Lessons-learnt a waste of time? – Part 2: Personal and Professional Development

In Part 1 of this blog post (link), I listed three common reasons why so many project managers do not use a core PM tool “lessons-learnt”:

  1. “No one asked me to do it”
  2. “I don’t see much value in it”
  3. “I think there is value in it, but I don’t have the time (or budget) to do it”

Let’s take a closer look at each of these three “objections”

  1. 1. “No one asked me to do it”

People often say: “It’s OK to make a mistake, but not the same one twice”.  But on nearly every project that my colleagues and I review, it seems that the same mistakes and bad practices are continually present.  The most common include:

  • Unrealistic or even non-existent planning (budget, timeline, resources)
  • Lack of involvement and input from key stakeholders in early (and often later) phases of a project
  • Continual slippage of critical milestones  (see blog Post Boiling frog)

At the end of every project, a good organizational leader should ask his Project:

“What should we, as an organization, do differently next time?”

As Lean and Agile steadily take root in the development community, a culture of continuous improvement is becoming the norm – and project managers ignore this shift at the peril to their relevancy within the organization – and even their careers.

Even if your boss does not ask you this question, nothing prevents you from sharing your insights and recommendations with him or her, or with your fellow project managers.

  1. 2. “I don’t see much value in it”

You ask yourself “I have limited time, the projects over, so why spend time on it?”  And you’re not the only one, no one else around you seems to care, no one asks for it, and no one rewards you for doing a lessons-leant.

As a project manager, you need to take a more strategic/proactive view of your career.  Not seeing value is short-changing your overall development and “personal marketability”.  The question you need to ask is: “should I only grow professionally if my boss or a PMO asks for it?”

And if you answer: “but I am already learning and growing every day I’m managing a project”, I would ask that you be honest with yourself – how much time do you really spend to sitting back during hectic phases of a project and reflecting ? How unbiased about your own role are you when issues and conflicts are flaring up around you?  Most important of all- do you still remember these lesson when you start your next project (as I mentioned above, and given the repetitive nature of the issues I see on projects, I suspect the answer is no)?

The bottom line: Why miss an incredible opportunity to get feedback and personally market yourself with peers, colleagues, team members, customers, executive sponsors, and other key stakeholders?


  1. 3. “I think there is value, but I don’t have the time (or budget) to do it”

That may be due to a misperception of what a lessons-learnt is. Often people think it’s a time-consuming process of workshops, comprehensive questionnaire sent to a large number of people with tedious analysis of results …

NO!  While this may be true for large, complex, conflict laden projects, the simple way to do a lessons learnt is by simply asking two questions:

  1. 1. What worked well and should be repeated in the future?
  2. 2. What should we do differently next time?

And note them down!  You don’t even have to include anyone but yourself (though as suggested, this is missing a personal and career development opportunity). Why write them down? Writing ideas and lessons down increases knowledge retention, and it also gives you something to tangible to review the next time you start a project.

A 30 minute investment of your time, every couple of months can yield a huge payback:

  • Personal growth
  • Avoiding experiencing the same pain over again
  • Professional image enhancement

Pragmatic lessons-learnt are one of the keys to professional success.  It’s an investment with a high return – go for it, now!

For some pragmatic tips and tricks around lessons-learnt check the Downloads section on

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