There is research-based evidence going back several decades that organisations struggle to embed the learning that is generated from their projects. Yet, you probably don’t need me to tell you that. The notion that ‘we keep reinventing the wheel’ is endemic in most businesses.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

When I am helping my clients deliver ‘sprint projects’ – a series of fast-paced, high-impact initiatives – learning not only takes place within the project but also happens across the organisation.

There are five key reasons for this:

  1. The sprint project is focused on results.

    We don’t run our projects to make recommendations, but to deliver results. That way, we need to identify and address issues and barriers in real-time, allowing us to share that experience across the organisation. Recently, for example, we established a 12-week sprint project with a retailer that had an objective of doubling sales in one of their key categories. The sprint focused on one store as a way of learning for the entire chain. Within eight weeks we had achieved our objective in the store and identified five key lessons that we then implemented and refined in a larger sample of stores before rolling out nationwide.

  2. Learning is a deliberate focus of the sprint.

    From the very beginning, learning is a key project objective. During kick-off planning meeting, we will identify specific learning objectives that we believe will deliver the results. Using the above example, for instance, the impact of improving the capability of the store teams and the embedding the daily disciplines of the management teams were two specific learning objectives that we focused on throughout the life of the sprint.

  3. We establish genuine accountability for learning.

    Similarly, we ensure that a member of the sprint team has real accountability to identify and embed key lessons. This may be the project leader, or, for bigger, more complex projects, maybe a different member of the team. Their individual performance review is then dependent on how well they have identified key learning points and ensured that these lessons have been applied across relevant areas of the organisation.

  4. We undertake a mid-sprint learning review.

    We don’t wait until the end of the sprint project to carry out our learning reviews. If we did, we may have lost the momentum and/or the project infrastructure to do anything about the lessons we identify. Instead, in a 12-week sprint project, we will carry out an initial learning review after around six weeks. We then have time to implement the outputs of this review, both in the project and across the wider organisation, within the 12-week period.

  5. The sprint is based on organisationally important issues.

    We only carry out sprints on those issues and goals that are genuinely important to the business and its leadership team. This means that any lessons learned are automatically seen as ‘important’ by the key stakeholders. Coupled with the fact that we have an executive-level sponsor for all our sprint projects – whose role is to maximise the cross-functional impact of the sprint – there is real ‘pull’ from the business for both the results of the sprint as well as the underlying lessons and organisational changes.

In other words, there is no need for your projects and project teams to keep ‘reinventing the wheel’. By bringing the concept of learning centre-stage, you can both improve the pace and results of your key initiatives.

Which of these five steps could your organisation implement to transform its ability to learn from its most important projects?


© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.