Learning from Projects

Doing some further reading on project management, I stumbled across the article “Learning from Lessons Learned”, by Kam Jugdev.  I thought this was a very interesting article and excellent as the subject of this blog, because it talks about closing a project and learning from its mistakes, something we touched on in class.  The article agrees with Professor Cook’s statement, that this is something that most companies neglect to do, and something that employees resist because they would much rather move on to the next project and put the old project in their rearview mirror. I also found it interesting reading through the rest of the classes blogs that this was something I didn’t see touched on, indicating that it is still a subject that people tend to overlook.

The truth of the matter is though, that for a company going forward, closing and documenting the project is going to be the greatest source of value to the company, because it can have an impact on a wide variety of projects in the future.  Jugdev points out that knowledge based assets many times provide firms with their greatest competitive advantage, and by learning from prior projects companies are achieving economies of learning, and also creating a competitive advantage because each companies project experiences are unique and difficult to imitate. Companies that fail to properly review and document their projects are thus passing up a great chance to enhance their competitive advantage in their industry.

I work in Finance and don’t have any project management experience, but even in Finance I see the benefits of proper documentation. Whenever we have a new process or journal entry, we document it thoroughly and put it in what we refer to as our documentation “Bible”. This has been incredibly useful for us because we have had a lot of turnover in the past year, and not all duties have a proper back-up.  Without this documentation, the knowledge of many of our processes would be out the door along with the exiting employee.

My company is basically a project management company – we handle projects and rollouts for big retailers such as Wal*Mart, Kmart, and Target among others.  Documenting and closing projects has not been adopted as a common practice in our company, and the negative effects of this have been apparent over the last year.  During a big project for FSG Energy, our PM’s made the same mistake that had been made in a project for Walgreens several years ago, causing a huge loss on a $2 million project.  Of course the PM’s who worked the Walgreens project are no longer with the company, and with no documentation this situation was bound to happen again.

Jugdev’s conclusion in his article is that while it is extremely important and has a significant impact on the bottom line, a formal process for closing a project has not yet been widely adopted in industry.  My question would be, does anyone work for a company that does have a formal process for closing projects, or does anybody have an experience like the one described above where a company repeated previous mistakes because they didn’t have proper documentation?

2 thoughts on “Learning from Projects

  1. Calling them “projects” would be a stretch, but I used to work for a logistics company that planned and coordinated international shipments. They had a robust system in place for tracking each shipment at different points along the journey. This served two functions:

    First, it allowed to company to catch problems early on and take the appropriate steps to mitigate the cost of delays. Second, it gave the company thorough documentation for each load so that they have a record of anything in case there are disputes down the line. Once a load is delivered, the company has a formal “closing” process that confirms delivery and makes notes about any issues associated with the shipment. These notes are tagged with the different trucking companies involved and are reviewed when we consider hiring them later for another job. The process doesn’t involve a lot of reflection, but it does create the kind of documentation you’re talking about where mistakes of the past are used for learning instead of forgotten.

  2. I hear all the time about failed projects at my work also, but the employees who ran them are no longer with the company. There’s little to learn from their failures other than trying to establish a good process for future projects. It would be helpful to understand the pitfalls experienced earlier though in order to not repeat them.

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