Posts Tagged With: improving project management

Have we learned anything?

In a recent role, I had the opportunity to review the lessons submitted by teams running large, complex projects and programs and found that over 90% of what was being captured and shared was of low or no value.

Back in April 2009, I published my very first blog article titled “Lessons Learned; Avoid the Oxymoron“.  Since that time, I’ve gained a broader appreciation of the multiple challenges organizations face when trying to get sustainable, reusable knowledge out of projects and felt it was time to put a capstone on my writing about this specific topic.

So what have I learned about lessons over the past decade?


  • Frequent identification – either on a fixed cadence such as in a sprint ending retrospective or just-in-time based on a team’s recognition that there is something of value to be captured and shared.
  • Scrubbing and distillation – lessons are like a diamond hiding within a drab rock. Someone needs to take the time to harvest reusable knowledge from a raw lesson. This is not simple because stripping out too much specificity will result in a generic, low value outcome, but leaving in too much contextual detail will make it hard for a reviewer to decide whether it is applicable to their project or not.
  • Category-driven response – depending on whether a lesson is a reminder, an organizational blocker or true knowledge, its deposition will be quite different. Reminders might be a call for more training or guidance whereas blockers should be escalated to an appropriate owner.
  • Context-based guidance – rather than poring over hundreds of lessons spanning a project’s lifecycle, it is helpful if a reviewer can be presented with a subset of lessons applicable to where they are in a project.
  • Likes and dislikes – give reviewers the ability to like or dislike lessons. Let the free market decide which are truly useful and should be retained and those which can be safely purged.
  • Regular incorporation into standards – instead of leaving it up to an individual to decide whether a particular lesson should be followed or not, those which are applicable in most cases should be baked into your templates, standards and policies.


  • Lesson suppression – sometimes the most valuable lessons are those which weren’t shared. A good PM must provide a safe environment and approach to help stakeholders be open about sharing the good, the bad and the ugly.
  • Finger pointing – PMs need to ensure that lessons learned sessions don’t turn into the blame game.
  • Going through the motions – a risk of capturing lessons frequently is that the activity becomes mechanical and produces little value. Team members should have the confidence to cancel a session if there is nothing of value to be shared.
  • Superficial parroting – as with requirements, the value of lessons comes from their analysis, not just regurgitation.

The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing” – Henry Ford

Categories: Project Management | Tags: | Leave a comment

So how’s your agile transformation going?

If your organization is in the midst of an agile transformation, ideally this change was justified through a business case which articulated expected benefits and the means by which those benefits would be measured. But we rarely live in an ideal world.

So how could you assess whether the initiative is delivering value or not?

You could look at a metric like average time to deliver scope but this has limitations. Averages by themselves mean nothing. If there is an overall reduction in the distribution of release times and ideally a shrinkage in the variation for these release times, that might be cause for optimism if a sufficiently representative sample was taken before and after.

Just because we are delivering scope sooner doesn’t mean we are reaping the full rewards of an agile transformation. A team might miss the mark by prioritizing schedule over quality and we would end up producing a product which the customer doesn’t want.

And, this says nothing about how we delivered that scope. Over short timeframes using Theory X-type behavior it is possible to whip a team into delivering quickly but we would usually see a corresponding reduction in quality and in team satisfaction.

Perhaps we could look at velocity across teams. While we know that velocity should never be used to assess performance between teams or at an individual level, surely an ongoing, incremental increase in velocity across the majority of teams would be a positive indicator? Unfortunately, without introducing other measures to add perspective, it would be relatively easy for a team to claim such improvements at the expense of quality, or delivery of real value to their customers.

In place of these vanity metrics, consider these:

  1. The distribution of lead time to deliver utilized features – by filtering out unutilized features, our time to market distribution will focus on true value add to our customers
  2. Features utilized/features completed – this ratio will assess how effective teams are at meeting the true needs of your stakeholders
  3. The distribution of defect severities and counts – this will assess whether quality is being sacrificed at the altar of speed
  4. The total number of high impact organizational blockers – assuming teams are surfacing and escalating organizational impediments to full agility, a reduction in the number of these blockers should translate into improved delivery outcomes
  5. Team satisfaction – this will keep a pulse on team morale to ensure that it is not suffering through the transition
  6. Customer or key stakeholder satisfaction – this will be another balancing measure like #5 to ensure that the end is not justifying the wrong means

Developing a balanced, holistic approach to measuring outcomes should help to sustain leadership support and to focus continuous improvement efforts on the right things but just remember:

…not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” – William Bruce Cameron


Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Lessons in customer service from my Xmas getaway

My son and I just enjoyed a few days of sunshine, good food and great customer service at a Caribbean resort. Our journey home made for a jarring return to reality thanks to the more than fifty degree drop in outside temperature but also due to the poor customer service provided by the airline.

For my last post of 2017, I thought I’d share one bouquet and two brickbats in the hopes of encouraging more of the former and a lot less of the latter in 2018.

Our resort is one which we’ve visited once before a year and a half back. A few months before our trip, I’d dropped a note to the front office manager letting her know that we were coming back and providing her with a few requests. I was not expecting that we’d be treated any different than any other guest given that we’d spent less than a week during our last stay. Not only did they upgrade us to a higher tier room, they also left a fruit plate, a cheese plate and a decent bottle of rum in our room along with inviting us to a repeat guests cocktail reception midway through our stay. Sure, the cost of these bonuses is a fraction of what we spent for our stay, but this thoughtfulness did a great job of cementing my loyalty.

Delighters, like recognition, don’t need to be big.

The inbound flight for our journey home was delayed a half hour due to bad weather in the Greater Toronto Area. The ground and flight crew made fast work of getting our plane ready for the return flight and we departed with just a slight schedule variance on the scheduled departure time. However, once we landed, we spent an hour on the runway waiting for a delayed plane from a different airline to free up our gate. Through this process, the flight crew did a good job of providing us with updates.

Unfortunately, things went downhill from there.

Once our gate was available, we spent an additional forty-five minutes waiting for ground crew from the third-party provider contracted by our airline to provide these services. Few updates were provided by the flight crew and they took every opportunity to pass the buck for the issue to their service provider.

When a customer buys the sausage, they rarely care to know how that sausage was made, just that it tastes good and meets quality requirements!

Once we had de-planed and made our way through immigration to the luggage carousels, things didn’t improve. We waited an hour for bags to start showing up but none came. A few of us made our way to the luggage enquiries desk and requested an update from the airline’s agent there. Upon our request she called her duty manager who tried to get a hold of baggage services (again contracted by the airline) without success. Once again, the airline’s agent tried to defer ownership of the issue, first to her duty manager and then to the third party service provider. Repeated requests to have her duty manager (who was at the airport – somewhere) to come down were ignored.

More than three hours after we landed our bags finally arrived.

Issues will occur but how your company handles them when they do is what your customers will remember. Training staff to avoid the blame game and ensuring that someone empowered to make decisions shows up in person can turn a public relations nightmare into a minor blip.


Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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