Lessons Learned From Projects – The Essential First Step
– Vishwanath Thanalapatti
In theory, a project closure is logically complete when the Lessons Learned are documented. The rationale underlying ‘Lessons Learned’ is using the information in other similar projects so that the success criteria is emulated, while the setbacks are tracked for avoidance. To set the contours for compliance, there are two extreme possible positions for ‘Lessons Learned’. The first one where each new project ‘Kick Off’ starts with a session (on the ‘Lessons Learned’) that is 100%; the other is to ignore all and move on with the new project that is 0%. The reality lies somewhere in between. In this write up I pick up 5 top lessons which are learned but not considered that could have minimized risk, done at less cost in quicker time and delivered stakeholder value. The readers from the Project Management discipline I am sure will be able to relate to a few, if not to all of these.
• Core banking transformation projects in India:
The business of banking in India predominantly is very similar, be it across banks or regions. The products are standardized, reporting structured and the one major difference is in volumes. This gives us a model of the basic software solution. Like said earlier, can be packaged and implemented in quick time, at a lower cost, minimizing risk; if it is on cloud, even quicker. However, each bank goer has gone through a very harrowing experience.
After the first few projects ‘Go-Live’ the banks could have come together and defined a standard model solution and on top of that customized specific products unique to a bank. Say, branded products. The combined association of banks with its negotiation power would have driven the costs down. One project plan and one model solution would have been a clear winner. A single general ledger structure would have made regulatory reporting much better.
Mantra: Going forward, banks should look at a Cloud Based Solution (private community cloud) and insist on a prepackaged solution, rather than go through the pain of ‘Bottom Up’ implementation.
Main Benefits: Minimise Risk, Lower cost, Predictable and Lesser time to implement.
• Data Cleansing
Data is the ‘Prana’ – the breath of life for an organisation. Given the importance, one of the essential ‘first steps’ organisations must do is to clean up data as part of implementation process. This will help in the design of information architecture for classification of data (for example ‘Mission Critical, ‘Important’ etc.,) that will be of tremendous use to an Information System Auditor for Data Migration Audit. And for leveraging technologies for exploiting ‘Big Data’ to give desired results for decision making.
The Management must mandate data cleansing as one of the critical ‘first steps’ for any implementation. The decision for ‘Go’ ‘No Go’ forward with the project must hinge on this. The planning process must have this as a mandatory step and the execution must start with a sign off by all stake holders. The importance of information architecture structured around clean data cannot be overstated for correct decision making. Any investment in Visual Analytics, Data Analytics etc., is as good the underlying data.
Mantra:‘Clean Data’ must be a strategy for any Organisation. This must be an ongoing project that feeds into all projects.
Main Benefits:Minimise Risk, Create Data as an Asset, Leverage Technology.
• Process change and optimisation
Project Management is mainstream. A large number of projects if one looks closely do have similarities. The world is full of lessons with a repository of examples to learn from. Vendors on the other hand have a global view and experience. Over time software products have come to incorporate global best practices. This makes ‘COTS’ approach for implementation a very good option with minimal customisation. This is an opportunity for an organisation to change its business processes.
Organisation start customizing solutions bought off the shelf. The internal fault lines between Business, IT and Senior Management drag decisions towards customisation to the point where COTS will start assuming the form of in-house developed software. The very objective of technology upgradation, improved productivity, optimisation of business processes take the back seat. There are copious examples of projects that go into a tailspin due to extensive customisation.
Mantra: Choose a Global Vendor, Change Business Processes and implement with minimal Customization.
Main Benefits: Maximise Investment, Stay Competitive, Pioneer Change.
• Right leadership and People
People are key for the success of a project. Strong leadership, right skills and full commitment takes a project across the finish line. Professional Project Management and PMI processes give the necessary structure, direction and governance. The bottom line right people make successful projects.
The first signs of the good people leaving a project always starts with a trickle and is seen in mid and senior management. When it gets viral, the cracks develop all over and finally descends to mediocre leadership, at this point it is beyond repair. The investments and funding dry out. Projects are kept on hold and gradually loose traction, soon forgotten.
Mantra: Reward people well enough to keep them in the game. Role clarity and participation to be communicated and maintained. Don’t change responsibilities randomly. Aim at quick success, the so called low hanging fruits. Have a regular track of success and recognition in place. Make sure a good talent management person is in the team.
Main Benefits: Ensure Project Success, Deliver Stakeholder Value.
• Lessons Learned
Lessons Learned from a project is the guiding light to future projects. It is an organizational asset. The repository will have success stories and pain points from all previous projects. If not all at the least transformational ones that are disruptive (in the positive sense) for business.
The success stories are all fine. More important are the ‘Pain Points’. The focus on ‘Pain Points’ and its relevance cannot be overstated. The repeat performance of mistakes and resolution is at a cost and risk, more so from projects that have not been delivered or gone into the breach orbit of time and cost. In a projectised / matrix structure the PMOs office is ideally the owner of ‘Lessons Learned’. The stakeholders for each project must sign off on the ‘Lessons Learned’.
Mantra: Lessons Learned must be an indispensable first step for every project an organisation undertakes. Factor that in all process / dependent process steps as an ‘Input’.
Main Benefits: Minimise Risk, Maximise Project Success.