When do your best ideas come to you? Most people seem to have flashes of brilliance and insight when they are driving, lying awake in bed at night, or in the shower. A great idea comes to you and it’s so colossal and important that you’re sure you will have no problem remembering it. What typically happens to these ideas? They are most often forgotten, even the ideas you were sure were going to make you rich! You promise yourself that this will never happen again. You buy a small recorder to keep with you in your car, put a pen and paper on your nightstand – you never want to miss one of these breakthrough ideas again.
It’s the same thing when you’re going through the life-cycle of the software projects you manage. Someone comes up with a great idea that will make the next similar project easier to implement. You forget to write it down and it falls between the cracks. Or, someone identifies a process that is broken in the way the projects are executed. You tell them you appreciate their feedback and then forget to write it down. Another great idea down the drain.
As a project manager it is important to make time at the end of a project for you and your project team to identify and reflect upon the lessons learned. These lessons should be recorded so that the knowledge gained can be added to the project management planning templates and shared with others.
In order for your project team members to add insight during the project debrief, you as a project manager must communicate to them that you want them to capture information about lessons learned from the outset. How else will they know to take time out of their busy project schedule to write their learning down. Here are some suggestions to help project managers plan a software project that incorporates lessons learned from previous projects.
1. Tell Everyone That They Are Each Expected to Bring Some Lesson Learned to the Final Project Review
In order to plan a software project that is based upon lessons learned, as project manager, tell your team that there is going to be a post-project review or debrief. Inform them that you very much appreciate their feedback, thoughts, ideas, suggestions, and comments on what could be done on the next project to make it run even smoother.
2. Reduce the Barriers to Communicating Feedback About the Project and Lessons Learned
Your goal is to make capturing lessons learned as easy and non-obtrusive as possible. Is there a simple form you want everyone to fill out? Or a location on a shared drive that you want people to record their ideas? The goal is to keep ideas flowing as freely and quickly as possible. As project manager you encourage everyone to help improve the next project and/or process.
3. Value Open Honest Communication Whether Positive Feedback or Constructive Criticism
One of the ground rules is that there must be absolute candor with no repercussions on those who take part in this exercise. This is something you will quickly learn when it comes to how to plan a software project that utilizes lessons learned. The environment must be a “safe place” where people can freely speak their mind. In order to learn how to plan a software project utilizing lessons learned you must be open to hearing both positive feedback and constructive criticism, even about your own performance as project manager.
4. Make Providing Feedback About the Project Fun
Once you have established a safe place for people to candidly speak about what could be done to improve the next project, the next step is to make it fun. You can do this in a number of ways. Consider having a contest that rewards different categories of suggestions. For example, you could reward “the most ideas”, “the most outrageous idea”, “the most time-saving idea”, or “the most money-saving idea”.
The award doesn’t have to be huge or expensive. The goal is to make it fun, something that stands out from their day-to-day routine. This could also include some type event where you bring everyone together to reward performance of those project team members who made the biggest impact.
5. Follow Up on People’s Feedback, Implement Positive Changes and Share the Lessons Learned
To end, it is critical when you plan a software project that you follow-up on the lessons learned. It will seem insincere to ask your team to provide suggestions, reward them for their behavior and then ignore their suggestions. If this happens, the team will soon see that these are lessons learned in name only and quickly lose interest.