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5 Lessons Learned in Project Management for 2016

Lessons Learned Project Management

I learned a lot in 2015. Did you?

Here are my top 5 lessons learned in project management that we can put into practice during 2016. Scroll to the bottom for a free lessons learned meeting agenda template to help you manage your lessons learned this year.

1. Succession planning matters

You can only move into a new job when your boss is confident that they can spare you from your current role. Make that an easy decision by finding the right person to fill your shoes while you are out on holiday and longer term, when you decide to take a new job.

The UK’s Major Projects Authority’s annual report highlights the importance of making sure that there is a pipeline of talent and a clear career path for project management professionals. The report promises that the MPA:

“will develop the profession by creating a clear career path for project delivery professionals, supported by an understanding of the skills and training required at each stage. This will help individual departments develop their cadre of skilled delivery professionals, while allowing the best project leaders to move between departments so that the right people are on the right projects at the right time.”

In 2016 the first Project Delivery fast stream and apprentices should join the government teams, demonstrating that commitment to career progression runs from bottom to top. You can read more about how the MPA is changing the UK’s major projects for the better in this article.

Action: Identify your successor and train them. They could be a junior project manager or a functional manager whom you are working with today on a project. They might not even exist in your organisation yet, so your first job is to find someone to take over when you move on (upwards).

2. Find your support network

As project management takes a hold in even the smallest organisations, it can be hard to build a professional network and grow your career.

This year I met women from huge organisations with large project management capabilities and those working alone. I met women from teams in construction where there’s typically one person in a particular role on a project that can last for years which, they said, can be lonely. There’s an immense power in meeting and talking to someone doing broadly the same thing as you, with the same challenges.

So find them.

Action: Find out how to boost your career with these networking tips (which work even if you are the only project manager in your business). Make 2016 the year that you add more people to your professional network, as long as they are the right people. Don’t be afraid to reach out and make contact with someone. Whenever I have done that I’ve been delighted that people are prepared to share and answer my questions! Very, very rarely does someone say no. Try it.

3. Agile waterfalls work

My own experience this year working on expensive and time-consuming software projects has shown that there is a definite flaw with waterfall. Agilists won’t be surprised. The concept of specifying a solution, going away for six months to build it what’s in the requirements document and then giving it back to the customer is flawed for most developmental technology projects (and other types of project) today.

We need Agile waterfalls, and these work. Iterative project plans, with short build times and little, phased waterfalls, help mitigate risk and deliver benefits faster. They work best with a customer embedded in the project team.

If that sounds Agile-y it is, but you can adopt that approach even in a traditional waterfall environment, and you’ll see benefits.

Action: Challenge the waterfall approach where it is embedded in your organisation. Look for quick wins. Think about how you can adjust your project schedules to deliver value early, because that’s what really matters – stakeholder value.

4. Learn lessons, don’t just capture them

At the beginning of the year I facilitated a lessons learned meeting for a colleague. It served to highlight how poorly project management as a whole deals with lessons learned. In fact, a friend on Twitter went as far as to say that lessons learned in the world of the PMO are called ‘lessons captured’ because you can’t guarantee that any learning has happened.

Action: Check that you have a way of turning lessons captured into lessons learned. Read this article on how to implement lessons learned on projects for 5 tips on doing that.

Bonus Action: Here is a way to find the right lessons learned when you need them.

5. Multi-tasking kills productivity

I knew this already, but I needed to relearn it this year. It’s my first full year back at work in three years and the second half of it was hectic. In fact, these last few months have been the most hectic for a very long time. I used to bake bread when the babies were small. Now there’s a packet of yeast in the cupboard that has expired. I have no idea where I found the time, but apparently I had more time then than now for things like that.

My trouble is that often technology is slower than my brain. While my PC fires up I need to do something so I file papers or check email on my phone. Then when my browser decides not to function I switch to doing something else for a few minutes, like making a call, and when the screen finally loads I switch back.

I don’t do well with moments of downtime and I have to change that, especially as this research from Stanford University says that people who normally work in an environment with several electronic channels open at the same time have poor attention spans and poorer memories. The trouble is, I feel the only available option is to do less and I don’t know how to do that either.

Now excuse me while I make a cup of tea and clean the kitchen surfaces while the kettle boils.

Action: Slow down. I don’t want to live with my brain so full that it feels unmanageable a lot of the time. I don’t have any advice for you if you feel like that too, but if you’ve got helpful tips then please share them in the comments below!

Career Questions

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.


  1. Wish someone would tell my boss about #5. “Excellent multi-tasking skills.” is still part of my job description. We are looking to fill an empty spot and this was listed as a skill. Last year was challenging. While I’m sure I learned a lot from the challenges I encountered, your article has prompted me to slow down and reflect on what I did learn. Thanks!!

    • If you can, I totally agree that slowing down and taking stock is worth doing. If only because you’ll find yourself speeding up again in the future! It always happens…

  2. I’m guilty of number 5. For me, slowing down, doing less is the solution. I write down my 5 “Big Rocks” (most valuable or impactful use of my time) and focus on one at a time.

    • The ‘rock’ idea is something I should think about more often. Then I could fill the rest of the bucket with smaller items. I’m guilty of doing too many small items and then not having enough time for the bigger things.

  3. There are a lot of approaches that incorporate Agile methods into long life cycle projects, from iterative prototyping to MVP. While Agile methods might not work so well for a suspension bridge, most software with an accessible end user base will benefit from incremental development, periodic feedback, and a decision maker who can prioritize the work that remains to be done.

  4. I’d say that “agile waterfall” is the worst wording I could think of for an approach that exists for decades and is called “iterative” (as in Rational Unified Process). Some essential qualities of the agile approach will be lost if you take small and iterative but phased steps. I’m not saying it doesn’t work. I’m not saying it’s evil. I’m just saying: It’s not agile and should not be called some sort of agile.

    • OK, point taken! It’s not Agile. Iterative, to me anyway, still means big chunks, not short sections of a project that could be just a week or two. I’ve ‘iterated’ on a project that lasted nearly 2 years in total and it felt like each iteration was a mini-project, not a short burst of development to add to what went before (sorry, I’m trying to avoid using the word ‘sprint’). I was going for something that stays fresher than that but isn’t waterfall. Maybe I need a completely new term to get across what I was trying to say without getting into agile territory.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate it.


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