Advances in Project Management: Project performance: Improving our understanding through the sharing of lessons learned


Dr Robert Chapman


Projects are increasing in scale, complexity and cost at an exponential rate. They involve the ingenuity, intellect and resolve of the human spirit. In recent years projects have involved the landing of a probe on Mars, constructing a spallation neutron source facility in the US and the Three Gorges Dam in China. Projects underway include the Beijing’s new international airport catering for 130 million passengers a year, UK’s seventy-three mile Crossrail project and the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) bridge which will connect Windsor, Ontario in Canada and Detroit, Michigan in the US.

All of these current projects are engaged in risk management. For the one common feature of each of these projects is that they face uncertainty. The discipline of project risk management is now well developed. The identification of threats to the project objectives must entail both looking forward and looking in the rear view mirror. Projects must learn from the past. The well known quote from Steven Covey (American author, businessman and key-note speaker) the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same things and expecting a different result is still very pertinent. New projects must learn from the past. How is this to be accomplished? A rich source of information is case studies and specific lessons learned.

For those sponsoring projects to learn from the past and understand why some projects fail and others succeed is of paramount importance. Project failure can affect shareholders, organisational prosperity and for major projects, the economy of the region within which the project resides. Lessons learned serve as an important management tool to support successful project delivery by providing insights into the root causes of both success and failure. While they support the retention of organisational knowledge, they are instrumental in improving project performance by reducing risk exposure. They accomplish this by enhancing risk identification. Any gaps in identification will limit the effectiveness of the overall risk management process. As the old adage goes unidentified risks are unmanaged risks. The anxiety is that the gaps may include the most serious areas of risk exposure. An analogy can be drawn with the medical profession. A doctor’s examination must be thorough prior to making a diagnosis and recommending treatment. Unchecked symptoms may lead to a quick and serious deterioration in a patient’s condition. Similarly poor project risk identification can detrimentally affect a project’s health and longevity.


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About the Author

pmwj23-jun2014-Chapman-AUTHOR IMAGERobert Chapman, PhD flag-uk


Dr Robert Chapman, FIRM, FAPM, FICM is an international project risk management specialist. Robert obtained his PhD in risk management in 1998. He has provided risk management services in Europe, Asia and Africa. This article includes extracts from his latest book The Rules of Project Risk Management, implementation guidelines for major projects was published in 2014 by Gower Publishing Limited in the UK and Ashgate Publishing Company in the US. It includes twenty-six mini case studies to aid description of the key elements of effective risk management. Dr Chapman has had articles published by Enterprise Risk (South Africa), ExtraProtect (translated into French and German), IT Adviser, Yorkshire Post, Strategic Risk, PLC Strategies, Project, the Architects’ Journal and PropertyWeek and refereed papers published by the Journal of International Project Management and Construction Management & Economics.

Editor’s note: The Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Gower in the UK.  The articles are coordinated by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Gower Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM.  Prof Dalcher also provides an introduction to the current month’s article, which you can see elsewhere in this month’s edition.”  Information about the Gower series can be found at http://www.gowerpublishing.com/advancesinprojectmanagement.