Can IBM’s Watson Improve Your Organization’s Lessons Learned Process?

Can IBM’s Watson Improve Your Organization’s Lessons Learned Process?

Can IBM’s Watson Improve Your Organization’s Lessons Learned Process?

By J. LeRoy Ward,  PMP, PgMP, PfMP, CSM, CSPO |  Executive Vice President – Enterprise Solutions, IIL 

Certainly, by now, you’ve heard of Watson, the superfast supercomputer that beat former Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on the game show back in 2011.

Since then, IBM has been promoting Watson as a valuable “tool,” helping organizations such as:

  • KONE to analyze data in elevators and escalators around the world to keep people moving smoothly, safely, and efficiently;
  • KPMG to drive innovation and empower its employees; and,
  • Woodside Energy to retain the knowledge of its senior experts and pass it to new employees.

It was this last example that caught my eye.

Woodside Energy is Australia’s largest independent oil and gas company. Like many other companies, Woodside was facing a “brain drain” caused by the retirement of their most knowledgeable engineers. The issue facing the company was how to retain the knowledge of senior experts and make it available to junior engineers and other employees to locate, analyze, and learn from that knowledge.

They decided that Watson was the answer.

Here’s what Woodside did (as described in IBM’s website):

  • Watson was trained – Watson absorbed over 600,000 pages of documents, from reports to correspondence.
  • Watson was tested – The machine learning model was continuously updated to be able to analyze a higher volume of records.
  • Watson was launched – Over 80% of employees adopted Watson for their day-to-day work.
  • Watson got results – Employees used to spend 80% of their time researching problems and 20% fixing it; Watson reversed that.
  • Watson keeps learning – The employees are encouraged to provide feedback, be it as a new, intermediate or experienced user.

It would appear that the use of Watson as a “knowledge management” repository is having great benefits for the company.

In the practice of project management, we are encouraged to collect, store, reference, and add to “Lessons Learned” to avoid the mistakes (as well as benefit by the best practices) employed by others in our organization in their work on projects.

Yet, so many companies with whom I’ve worked, while talking a good game in this area, have no easy way to do all of this. As a consequence, lessons learned repositories are fragmented, not automated, and generally of little use in the everyday lives of the project managers they are intended to serve.

As I see it, there certainly is a strong parallel between how Woodside Energy is using Watson and how it might be used for lessons learned in project management.

There’s no magic to lessons learned. It all comes down to capturing knowledge, organizing it in some coherent fashion, and making it easily available to those who need it. But, as many companies have found, it’s a lot easier said than done.

I bet Woodside Energy made a significant investment in Watson, but the payoff apparently is worth the money. Could the ROI of using Watson for lessons learned be positive as well? I think so.

In fact, it would be interesting if, let’s say IBM itself, a sophisticated global organization with a strong and mature project management process, used Watson for its own project management lessons learned repository. Boy, that would make a great example, wouldn’t it? Maybe they’re doing it and I just haven’t read about it.

If you know of any organization using Watson, or other sophisticated technology platforms for lessons learned, please let me know. I’m sure everyone would love to hear about it.


J. LeRoy Ward is a highly respected consultant and adviser to Global Fortune 500 Corporations and government agencies in the areas of project, program, and portfolio management. With more than 38 years of government and private sector experience, LeRoy specializes in working with senior executives to understand their role in project and program sponsorship, governance, portfolio management and the strategic execution of projects and programs.