At an Association for Project Management event in London recently, Karen Elson, former programme assurance executive at the Olympic Delivery Authority, spoke about how the learning legacy from the Olympics was captured and codified.
She began by explaining why it was important to capture lessons learned. The Olympics in London is involves a big construction programme which has been delivered on time, on budget and in a way that is fit for purpose. There were a number of priority themes identified that were delivered to above industry benchmarks, such as targets for sustainability. This generated an interest from industry and professional groups about what had been done differently.
The objectives of the learning legacy effort were to capture lessons learned, innovations and best practices from across the London 2012 construction programme. The aim was to raise the bar in construction and to showcase UK Plc. This idea was ratified by government, which effectively gave the ODA the mandate they needed to apply for funding and put the learning legacy effort into action.
Learning Legacy Scope
The learning legacy programme wanted to identify what was innovative in the work that the contractors had achieved. They also wanted to establish whether this could be replicated for other construction and non-construction projects. If so, was there an audience for these types of lessons? There wasn’t any point in gathering best practices if no one was interested in reading about them.
The learning legacy programme team asked industry whether anyone would want to know about the lessons from the Games. “What was it that they were interested in hearing from us?” Karen said. The industry consultation involved universities, the Major Projects Association, construction and engineering professional bodies and the Health & Safety Executive. Each group was asked to propose areas for consideration – in other words, to tell the ODA what sort of best practices there were interested in learning about.
The industry partners and representatives who got involved were also asked for practical help at this point. Some partners were able to second individuals to the learning legacy programme to help collate the results. They were also involved in validating the practices as “good”. After all, just because it was done on the Olympics, doesn’t make it innovative or “good”, so involving industry partners meant an objective take on better practice.
Spreading the word
The industry groups were also essential for supporting the dissemination of the outcomes. Once all the lessons learned were gathered, storing them in some ODA filing cabinet (which, let’s face it, is what happens to a lot of corporate lessons learned reports) was not going to achieve the aim of raising the bar in projects. The ODA programme formally ended in October 2011 and since then the baton has been handed to industry who have taken the lead in spreading the word about the lessons learned.
At the time of the presentation, Karen explained that there had been around 50 “dissemination events”, including the one I attended at which she was speaking. The events were all on the theme of what was learned from the Games and were one of the few places where the contractors could actively talk about their involvement in the Olympics due to the branding constraints.
Lessons learned sessions had been attended by over 4,000 people, which means that the lessons from the Games have already reached a significant audience.
Lessons from the lessons!
Karen explained several of the lessons from the learning legacy programme itself, useful for other groups wanting to set up formal lessons learned programmes at their organisations.
“A dedicated central resource is essential,” she said. “You need dedicated people in each of the teams and a structured approach for collation and dissemination.”
She also recommended testing your outputs: identify at the beginning of the project what data you want to collect so you can set up systems to do that.
Karen went on to say that it was important to start collecting your lessons learned about 50% of the way through the project because it takes people ages to write them up. Don’t just focus on what went well, she explained. Highlight issues and what was learned from them as well.
“Senior buy in is key,” she added. “The enthusiasm was staggering.”
Next week I’ll be looking at the learning legacy database of good practices. You can watch my short video of the lessons learned event at A Girl's Guide to Project Management.