns emerge in the lessons learned. At some point, lessons learned from projects can be raised to the level of a best practice. A best practice statement implies that the benefit can be gained for all projects, not just the few that reported it.

Coordinating a Common Resource Pool

All companies need to have a process to staff projects. In some companies, the resources are allocated per business unit. In other companies, all of the project people are assigned to one central staff. Since the PMO is a focal point for all project management-related activities, it is the right place to manage these common resource pools. The resource pool could be for project managers only, or it could be for all potential project team members. Creating a common resource pool involves taking a skills inventory of all shared resources and keeping track of when each person will become available from his current project. The PMO can then have the information available as new projects are ready to start. In fact, the PMO can have certain projects started based on the availability of skillsets.

Document Review Service

Document reviews can be offered on a stand-alone basis to help ensure that project managers are utilizing the standard templates as they were intended and that they are being completed clearly and consistently. This service basically just involves project managers sending in project deliverables to receive a quick review and feedback. The PMO is not “approving” the document, but they are providing feedback on the content, format and readability of the specified document.

Defining the Role of Contractors on Projects

Most companies utilize contractors for some portion of their workload. The question that your company must answer is how best to utilize contractors and how best to utilize employees. There is not one answer that fits all companies. Each company and each organization must determine the things that are most important to them and create an overall policy for utilizing contractors within that context. For instance, one company might decide that their business runs on their legacy systems, and they are not going to trust contractors to keep those applications running. Another company may decide that the legacy systems represent the past, and that new projects represent the future. In that company, they may decide to rely on contractors for support, but they may prefer to utilize employees for new projects. Likewise, some companies insist that all senior positions be staffed with employees. Other companies do not have a problem placing contractors in any position where they are short of employees or do not have the right employee available. The PMO can help determine the right policies for your company.


As your company becomes more sophisticated at utilizing metrics, you might realize that collecting internal data on internal projects is valuable, but can only take you so far. You don't really know how efficient and effective your project delivery is unless you can compare how you deliver projects against other companies. Benchmarking studies (one-time) and benchmarking programs (longer-term) are a way to compare your organization against others. Benchmarking requires that you gather a set of predefined metrics that describe the result of very well-defined processes. The resulting metrics that are captured from other companies, using the same set of processes and definitions, can be used to create benchmarking statistics that allow you to compare your organization against others. This information can be evaluated to determine if there are changes that can be made in your organization to achieve similar results.

Benchmarking is an area that few companies want to try to start on their own. It requires a lot of work, and the processes you define need to be applicable to a range of outside companies. If you are going to benchmark, you are generally going to need to utilize an outside firm that specializes in benchmarking. This company may already have the core set of processes, metrics and benchmarks defined. They can also spend the time to get other companies involved, they can conduct the study and they can help interpret the results.


Many companies are finding that they must build project management capabilities if they are going to meet business challenges in the future. It is also important to implement project management processes consistently across the organization. This leads to efficiency and helps to deliver projects better, faster, and cheaper. The next step is to determine how best to identify the common project management processes and make sure that they are leveraged as needed by the entire organization.

Many companies give this responsibility to one or more people in a Project Management Office (PMO). There are many structures for a PMO and many types of services that the PMO can offer. Each organization must first determine the services that are important to them and then create an overall approach for implementation. Since this is a culture change initiative, the effort can be time-consuming and difficult. However, the rewards are also large. If the PMO is established with a clear vision, strong sponsorship and a solid approach, it can be a vehicle for creating a tremendous amount of value for the company.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit or contact us at
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By definition, all projects end at some point. Some may be very long and it might seem like they will never end, but they always do. Two fundamental characteristics of a project are that they must always have a start and an end.

There are a number of things that should happen as the project is nearing completion, or very soon after the official end date. These can vary depending on the project and the standard processes of your organization. It is the responsibility of the project manager to build project termination activities into the project schedule. These should be seen as vital parts of the project, not an afterthought as the team is being disbanded. Some of the activities to consider at the end of a project include:

  • Declaring success or failure
  • Transitioning the solution to support
  • Archiving the project files
  • Conducting performance reviews
  • Reassigning the remaining project team members
  • Holding project conclusion meeting
The project conclusion meeting is a time to reflect on the project that was just completed and see what can be learned that will help the team members and other project teams in the future.

The Project Conclusion Meeting

It is a good practice to start your project off with a formal kickoff meeting to signify that the initiative has officially begun. Likewise, the project should officially end with a project conclusion meeting. If the project had major problems, or if the project was cancelled, sometimes these are called project post-mortems. There is a value to be gained from this meeting, whether the project was a success or failure (or something in between).

There are a number of ways to plan the meeting so that it is as effective as possible. These include:

  • Using an outside facilitator. Many times the group is more comfortable if there is a meeting facilitator from outside the team. This is especially true if the project experienced problems. You can get a more truthful discussion if the facilitator does not have a stake in the outcome.
  • Make sure everyone knows the purpose of the meeting. This can be communicated clearly ahead of time to all of the participants.
  • Send out an agenda ahead of time. Your time will be better spent during the meeting if everyone is prepared ahead of time and knows the discussion topics.
Everyone needs to perceive that they are all there to learn, both individually and collectively.  This meeting is not a performance review. All participants need to feel safe to expose what they did and thought so that they can learn how to be more effective in the future.  

Focus First on What Actually Happened Versus What Was Expected

You won’t discover what to improve unless you know what you achieved and did not achieve versus what you originally wanted. First, have a frank discussion to list what should have happened on the project. For each statement, add a corresponding statement regarding what actually happened. You are not only looking for problems. If there are important events that actually happened as planned, note them as well.

If the project had problems, it’s easy for the discussion to become negative. However, try to keep the discussion positive. Even if the comments come out in a negative fashion, they can usually be crafted into a positive statement. For instance, a negative statement might be "The team never accomplished anything when Sam was a part of the meeting." A more positive statement could be "We had a hard time focusing in team meetings." This reflects the outcome and does not make any judgments as to whether Sam was a problem.

If different people have differing views of what happened on the project, try to find common ground for consensus. Remember there is not necessarily a right or wrong. We are trying to gather perceptions. It will help if people focus on the activities they actually participated in, rather than guessing about activities they were not involved in.

Ask Why

After you list what actually happened on the project, prioritize a smaller number of important areas to focus on further. For each of the remaining items, start asking why they turned out as they did. In some cases you may be focusing on areas that did turn out as you expected. There can be important learning from these events as well.

Lessons Learned for Future Projects

To really be effective, the discussion now needs to be translated into general observations and key learnings that the group can use as lessons for the future. The unique set of circumstances that caused events to happen as they did on your project may not occur again. However, the team should be able to generalize what happened on this project into a set of lessons that can be applied to many projects in the future. These lessons learned should be documented formally and distributed back to all team members. If you have a group (such as a PMO) that keeps a repository of project lessons learned, these insights should be forwarded there as well.

As "lessons learned," the insights are of most interest to the project participants and to others who embark on similar projects in the future. As the PMO receives many sets of "lessons learned," the PMO may also be able to come up with a smaller list of organizational "best practices" that will be of help to all projects in the future.


The end of project meeting is a great opportunity to formally wrap up the project. In addition to signaling that the project is completed, it is also a time to reflect back and see what lessons can be learned for the future. You don’t want to discuss lessons learned right away. Instead, describe what you wanted to happen, what actually happened, and why. Then you have the context to start talking about what lessons you can take forward. The project team can internalize the lessons learned and apply them to future projects. The lessons learned from all projects can also be consolidated at an organization level to develop a smaller number of best practices that can be applied to all projects. This allows the entire organization to take advantage of these common lessons learned.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit or contact us at
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Friday, 26 November 2010 16:40

Leave well enough alone

One thing I've noticed is that PM forms tend to grow and grow.  The existing forms get more complicated and the number continues to expand.  I was working a risk form the other day given to me and it was in excel.  The cells were locked and I had to choose from drop downs as to what type of risk I had, what the cause of the risk was, and which strategy I chose.  There were a few others that I forget, but basically I was constrained in the choices that I had.  It was frustrating, what if my risk impacted both cost and time – I couldn’t choose that, I had to pick one or the other.  I couldn’t even align the text in the fields – it wanted to center all the text on the bottom I thought it would look better if it was left justified and in the middle – too bad. What were they thinking??

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