Is Social Media Used Effectively and Often to Disseminate Lessons Learned from Projects?

There’s no doubt that there is a real opportunity for the project management community to take greater advantage of social media in order to share lessons. Many organisations are reluctant to share what they’ve learnt from things that have gone well or could have gone better. Reasons for this include:

  • potential reputational damage;
  • the loss of competitive advantage through of sensitive commercial information;
  • a culture where lessons aren’t learnt, so there’s nothing to share, or a blame culture which prevents root causes being uncovered; and
  • a lack of understanding of the significance, with regard to strategic objectives, of learning lessons.

Some exceptions to this are seen in the aviation and nuclear industries. Their safety cultures have led to thorough investigations of incidents and accidents, which often lead to industry-wide changes. The learning legacies of Crossrail and London 2012 are great examples of sharing lessons. They both provide a wealth of information for others to learn from in different forums. Social media is typically used by learning legacy partners, such as the Association for Project Management, to promote the tools used to share lessons.

For lessons to be shared effectively, they must be readily accessible when needed. This is a major challenge. Here, the ability to label lessons with metadata is useful. For internal forums, a clearly defined taxonomy to determine metadata should be outlined at the beginning. Among other factors, this could incorporate project phases, types of project, technical disciplines, categories of stakeholders and other relevant features.

The way that lessons are presented often doesn’t target different learning styles: text is primarily used. Ken Burrell of Pragmatic PMO Ltd recommends using short videos to capture lessons learned. These should be tagged with metadata so they can be found easily. For instance, during construction, could be used to record actual events during safety tours or critical delivery elements. Those who are camera-shy can use a voice-note application such as Voxer to make an audible record of lessons.

It’s important that lessons can be found when needed. Technology can support embedding personal knowledge in corporate knowledge. At times, you can find different approaches taken to storing and sharing lessons within an organisation. Lessons aren’t confined to lessons-learned tools or databases, so greater use of search and integration tools would make it easier to find specific lessons that are pertinent and can be applied to the work at hand.

As technology develops, analytics, machine learning big data have the potential to play a significant part in corporate learning of lessons. There is potential to mine lessons from a large group of data and social media. As ever, the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ principle applies. Sharing of lessons is necessary, and technology is a great enabler of that, but lessons will only ever be beneficial if they are of the right in the first place. It’s imperative that lessons contain adequate information to ascertain how valid they are to your situation, and the extent to which adaptation is required to suit the specifics of the project scenario.

Some organisations are considering moving away from the title ‘lessons learned’, as it gives the mistaken impression that lessons have been learned, rather than merely captured. Regardless of how lessons are shared, it’s crucial to first produce meaningful change for the organisation. This can be via changing processes, linking lessons to risk management and decision-making, or incorporating the lesson in a checklist for similar projects or programmes.

What Can You Share?

Karen Elson, who built the learning legacy for London 2012 and designed the learning legacy framework for Crossrail, found in a survey that 40% of people didn’t know what they would be allowed to share in public. Clearly, that is a significant barrier to sharing via social media or other channels. Elson recommends that organisations have a transparency policy and framework. This will enable individuals and organisations to make the most of the technological tools available to facilitate the sharing of lessons. Sometimes, individuals and organisations have a will to share lessons, but not a way. Transparency guidelines effectively fill in this gap and make it safe for people to share, particularly in a free-flowing conversational forum such as Twitter.

Elson views the learning legacies as a way for others to identify the lessons learned on those mega-projects: the actual learning occurs in what the organisation does with that knowledge. Learning legacy case studies include named stakeholders, so it’s worthwhile connecting with those people on LinkedIn if more information would be beneficial.

Social media allows you to share content with an open or closed audience; this means organisations can choose what level of information they share with different stakeholder groups. A follow-on benefit is that it can provide a window into the culture of the organisation and help attract people that find that culture appealing. Sharing the challenges can increase the suitability of those that apply, as they have a more realistic view of the types of problems they may encounter. It also builds the profile of the organisation and/or the person sharing the lesson.

Social media helps build relationships across and within organisations, and across industries and international boundaries. It allows for recognition of what you’ve done well. You can use it to facilitate others’ learning and garner support.

Certain forums allow for messages to be readily shareable. The Major Projects Knowledge Hub makes use of different platforms to meet a range of needs regarding anonymity, openness depth of engagement. There’s potential for lessons to go viral. Intelligent use of social media can increase interest from those who wouldn’t ordinarily be interested in your brand. Organisations – small ones in particular – may also benefit from search-engine optimisation, depending on the platform on which they share lessons. These include:

  • Jive is specifically designed for knowledge-sharing and has been used to good effect. It combines accessible document management with building communities, particularly for large companies.
  • SharePoint is a popular medium which can be viewed remotely and supports different features: text, audio video. Its integration with Microsoft is also beneficial.
  • Yammer is like Facebook for companies; it’s a platform for open dialogue, as it’s not privy to external viewing. Yammer has groups, which can be used to build communities of relevant professionals, and makes use of hashtags, making it searchable.
  • Twitter is good for signposting where one can get more information about lessons, or engaging potentially interested stakeholders. It is also a good promotional or engagement tool. Robert Kelly founded #PMChat, where project managers on Twitter (#PMOT) can participate in weekly discussions on a specific topic.
  • LinkedIn has a significant project management presence. Forums abound and enable people to interact with other relevant professionals in a targeted manner.

Facebook project management groups tend to focus on providing support in achieving qualifications. In principle, there is no reason why Facebook can’t be an effective platform; however, people are sometimes reticent to mix their personal and professional lives. Workplace by Facebook is organisation-specific and keeps that separation, alongside much of Facebook’s functionality.

Finally, Buffer, a social media management platform, has the value ‘default to transparency’. This is not lip service: the salaries of staff are made public, along with products in development and the breakdown of how revenue is spent. While these steps may seem radical, we could all benefit from applying their ethos more and using transparency as a tool to help others.

This article first appeared in the Winter 2017 edition of Project magazine (by the Association for Project Management).

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