Why It's Vital To Learn The Lessons Of Past Projects
Sun 18th September 2011
It's not unusual for a business to embark upon a project that appears endless, especially when viewed early on, with tasks rolling out far beyond the horizon. Yet even the lengthiest project will end eventually, hopefully successfully, always conclusively. There comes a point for every organisation in every project to draw a line under the process and move along to something new.
Nonetheless, the past should not be forgotten. Even when a company is moving on from a finally-finished process, it's still very much worth looking back. Perhaps the project has been an overwhelming success - in which case, it's worth examining what made it so. On the other hand, it may have been an abject failure which you'd sooner forget, but by going back and investigating its ruins, you'll likely find errors to be avoided in future. However it all turned out in the end, there will inevitably be lessons to learn and mistakes to avoid.
It would help, of course, if you had a clear record of the successes and failings of the project, of delays, budget overruns, resource allocation issues, early finishes, and so forth. If you manage your project with Microsoft Project, then that's exactly what you'll have. Much is made - and rightly - of the software's usefulness both in maintaining control over an ongoing operation and in predicting how it will pan out, but it can also help you to understand what's previously happened.
As the project moves along, inputting the progress can help you understand where you are at that point - for instance, adjusting times taken for tasks in a Gantt chart will show you how the delay will impact upon other aspects of the plan, or costs of individual resources can be adjusted and the effect on the overall budget examined. When the project is completed, it's easy to study this information as a whole, to review how it all came together. Those additions to the Gantt chart can be understood much more comprehensively and clearly when you can see the entire end result: if completion came in behind schedule, then you'll not only be able to identify the root cause (or causes) of the delay, but also assess what might have been done to avoid such an eventuality.
Similarly, if the project went beyond its budgetary limits, there must ultimately be a reason why. And by examining the Project records, not only will you be able to highlight the flaw, but you'll also see the knock-on effect, the impact that that one problem had on the wider plan - for want of a nail the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe the horse was lost, etc. Sometimes projects can indeed fail because of the smallest error, sometimes because of a series of misfortunes or one large catastrophe; whatever the source of the problem, identifying it will give you the power to avoid such issues in future if it's within your control, or prepare to negate it the ultimate cause be out of your hands.
After all, for a project to struggle once may be unfortunate, but twice, for the same reason, would be downright careless. On the other hand, it would be every bit as negligent to ignore those events and decisions that have turned previous work into a great success. Microsoft Project puts that information at your fingertips, even long after the conclusion if necessary, and allows you to learn the key lessons from your company's past. An end may indeed come to all things, but you have the power to turn that end into a bright new beginning.
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