Lessons Learned in Construction
Hyman G. Rickover, known by many as the Father of U.S. Naval Nuclear Power, stated: “Be ever questioning. Ignorance is not bliss. It is oblivion. Become better informed. Learn from others’ mistakes. You could not live long enough to make them all yourself.”
How many times have you been on a project, identify a problem, often of considerable impact, and hear something to the effect of: “You know, we had the same problem on the last project.” Most organizations have some sort of continuous improvement program designed to capture these recurring problems and prevent them from continuing to be propagated. So, why is this above sentence still heard so often?
There could be several potential answers. 1) Organizations are not very good at documenting these problems, 2) they are not good at developing the root causes and thus preventing the recurrence, 3) organizations do not effectively communicate these lessons learned throughout their organization, or 4) they have great programs in place to do all of the above, but not the commitment to actually ensure it is accomplished.
Documentation of Lessons Learned. It is important to specifically document problems and their resolutions when they happen and not 6-9 months down the road at the formal “Lessons Learned” or “Project Closeout” meeting. By then, it is too late. Many will have been forgotten or other parts of the organization may have already had to re-solve the same problem. This can easily be done by use of a simple spreadsheet or through the project’s document management or commissioning programs. Some organizations have even developed a short, weekly lessons learned meeting into existing weekly project meetings. Remember to not only document and learn from problems but also from those specific portions of the project that went exceptionally well. This will allow for the development of Best Practices.
Development of Root Causes. Not every problem requires a formal RCA to be conducted, and not every RCA method applies to every size of problem. But every problem does deserve an analysis to ensure the right method of resolution is applied so you do not continue to have the same problem. Some problems can be analyzed in a few minutes by just a couple of people. But, larger and more impactful issues should require a formal RCA, with a trained facilitator, to help the organization step through the problem-solving process and identify the actual root cause(s) and correct mitigating action(s).
Communication. Completing a valid problem statement and root cause analysis with recommended corrective actions is only the first part of the process. None of this is valuable until it has been communicated. It should not only be communicated to the impacted project but also across the organization. This starts when issues arise and continues when the next project starts. When a large project is undertaken, there are often multiple partners in concert required to execute all portions of the project. Every one of these components bring with them their own lessons learned that could apply to the upcoming project. Starting off a project with a lessons learned meeting involving the owner, general contractor, sub-contractors, vendors, quality, and commissioning agent is an effective way of removing these potential problems from occurring and will more than pay for the time spent upfront.
Commitment to Program. Even if you have all of this documented in your project procedures, it may be most beneficial to validate that it is all being done every time. If it is not, then you need to determine why and how to make it happen. Remember, if a program is too difficult or encumbered to make it seem worthwhile to the people that must use it every day, it is likely not going to happen. Sometimes, it requires routine inspections to ensure the process is being followed. You get what you inspect, not necessarily what you expect.
Errors can be, and often are, costly to a project. Some are directly impactful to the budget and/or schedule. Others are indirectly impactful because they demand time and effort better spent on actually moving the project forward, on development and resolution of Requests for Information (RFIs), or even Design Changes to a project that is already well into the construction phase. Manage an efficient and effective project. Learn from everyone else’s mistakes and don’t think that you have to make them all on your own.