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Agile/Scrum, Knowledge Management, Project Management

OR58 Conference: Learning beyond the Golden Triangle in projects and programmes

Sue McClory (University of Portsmouth) spoke at last week’s OR Conference about her research into approaches for capturing and sharing lessons learned from projects and programmes.

Sue talked about how projects can be defined in terms of output, outcome, or benefit, and can generally be considered a success if they achieve the
objectives according to the specified criteria within an agreed timescale and budget. She said that the Association for Project Management (APM) Body of Knowledge indicates the traditional Golden Triangle factors of schedule, finance, and quality are joined by three other key process areas: scope, risk, and resource management.

In addition, the APM lists five high-level project success factors:

  • defining clear goals and objectives,
  • maintaining a focus on business value,
  • implementing a proper governance structure,
  • ensuring senior management commitment, and
  • providing timely and clear communication.

Also, the updated APM Competence Framework (2015) includes four core skills for project managers: team management, reviews, capability
development, and benefits management. Sue said that by drawing these themes together it is clear that a project can no longer be considered
as a process of passing a plan to the manager, turning the handle and expecting the result to emerge from a production line. The complexity and uniqueness of individual projects requires a focus on knowledge management and organisational learning in order to achieve project success. Therefore, we must place these outcomes within the project requirements and review the lessons-learned process – which although now central to a few large organisations, remains largely ignored.

Sue’s current study reviews the recent development of Learning Legacies, which are fundamental aspects of several major UK infrastructure projects, to create a proposed framework for project learning. Working across the three levels of individual, project, and organisation, the project learning framework she has developed combines the business case with benefits management and risk management to provide learning action plans as a key driver of the lessons-learned process.

project-learning-or58She described 3 levels of learning that were essential for project management:

  • single-loop – within an individual project, where individual Project Managers learn from experience and correct things as the project progresses
  • double-loop – where lessons learnt are captured at the end of a project and used to amend project processes  which, hopefully, are used on future projects
  • triple-loop – where learning action plans are developed at the start of a project, used throughout and lessons are then used to influence and change organisational targets and culture

A couple of questions occurred to me:

First, how many Project Initiation Documents  have you ever seen with “Learning” built into them? I checked the example PID I use with a couple of clients and was pleased to see trigger questions about “any lessons learned?” and “has anyone done this type of project before?”

Secondly, how easy would it be to develop a lessons learned maturity model for projects? This could be a useful tool to help PMOs think through what else they could be doing to improve project and programme management in their organisation.

I also had a conversation with Sue afterwards and asked if she had found any difference in the Lessons Learned approach or benefits between organisations using Agile and Waterfall PM methods. She hadn’t done that analysis of her survey data but, intuitively, you might expect the agile results to be stronger on learning than waterfall. The use of short feedback cycles and regular end of sprint reviews and retrospectives are normal features of agile projects, whereas Post-implementation Reviews can be more of a bolt-on in the waterfall world.

I’ve written previously about Knowledge Management in the project lifecycle.

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