Lessons Earned

Working with projects is mindless. You have a temporary organisation with unique targets and goals. Innovations coming out-of-the box from that lean and mean production line. It keeps the project managers busy making sure that we are re-inventing the uninvented wheel and producing new content for each milestone. Now how can you be creative and mindful in this kind of a pressure boiler?

I have been working with R&D projects for more than 15 years and to deepen my practical understanding I took an academic approach and followed closely an interdisciplinary portfolio of research and development projects for almost a decade.

Ten years of my life I have spent learning on projects. What have I earned from that? Follow the propellerhat.co blog to find out more.

Project success factors and criteria are not the same

Rodney Turner in his famous Handbook of Project-Based Management takes a stand on Project success and strategy. It is important to note that there are two components of project success:

”1) Success criteria: the dependent variables by which we will judge the successful outcome of the project

2) Success factors: the independent variables which will influences the successful achievement of the success criteria.”

Criteria and Factors are not the same! Who would have time to think of that in the daily hustle of producing that innovation machine?

So, what does this mean in practice? It means that a factor is an independent measure. A number is a number and what you measure is typically what you get. But success criteria is not about numbers. It is about the human dialogue between the stakeholders. So what is a good number for the project? Is 5 a good one, or should be aim to be number one? Perhaps 23 458? You cannot tell unless you get the stakeholders to agree on what are we aiming at, what are the real success criteria. Once those are agreed upon and only then you can have a chance of not just aiming to the target with precision but knowing which is the target.

First time project managers

In the worst case scenario it goes like this:

– ”Here is a new project, and you are the project manager. I hope you can manage this? Get back to me when you are done.”

And I can tell you from a personal experience that this is a very, very good learning opportunity. The worst case is actually always the best case for learning purpose. If you are reading this you most probably have already been first time project managers. And if you haven’t it is going to be a nice ride ahead. But wait…

Every time is the first time

When working in business networks where competitors, partners, customers and other stakeholders discuss the success criteria, it is still not bulletproof. If you succeed with the stakeholder dialogue and agree the criteria with supersharp precision, next thing you notice is that the market situation, the World around you, has changed. If it surprisincly did not, and you predicted the future correclty and by some touch of magic succeeded in your task, that can generate jealousy in the competing teams, business units within your own organization, not to even mention in competing companies (well that was actually very much intended).

So, lessons learned are actually lessons earned from practical experience. The success of your project depends firstly on your precision, secondly on what you you are aiming at, and thirdly keeping your eyes open to the world outside of your project to know when your targets are becoming obsolete from business perspective.

Earning from your lessons

Building project successes must be the practice of your daily work, not just a Lessons_Learned.xls online form to be filled and submitted for review at the last milestone gate of your project. Nor a collection of best practice reports stored in lonely folder in corporate sharepoint where many good intentions are buried.

Individual learning and team coaching is about listening, appreciating and understanding your past mistakes, the lessons earned. And the hardest thing is to be able to remember those just at that precice moment when you are about the make them again. Because at that point you have no time to analyse anything explicit. That sensitivity to change and the lessons learned will be earning your salary in big time.