Project amnesia and lessons learned

Projects are an organizational way of working that makes it really easy to gather a team and combine diverse knowledges and skills. A project is a learning machine, if you will, but it has a problem: it’s even easier to forget than it was to learn.

Let’s think of a single project venture, aiming for new design in a customer business case. Team of 3 experts from different professional fields, budget for 3 months and a clear customer case. They come together, meet the client, do their magic and deliver in time. Perfect. After that 3 months they all have new assignments.

After 6 months the customer comes back. “You did great, please could you do the same with my other business unit?” And the CEO of the company, Mr. Jones, says to the project manager, named Jack, “Hey Jack, that’s an easy one just do a follow-up project and remember to double the profit margin.” But we all know it does not work like that, right?

The follow-up project, is actually another one-timer. Why? The documentation exists, but its just paper (or data in the cloud) the people exist, but one has left to form another company and the 2 are signed up to a big 12 month project that is taking their time. So how do you follow-up on a short term, when none of the experts are available?

The handy Project Manager is never out of answers: Pay them a bonus. Prioritize. Re-learn with another team. I would say, that most companies do no. 3, since they think it costs money only to the customer. But it is not generating real added value in the ecosystem, since customer does not get the same experts (quality) that he came back for, and the company does not get the value (bigger profit margin) from learning in the first project. On a project level Jack is sure that he is heading for another success case, but he could do so much more. But is it his problem or is it the system that is to blame?

This brings us back to the topic: How to manage project amnesia and get the lessons learned integrated into an organizational culture? This is a notorious issue to all project organizations and to have a quick and dirty answer to it, would be to say PMO does it. One thing is for sure, this can be a source of calculating value of learning and the cost of forgetting – project amnesia.