The Project Management Office (PMO) can be a powerful organisational structure to help direct and support project execution. The PMO will often help maintain good practices, unified approaches to similar projects, and can even provide templates and other documentation guidelines to support project managers in their work.
The project management discipline is broken down into processes. Some of these processes are specific to a particular portion of the project lifecycle, but several must be done throughout the project. An important task of project management is to capture lessons from the project and bring them together into a single “lessons learned” document at the closing of the project. This document is intended to encapsulate new ideas, problems and issues, and improvements to ways of working that were discovered during the project.
Often, these lessons learned documents are stored in a repository or archive. If the organisation has a PMO, it’s a good practice for the PMO to maintain this archive and facilitate access to the lessons from past projects to avoid the same mistakes being made again. However, many PMOs don’t have an efficient way to ensure lessons learned are read, learned from, and acted upon. There are several critical steps that PMOs can take to solve this, and it all starts with careful planning.
Every organisation is different, and PMOs will have to work to instill a culture where lessons learned aren’t just a mechanical requirement. These lessons should be valued as insight to inform project processes and ways of working for the project managers. Incorporating this step into project preparation should ideally take place before a project is formally begun. As a project is evaluated and a business case is developed, it could be critical to incorporate lessons from similar past projects to inform future risks that could change the outlook of the project’s return on investment. Using lessons from past projects can give an organisation a strategic and competitive edge.
Once a project has been authorised to begin, it’s a great practice for project managers to review lessons learned as they plan the project. Knowing where things went wrong and where new efficiencies and opportunities were can help the project manager maximise the project’s resources.
Last, the PMO should have a process in place to ensure smooth, easy gathering and submission of lessons learned throughout the project lifecycle. The easier the process, the more likely that lessons learned will be adequately captured and stored for future use.
The key element in the practical applications of lessons learned lies in retrieval and access of the information in lessons learned documents. An information management and archival tool like Soutron can enhance PMO effectiveness by allowing easy, fast access to the right documents for the right employees. Searches and granular resource guides can be a powerful way to cut through irrelevant documents or gather information from across departments. And a massive bonus of the Soutron system is a feature allowing end users to submit documents for administrative review and approval (Soutron Review). As project managers compile their documents, this makes it faster for the PMO to evaluate and add them to the system for retrieval in the future.
PMOs can be tremendous resources for project managers and their whole organisation, provided they carefully work to integrate processes with the rest of the organisation. From top-level stakeholders and project sponsors to individual project managers and teams, the PMO can maximise the knowledge created through a project. This can lead to strategic and competitive advantages that lead to more efficient projects and build a shared understanding of project goals and challenges across departments. It’s the very essence of the PMO’s goal, and new strategies and tools for making this happen should be top of mind for PMO leaders across the project management landscape.
By John Connolly, MLIS, PMP
John Connolly, PMP is a project manager and librarian with more than 15 years of experience in management in software and special libraries. He has a strong background in cataloguing, metadata generation, information management, and knowledge management.