– how you create a healthy project environment where experience & know-how can be transferred
In my last article, I emphasized ways of thinking in terms of ‘Good Habits’. In other words, seeing rules and routines from a positive and forwards-thinking perspective. It is about the art of doing good workmanship in your everyday life and doing it over and over again. Perhaps over and over again sounds a little dismal, but part of working with good habits also means taking advantage of opportunities for improvement and learning. Because doing good workmanship and learning are of course the basic elements needed for long-term profitability. And that is how we want it.
One situation that I find incredibly frustrating is when I tell one of my colleagues about a problem or a miscalculation that my project or I had created, only to hear him or her say:
“Oh, I fell into that trap myself a while ago. I know about that one. I know how it feels. That’s rough!”
You can really sense how all of the hard work and the struggle could have been avoided. The anger and disappointment well up inside and you wonder:
“Why couldn’t I have learned about that earlier? Why didn’t anyone tell us about this?”
You do not really know where you will be able to vent your disappointment and anger. Scold your friend? Your boss? Or just be mad and surly in general when you go home to your family in the evening?
A healthy project environment requires mechanisms that can transfer experiences and knowledge between individuals and projects. The project manager’s job is not just to produce and deliver the so-called project results, but also to collect and turn over the knowledge that was gained during the project. To me, feeding experience back in is a mandatory deliverable from all projects. If we enter the world of project models we see that all project models require every project to write a final report or an experience report. From the perspective of all of the participants, it is important to know that you can learn from and bring the project to a close with a final report. Even so it can be difficult to write a report if it takes on the character of an adjustment statement. It can feel painful to relive mistakes and endure setbacks. Blunders or personal prestige can also make knowledge building more difficult. The question is whether it is better to stuff your head in the sand and increase the risks that a similar breakdown could happen again? At a minimum a report should detail the pitfalls you fell into and the landmines you stumbled across so that others do not need to make the same expensive or painful mistakes one more time. One way to do this is to describe what you would do if you had the chance to run a new, similar project again. It does not have to be as revealing as if you were telling others directly about all of your hard learned mistakes.
To bring about learning, it is important for managers to ask for final reports. They should also take part and contribute with their own experiences from a managerial and a customer’s perspective. At its final meeting, the steering group for the project should approve the final report. It is the managers’ job to see to it that the reflections and lessons learned are made available to everyone in the organization. Experience seminars in which you discuss and shed light on a project are usually a much appreciated way of spreading and building knowledge within an organization. If you then have the opportunity to transform those experiences into tips and recommendations, then you have taken yet another step in the long-term learning process.
In order to bring about learning it is also important that, before beginning new projects, the project manager looks up experiences from previous projects that were similar or other projects that could contribute knowledge and experiences. In my opinion, project managers often miss this step. Sometimes they blame a lack of time, or they think that the new project is so unique that there is probably no use in trying to find old experiences. That may be – but that bit of insight alone should make the project manager sit up and take notice of what an incredible challenge lies ahead for him or her in that case.
A learning project environment requires people to transfer experiences and knowledge between individuals and projects. Employees must have an understanding and an attitude that allows them to share their positive as well as their negative experiences. That kind of action may not be and in reality is not a threat to the individual. The benefit of having knowledge and experience is that people who tell about their adventures and experiences have nothing to lose. Instead, the conditions are created that allow experiences to blend together and can provide new knowledge and unexpected realizations. Granted, you can lose the ‘sole right’ to knowledge and in so doing lose perhaps power and position, but without sharing with other people it is difficult to develop as an individual. From my perspective it is a good habit and in the long run a matter of survival to find good ways to develop and spread knowledge.
This and previous articles under the ”Theme: Project” heading are based on material taken from Anders Blomé’s book titled ”Projektsäkerhet”, which has been published by Konsultförlaget Uppsala Publishing House.