A project manager obligation: managing the project knowledge
Many managers and project managers—and ultimately the organizations that depend upon them—lose the opportunity to learn from their projects because they do not take the time to analyze past results during the project life cycle.
I have spent more than twenty years in the project business and have always found project managers, from different countries in Europe, living the same experience – lack of time to stop, analyze and learn from past experiences during the project life cycle. And that learning comes from mistakes as well as from successes. Some years ago I was working for a multinational company who sold customer IT projects, and I had the responsibility to define and implement a knowledge management process for my consulting organization. We had junior and senior project managers being supported by our project office, but all of them said “we are reinventing the wheel for every new project and also we don’t have the opportunity to spend time talking among the team about our projects”. It was a crazy situation, but that was the reality. Learning from past experiences is not a priority in many organizations. In the solution selling business, upper managers want to sell more and more but learning from projects they sponsor do not seem to matter for them.
As a solution selling organization, we had to achieve profitable results from our customer projects. At that time project results were not very good. On the other hand, the strategic direction was to improve and achieve the next maturity level for our consulting organization. Then I proposed and received a green light from upper managers to start implementing improved processes using a Project Office. Initially we started by identifying projects in our portfolio and also by identifying the skills and experiences of project managers in the organization. Then we, as a project office, delivered a presentation to project managers and managers about how to collect useful information during the project life cycle, taking into account the time and cost restrictions in our organization. The result was to implement “project snapshots”, half day sessions whose purpose is to capture lessons learned during a project, identify knowledge for reuse, and identify opportunities for skill or methodology improvement for all project stakeholders.
What are the objectives of these sessions?
- Reflect upon successes and lessons learned in project selling and implementation phases
- Focus around key themes such as project and scope management, communications, issue management, problems, successes
- Leverage successes and learning to more effectively deliver subsequent phases or projects for clients
- Identify tools and best practices that can be shared more broadly
What is the value?
These sessions generate value for the professionals, for the project team, for the project manager, and for the rest of the organization. For professionals: It leverages team members work and experience through sharing lessons learned, prevents redundant activities by having all team members understand what each person has/is working on. It resolves issues earlier in the project by getting them surfaced and resolved. For the project team: It leverages learning and successes for ongoing project work, it delivers a more consistent implementation by having everyone on the project better aligned. And the project team and selling team can better understand client perspectives (when clients are involved in the sessions).
For other project teams: because they can reuse existing tools, identify project teams that have completed similar projects, and utilize their learning to enhance project outcomes and avoid costly mistakes.
For Project Managers: because they understand successes and opportunities in delivering particular methodologies/solutions and also they understand successes and opportunities in selling and delivering solutions.
For the organization: non-value adding work is eliminated and more attention gets placed on improving customer satisfaction and increasing sales.
The time dedicated to those sessions was included in every project plan in the organization. The session itself takes no more than two hours if planned properly, and the PMO and the project manager need two or three hours of session preparation. After the session, they usually spend about one more hour for reporting purposes.
What is the process?
There are four steps in the process: Prepare the session, Conduct the session, Collect learning, and Share the learning. Prepare the session: The PMO works with the Project Manager to gather background and identify one or two major project areas or subjects to discuss during the session, create an agenda, and invite session participants.
Conduct the session: The Project Manager, using the PMO as a facilitator, reviews the purpose and themes to discuss, and sets the ground rules with the group, defining the “project snapshot process”.
Collect learning: The facilitator takes notes of key learning or material to be submitted, pulling out sufficient details from the participants so that results are reusable. The facilitator probes meeting attendees for “What went well, lessons learned, recommendations, key collateral and/or intellectual material for reuse”. Summarize key learning from the session and prepare a presentation.
Share the learning: Project Manager and selected members of team share learnings with appropriate parties. The PMO distributes outcomes to teams responsible for any elements used in the project, including solution development teams, and to people development managers
After the session, the facilitator collects the outcomes on a document or template, and reviews it with the Project Manager prior to distributing to the team or posting on the web site.
The PMO plays the role of facilitator and reporter in those sessions. The Project Office helped the project manager in all project snapshot preparation and logistics. At the beginning, I, as an experienced project manager, facilitated those sessions and trained the project managers to do it. The results were very good. I got participant comments such as, “It was a great opportunity to talk among team members and managers openly”, “to think and discuss about what happened and not about who was guilty has been great”.
After seven years, I am running these sessions for customers in different countries and get the same feedback. I find some differences running “project snapshots” from country to country in Europe, based on different cultures and behaviors, but no differences have been found regarding the session results. To invest in knowledge management is a key for a successful project business.
Alfonso Bucero, MSc, CPS, PMP, PMI-RMP, PfMP, PMI Fellow
BUCERO PM Consulting