Lessons-learned app helps reduce error at VolkerFitzpatrck

5 Dec 22

An app to capture and disseminate lessons learned is helping VolkerFitzpatrick identify trends, share good practice, and develop a culture of openness around error, the company’s Chris Wheeldon told GIRI members at the annual meeting in November.

Chris is technical director of VolkerFitzpatrick’s infrastructure division. He explained that the development of the app was driven by a desire to move away from an inefficient paper-based process towards capturing and sharing significant learnings more quickly and in a way that could benefit other projects.

“We wanted to build a culture that was not just about sharing good practice, which people are happy to do, but also sharing errors and poor practice so that other projects don’t make the same mistakes. This will reduce the cost of error across the business and improve our offering to clients.”

The app pilot started in the civils division in 2020 just before Covid hit. It was initially focused on lessons learned during the delivery of a project, but VolkerFitzpatrick soon recognised the opportunity it presented and rolled it out across the wider business. “We also added formal tender lessons learned to the app, so it became the place not only to capture learnings but also to understand how to benefit from them.”

Crucially, the app is supported by senior management, which Chris said was essential to ensure people felt confident about sharing both the good and the bad from their projects. “As part of formal project reviews with senior management it is a requirement to talk about the lessons learned on the project. Managers encourage projects to raise more, and feed back on any key learnings, good practice, and error avoidance insights they picked up from other projects and used in the delivery of their own.”

VolkerFitzpatrick established a committee to review the lessons learned. “The committee reviews this data coming in from the app and looks at trends. If we are getting lots of lessons learned about a particular issue, that informs business or process change and that’s an important benefit. The committee also briefs project leaders every two weeks about any significant learnings to ensure these are disseminated quickly. Quality managers brief those learnings out more widely during their weekly and monthly meetings.”

Using the app is a simple process, said Chris. “At the start of a tender or project, lessons learned previously are reviewed, and relevant items are added to a project’s quality, engineering, design, and health and safety risk registers. Owners are allocated and actions assigned, and the registers are linked to the programme, which provides a countdown to when the risk or opportunity is likely to occur. We can then make sure people are implementing the actions required to either avoid the error or make the best use of the good-practice learning.”

During the life of the tender or project, any new lessons that are added to the app are updated on risk registers to make sure projects capture the latest insights.

The app itself was designed to be simple and easy to use whether on mobiles or laptops. Issues are divided into those that need to be avoided (errors) and those that should be repeated (good practice). Three text boxes identify the lesson learned, provide details, and explain the implications. Most other fields are tick boxes that help identify the stage of the project lifecycle to which the issue relates, type of project/sector, contributing factors and relative impact across five categories: financial, time, health and wellbeing, product or service, and the environment. These ensure the lessons learned can be searched effectively. As Chris pointed out, “If you can’t search for what you need, it’s just worthless data.”

The benefits of the app are real-time sharing of lessons learned and best practice from a single, easily searchable location, as well as improved information on risk and better project risk registers. “It is also helping to develop a culture that encourages open reporting of issues as well as best practice,” said Chris. “We are now looking to link it to NCRs and create an automated link between the app and project risk registers so that it auto-populates.”

Finally, he offered some advice for other businesses looking to do something similar. “Rollout is critical. You have to spend time with teams and keep encouraging them. Senior management support is vital. Projects will engage at different rates. Just because they aren’t engaging, doesn’t mean they don’t buy into it. They just need to feel safe to do so.”

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