How to mess up “continuous improvement”

This Blog is the first of a series I have planned that are dedicated to the multitude of “How NOT 2’s” I have witnessed in the world of project management over the years. The biggest problem I have as I stare at my screen is:  “where do I start?”!

Team of oil platform engineersLet’s give “continuous improvement” a poke.

“Lessons learned” is one of a myriad of phrases bandied around in project  management, yet I don’t see much happening. Why is this?

 Silos – in some companies, these are even still called “divisions”! What more  evidence do we need? Groups of people divided by space, time and incentive  supposedly all serving the same objectives – you’re kidding me. Sales teams  encouraged to promise the moon on a stick, “producers” who don’t have the time,  resource, skills etc. to deliver either.


Timing – like all good comedy, it’s all in the timing. So let’s leave one of the most important elements of a project’s value (what we can learn and how we can improve from it) until right at the end of the project, or maybe even some time after, and cobble something together which is inaccurate, inert and largely invisible to the rest of the firm? Better still, ask someone to prepare the report who was not even involved in the project for large parts of it!

Psychology – in cognitive psychology there is a saying “goal set through, not up to”. This relates to the fact that, as people perceive they are close to achieving their goal, rather than intensify effort, they typically “slack off” (in theory this explains why car crashes happen close to home and climbing accidents happen on the way down) Inexperienced climbers set the goal to get to the top – once there, their brains turn off and so wham, they fall down the hill! Projects are no different: as the beast lurches to its final resting place, energy often starts to wane somewhat. What a great time to reflect then and inspire others with everything you’ve learned in the project!

Culture – in a recent governance workshop, I asked three of the most senior leaders in a global consulting firm about how open the company was to discussing project failures. Well, at least they were open enough to admit that this simply didn’t happen, “rug, brush and under” were words used in the reply. In too many organisations “fessing up” just isn’t the done thing.

So, if we do a “How NOT 2” video on lessons learned in projects, we reckon we have plenty to work with!


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