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We can leverage our past experience to jump-start our next projects. No single software project is really unique, is it? So why not look at each of our endeavors as a step towards our next challenges – both at work as well as in our private lives. Now is the time for us – as individuals and as groups or organizations – to learn from our past experiences and apply this knowledge to our upcoming projects! 

This understanding is the essence of Lesson Learning.

Lesson Learning is a practice (I don’t want to use “philosophy” and “strategy” here , although some consultants and gurus might find it beneficial) for learning the right lessons (logically based, accurate, applicable) from past experiences, in order to apply the knowledge to future efforts.

In this post, I’d like to share with you my ideas about Lesson Learning (LL), and briefly present the Agile Lesson Learning framework we’ve been using in the past 1.5 years, in the Small Business – New Development group at SAP.

As you’ll see, our LL framework is embedded into the project lifecycle – this should be no surprise to anyone familiar with the importance I attribute to Knowledge Embedding (if you haven’t done so, please see my previous post about KM – from a KM manager’s perspective).

Let’s look at the following diagram, describing the Lesson Learning activities as part of an imaginary project “Business One 200x”:
the Agile Lesson Learning Framework

Diagram 1 – lesson learning activities embedded in the project lifecycle

In this diagram, we can see a few important aspects of the Agile Lesson Learning framework:

  1. Lesson Learning activities are embedded into the project lifecycle rather than being performed as post mortem – we learn lessons from each of the project phases and sub-phases
  2. The Lesson Learning activities are carried out at all levels of the project organization – from team, via group, to the project level. We also expect the individual employees to try and look retrospectively at their past tasks, and try to draw their personal conclusions
  3. The final outcome of Lesson Learning is a small set of action items (rather than never-to-be-read-again-documents), for which the project lead (not the KM manager) is accountable.  

From a project management perspective, this framework can be a very effective means for Risk Management as it enables us to identify and mitigate risks while the project is being run.

Our framework mandates lessons learning activities to be performed often, yet – we claim we have a lean and agile framework. In order to be able to avoid any contradiction between the two we do the following –

Each Lesson Learning activity is short, and involves a low level of effort. To this end, we analyze only a small subset of the problems, our selection criteria being the impact each problem has on the project, and the foreseen feasibility for solving it. Doing so, we are fully aware of the fact we’re leaving other problems (potentially important ones) unattended. Moreover – for the selected problems, we analyze the potential solutions, and compile only a subset of them, based on their estimated effectiveness.

Correctly applied, the Agile Lesson Learning framework yields continuous, incremental improvement in the most important aspects of the project, throughout its lifecycle, with minimal efforts.

In the next post I’ll describe in detail how each Lesson Learning activity is carried out.

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