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Engineering News

Friday, 06 March 2015

Re-thinking the lessons learnt approach

Re-thinking the lessons learnt approach

Graham Punler had a simple message for attendees at the Mastering Complex Projects conference held as part of the 2014 Engineers Australia Convention in Melbourne.

“Do you know how effective your current lessons learnt process is?” he asked his audience.

“You may think it's effective, but if we're all effective as an industry we probably wouldn't be facing the big Australian productivity challenge.

“Because the challenges we face today have been created over the past 25-30 years.

“If we had been a truly learning industry, we probably wouldn’t be facing those challenges.”

Punler is a Director of Projects with WorleyParsons in Western Australia. His conference session was called ‘Harnessing Project Knowledge’ and looked at the way WorleyParsons has come up with an innovative take on the traditional lessons learnt stage of project management.

He outlined how WorleyParsons successfully used the new approach as part of its work on the huge T155 port expansion project for Fortescue Metals at Port Hedland.

Punler says with projects delivered through teams, it’s very easy for organisations not to capture the knowledge acquired as teams disperse.

But the new HSE contractor engagement strategy devised by WorleyParsons, ‘Good to Go – Hold the Line’, uses the knowledge acquired and refined from previous projects and challenges parties to work together to ensure that teams mobilise to site ready to work on the project.

Punler says it starts with executive alignment after contract award and involves 15 steps including a joint readiness review and a post mobilisation review.

The program was developed by Punler and two colleagues – a construction manager and a safety manager – and was originally devised for a project that did not materialise.

But the timing was fortuitous for inclusion in Fortescue’s T155 Project, which itself ended up setting new benchmarks for brownfield expansion projects in the iron ore industry.

“In essence, putting that project on to T155, we had better contractor relationships, demonstrated by a number of factors and significantly improved safety performance,” Punler says. 

“It was one of Fortescue's best jobs and one of our best jobs.”

WorleyParsons has since implemented and refined the Good to Go – Hold the Line approach in projects across Australia.

“We found you couldn't just transfer knowledge through procedure and process,” Punler says.

“Intent and experience have to go with it.

“So we found, to embed this program in other projects, we had to transfer the (previous) construction manager and the HSE manager into the other projects.

“The program is now being run successfully in projects in the east and the west.”

The strategy is part of a wider approach to knowledge management being taken by WorleyParsons that also focuses on positive aspects of project delivery, whereas the traditional lessons learnt approach can be somewhat negative.

“So you might be critical of something you've done in the past but it's in a positive way, doing it and winning work for the future,” he says.

“The essence of it is to challenge the traditional approaches to lessons learnt – you can't dispense with them.

“But if you actually look at the traditional lessons learnt report, our analysis would suggest that 50 per cent of the learnings in a traditional lessons learnt report might be nothing more than a veiled, thinly disguised non-conformance.

“You always find the challenges well articulated, but the solution proposed might be difficult for the reader to comprehend without the context and experience of the project.

“Sometimes, if there is no solution, the problem is just passed along.”

To learn more about initiating, planning and closing projects, managing teams and stakeholders, and improving project performance, enrol in our Diploma of Project Management. Find out more here