Unrealistic Lessons Identified: Is it time to up our game?

Unrealistic lessons identifiedWithin our journey of collating and analysing nearly 15,000 lessons identified we continue to find a wide range of lessons that are neither reasonable nor realistic, resulting in unrealistic lessons identified. The reason for this generally stems from the use case and perspective of those identifying and documenting the lessons.

If the organisation creates the lesson from the perspective of members of the project team then there can be a tendency to ask for the moon on the stick. I have seen a number of lessons that tend to ignore the practical realities of managing a portfolio. Examples includes:

  • ‘Project team personnel should be co-located’.
  • ‘The contract should mandate that contractor personnel do not change during the project’.
  • ‘More resources should be made available’
  • ‘Project team resources should be ring fenced and dedicated to the project’ or ‘Having people in team on a part time basis not effective as they had conflicting priorities that affected team delivery’.

There are numerous examples that indicate that the project is delivered within a vacuum, unaffected by operational constraints from within the organisation or across the supply chain. Such lessons lead to unrealistic demands that drive up cost and ultimately are undeliverable. For example, even if contracts mandate that personnel should not change, the contract is unenforceable because the member of staff may be sick, leave the company or ask for a move because of person issues.

There are also lessons such as ‘problems were identified with recruiting and retaining adequately skilled staff’. It could be argued that this is a challenge that affects most projects, particularly those which involve skills that are in high demand. It may be more helpful to explain whether the project manager’s attempts to mitigate this issue were successful, what advice they would give to others and what the size and scale of the residual risk is. It is also important to understand whether this is a lesson for the project or a strategic lesson for the organisation. If the organisation consciously knows that it struggles to retain people who are in high demand and is choosing to accept this risk then it isn’t really a lesson; it is the result of a conscious decision not to intervene. The issue for the organisation then becomes one of balancing the cost of having to act vs the impact across the portfolio. This is a relatively straightforward business decision, but it needs to be underpinned by data.

How realistic are the lessons in your organisation?