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Recently, I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Ken Burrell from about lessons learned.  Ken has recently been doing a lot of research into the Why, What, and How of gathering and sharing project lessons. During this discussion, I shared an idea that I had for a system that I called ‘Call3’. The premise of Call3 is simple. When project managers initiate new projects, they must call three people and have a 30-minute conversation with them about the project.

Call3 - learning lessons from projects
Call3 – learning lessons from projects

Why is Call3 better than reading lessons learned reports?

The problem with lessons learned reports is that they are usually sterilized to the point of being meaningless. Project managers responsible for creating the ‘lessons’ that go into the reports invariably need to get them signed off. To ensure the lessons documentation is signed approved by all parties – any lessons that may be contentious are usually glossed-over, toned-down, or excluded altogether. PMOs don’t help either. If the PMO has a central repository for lessons, it often has constraints around format or lesson-length. What could be a rich repository of data is too often constrained by a maximum 255 character length.

By adopting the Call3 approach, project managers get a much richer experience. They learn lessons from projects directly from someone who’s been there and done that. The lessons are raw and honest – unsanitized and unconstrained by the amount of data that can fit in a cell in Excel. After the three Call3 interviews, project managers have a better idea of the risks and pitfalls they are facing – plus sage advice that will turbo-charge delivery.

“Alright listen up! The guys you’re after are professional runners. They like speed and are guaranteed to go down the hardest possible way so make sure you’ve got your thunderwear on. Find ‘em, take ‘em as a team and bring ‘em back. And above all else don’t ever, ever let them get into cars.”


What role does the PMO play in Call3?

The PMO is crucial to the Call3 process. Project managers will only get benefit from Call3 if they have the right three people to interview. Rather than focusing efforts on gathering and filing lessons, the PMO taps into its network. Every PMO worth its salt will have a network of contacts that cuts across hierarchy and silos. This network helps the PMO identify and nominate the three people who are best placed to help the project manager get their project off to the right start. The role of PMO as a knowledge broker is an important one if Project Management Offices are to help projects deliver the right things faster.

Who should the project manager interview?

The three people are selected by the PMO and would typically be drawn from a pool of people who had delivered similar projects in the past; had been resources on similar projects in the past; had been responsible for benefits realization for similar projects in the past. Examples of people that should be considered include:

  • Program or Project Managers who have undertaken similar projects in the past.
  • System Architects or software leads.
  • End users who have either been through similar change projects in the past, or who have insight into stakeholder comms.
  • Support teams with experience of accepting the deliverables of similar projects into production/’live’ environments.
  • Account Managers and Supplier Managers with experience of managing upstream and downstream relationships.
  • Legal experts who have brokered similar commercial agreements in the past, or have lessons from the regulatory environment that the project will operate in.
  • I’m sure you can think of others!

What about transient project teams?

Maximum benefit is derived from Call3 when the project teams are still working for the organization, or are on friendly enough terms to reach out to for a Call3 session.  Temporary resources and project teams should be encouraged to create a Call3 pack before they leave the project, or when they leave the organization. The PMO would be responsible for initiating the process in this instance, asking individuals to imagine it is a year down the line and they are answering the phone to a new PM starting a similar project. What would they say? What advice would they impart? What battle scars would they talk about? To help them get away from presenting something dry and sanitized, think of the scene in Jaws where they all compare scars: it needs to be unpolished to be valuable; the emotion and passion need to be there. It is important that the PMO does not attempt to ‘clean up’ the responses, or get the content signed off – raw advice is what you are after.

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat”


Ken Burrell has good advice about the format. He advocates a personally-delivered presentation or video. I’ll leave it to him to tell you all about it in his excellent post on the subject over at the PMOFlashMob site.

How do PMOs ensure the Call3 process is followed?

I would be surprised if project managers turn down the opportunity to learn via the Call3 process, but Call3 can be made a mandatory step in the stage-gate process, with no project being allowed to exit the initiation phase without having completed Call3. Evidence of completion could be formal signatures from interviewees, evidence of risks and assumptions being added to logs, or for those following PRINCE2, completion of the Lessons Learned section in the PID.

Have you applied Call3 in your organization?

If so, I’d love to hear your success stories. Share your own Call3 war stories in the comments box below!

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