Lessons not Learned

I just returned from a week of cave diving in southern France. The objective was to get my cave diving certification which after an intense week of 14 hour days I managed to do. Reflecting on the week I thought to share some parallels with project management.

Since the early 70s the cave dive community has been analyzing cave dive accidents to understand what happened and what can be done to avoid similar accidents in the future.  This has led to strong recommendations on equipment configuration and on dive management. The focus on what lessons can be learned has significantly improved the accident ratio. This success was possible by widely communicating the lessons learned and making them an integral part of dive training.

When our projects go south, in the majority of the cases, people do not die or get hurt outside of bruised egos. Even though more and more companies conduct lessons learned, sharing those lessons company-wide happens seldom, let alone sharing them within the industry or across industries.  Some sharing does happen, however, there is not a coordinated effort. Failure still has a stigma and companies are very reluctant to share case studies on failed projects. This is a shame since many millions of dollar could be saved, not to speak of the amount of sleepless nights we can spare ourselves.

Can you imagine a world where we would openly share our project failures so we collectively can learn from them and integrate those learnings into our education system? It sounds so liberating. It would mean there is a mutual trust and a shared objective of improving the overall success of projects worldwide. Maybe I am still narced from diving 🙂

Of course, before every dive, I review safety procedures, equipment configuration and plan the dive. If I’m absolutely honest, I plan my project, but outside of mentally reviewing my own lessons learned, I seldom if ever review other lessons learned. So there is my own lessons learned….


2 thoughts on “Lessons not Learned”

  1. Great points Nathalie-

    Cave divers didn’t really start examining the accidents until they were faced with the state of Florida making the sport illegal. After that Sheck Exely started his analysis of the accdents and came up with his book “Basic Cave Diving: A blueprint for survival”. In essence the first PMBOK for cave diving.

    Still cave divers don’t share their “close calls” with others very easily. A death can’t be ignored but a cave diver that makes it out alive with 2 breaths left in his tank can sometimes slip through the cracks.

    All cave diving aside I do agree with you that it would be fantastic to have a respository of lessons learned from all industries and companies to help further the profession. Maybe PMI could host it on their site (just an idea). Unfortunately I don’t think many companies would allow their confidential project plans into the repository.

    Keep diving!!


    1. User Avatar

      Hello Jason,
      It is always nice to meet a fellow cave diver; although you live on the better side of this country for cave diving. You are absolutely right with your analysis and personally I prefer Sheck’s booklet over the PMBOK in regards to being to the point and thickness 🙂
      I like your idea regarding PMI hosting a repository and will bring it up during the upcoming congress in October.


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