Learning Lessons the Hard Way

Back in September the PMO Mini-Masterclass started tackling the subject of lessons learnt. You’ve probably noticed from the image above that we wanted to make sure we focus on the role of the PMO in facilitating learning rather than merely collecting “lessons” and sticking them in a database.

We had Ken Burrell running the session (you’ve probably seen Ken’s previous post about the subject) and Eileen Roden running the facilitation side of the evening.

You can take a look at the whole evening plus access to the materials, video, handouts and outcomes via the PMO Mini-Masterclass page.

The evening focused on some background on lessons learnt and why the current way we approach it needs a shake up. We thought actually running short forms of lessons learnt workshops would be a good way to capture this learning so we introduced two ways of doing this – perhaps techniques that you’ve not used before?

A Model for Learning

Ken introduced a simple model for the whole lessons learnt process. This helped frame the conversation about understanding where current challenges are for the PMO and the wider delivery organisation in effective learning from experiences in projects. So for example we have problems around reflection (do we have time to do that for example). And capturing the learning – we’re pretty ineffective at extracting the true lessons and the learning that comes from them. That’s before we get to the problems of storage this stuff – retrieving it and then actually doing something with it.


Lessons Learnt Model

Ken Burrell, Pragmatic PMO

  • Experience – day-to-day events of running a project
  • Reflection – conscious identification of learning
  • Capture – recording the learning
  • Storage – preserving it for later use by others
  • Retrieval – realising you need lessons, searching and finding
  • Application – doing something differently as a result of lesson


Ken also shared some insights into the recent survey undertaken by PMO practitioners – amongst other findings I found this an interesting insight:

  • Many “lessons learnt” are merely observations, with no suggestion on doing things differently. Two or three actionable recommendations are more useful than 20 observations without any suggestions.

Which leads us on nicely to actually looking at the first parts of the process – the reflection – and capturing that through a facilitated workshop.

Facilitation Skills

We thought it would make sense to do one session on lessons learnt about how experiences in lessons learnt. Eileen used this simple matrix to try to find at least 2 good and 2 bad points from the group’s experiences.

From that we can work out some successes, what areas we want to watch but not necessarily do anything about and then the real learnings to be had.

This session also allowed some of the group to take the role of facilitator too – something that not everyone has had the experience of doing.


This is one of the group examples from the night (just click to enlarge it)


Trying a different approach

We had a really great space available to us through 8works – lots of whiteboards, space to move around, post-it notes, pens and lots of unusual toys! They were also generous in giving us some time beforehand to talk about some of the techniques they use with clients.

One of them we thought would work really well – and the group certainly enjoyed a different approach too.

It was simple really – the exercise was – how would a certain “popular brand” carry out the lessons learnt process.

So we took the learning model as a framework and gave each group a brand.

We had Apple, Marks & Spencer, Disney, Ryan Air, Facebook and Rolls Royce.

The example below – for Ryan Air – got the group talking about what that brand was about – what did it stand for, what could you physically see with that brand, what did it make you feel like etc.

Then they thought about that brand in the context of lessons learnt (click to enlarge):



The exercise worked well because it forces us to think about possibilities without being constraint by what our own organisations are like – yet some of the ideas that come out of the exercise are actually applicable to our own businesses. So even though we think we have nothing in common with Ryan Air as a business – actually we can learn and apply something from them.

If you’d like to see all the outcomes to all the group sessions, take a look at the PMO Mini-Masterclass page.

What’s Next?

As you can see, we only touch on one small part of the process – mainly the reflection and a small part of capture.

There is still much for us to explore and learn in that framework – plus we can take that further by incorporating a much misunderstood concept of “knowledge management” too.

For some in the audience that night it was also a recognition that actually a facilitation skills course would be useful in their career – not just because of “lessons” but all the other workshops and group activities that the PMO can facilitate to help teams come together better.

Lots for PMO Flashmob to cover in the future!










About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay is the founder of PMO Flashmob and a Director at PMO Learning - the sister company to PMO Flashmob and the best training company for PMO people in the world! She's also the creator of London's first dedicated PMO Conference; Director of Arras People and PMO enthusiast. Loves dogs and gin.

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