Do you learn from your mistakes?

Even the best Project Managers are not immune from making mistakes. However, the biggest mistake we can make is to fail to learn from our mistakes and apply the lessons learned.

The only man who never makes mistakes is the man who never does anything” – Theodore Roosevelt
(1858 – 1919)

During the course of our projects and at the end we should review our successes and failures, take the lessons on board and apply them in future.

“We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery.”Samuel Smiles (1812 – 1904)

Project Reviews

During the course of the project, plan disciplined project reviews where the Project Manager and the team reflect on the project and objectively review their work. As a minimum, project reviews against the project management plan should take place at gateways and consider:

  • the effectiveness of the project management processes used;
  • lessons learned and follow up actions required;
  • any concerns raised and agreed corrective actions;
  • the likely technical success of the project;
  • any impacts on the business case and corrective action required;
  • overall progress against the plan: schedule, budget, resources, quality;
  • stakeholder relationships and perceptions.

Internal Reviews

If you’re part of a project management business, you might also consider periodic internal project reviews with some additional topics:

  • business performance (primarily financial performance);
  • resources.

Project Closeout

At project close out, conduct a full review and prepare a ‘Lessons Learned Report’.

‘Lessons Learned’ Techniques

Break the project down into the key topics of: scope and function; time; cost; etc.

For each topic consider (using simple language which a novice could understand):

  • What worked well and recommendations;
  • What didn’t work well and recommendations including:
    – person/party responsible for making the change;
    – details of the required modification;
    – steps for follow through;
    – due date for the change implementation.


“An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject and how to avoid them”Werner Heisenberg (1901 – 1976)

This post was inspired by Alan Norton’s article 10 immutable laws of mistakes – it’s worth a read!

About Sandy McMillan

Sandy, who semi-retired in 2011, is the former COO of development and project management businesses operating in the construction and real estate sector throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. He holds university degrees in civil engineering from the Universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow, and is a Chartered Engineer, a member of the UK's Institution of Civil Engineers, and a Member of the Association for Project Management. Since graduating, Sandy has more than 35 years management experience with the last 20+ years being in the fields of development and project management. While his early experience was in the heavy civil engineering sector e.g. power stations, he has operated primarily in the building sector since 1988 where he has managed development of retail, office, residential, and industrial properties. When Sandy's not travelling around EMEA on business, he has a home in Warsaw, Poland.
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