PRINCE2 Principle: Learn from experience 

 November 15, 2023

By  Dave Litten

PRINCE2 Principle: Learn from experience

Project characteristics

A PRINCE2 project team actively seeks, records, and implements improvements due to relevant lessons learned from prior projects and throughout the project’s life. It applies them in future projects and shares them for others to use.

A common characteristic of projects is that they include an element of uniqueness. This makes projects challenging as the temporary team may have yet to experience a project quite like the one being undertaken.

To overcome these challenges, project teams need to find ways to learn from the experience of others and from the experience gained from the project as it develops.

Learn from experience occurs throughout the lifecycle of the project:

When starting a project: previous or similar projects should be reviewed to see if lessons could be applied.

If the project is a ‘first’ for the people within the business or if there is any new or novel content, then learning from others is even more critical.

This could include projects delivered by people or organisations external to the business to identify relevant lessons. The project team should continue to learn as the project progresses.

Lessons should be included in relevant reports and reviews and included at the end of each stage. The goal is to seek improvement opportunities during the project’s life.

The retrospective technique is an example of gathering lessons in the agile approach. As the project closes, the project team should share the insights gained during the project. The foundation for learning is data and the ability to gain insights from it.

Projects should be clear about what data is required, how it will be analysed so that insights can be acquired and applied, and what will happen to the data during the project and when the project closes. Project teams must consider how to effectively share lessons with all those involved, as people may have different learning needs and preferences.

Some may learn best by observing, whereas others do so by experimenting. Learning from mistakes and successes is essential to improve and innovate continuously. It is the responsibility of everyone involved with the project to identify lessons rather than wait for someone else to do so.

Lessons not used to improve the project or future projects are only ‘lessons identified’ and not ‘lessons learned’.

Below are some examples of applying the ‘learn from experience’ principle.

In a smaller project with one co-located team, ‘lessons learned’ can be discussed regularly in team meetings. Learning, in this case, happens on the job, potentially daily.

In a large and complex project, the learning process will involve many project team members who could be spread across multiple teams and locations. This large-scale approach will make ensuring everyone can access the same learning experience harder.

Learning in larger projects may require more advanced communication, such as explanatory videos, presentation kits for project team managers, or tailored workshops in subgroups. Such projects may benefit from field trips, pilots, simulations, or go-live rehearsals as a source of learning, too

Dave Litten

David spent 25 years as a senior project manager for USA multinationals, and has deep experience in project management. He now develops a wide range of Project Management Masterclasses, under the Projex Academy brand name. In addition, David runs project management training seminars across the world, and is a prolific writer on the many topics of project management.

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