How to really learn the lessons of your mistakes, and turn them in to foundations for success
How often do you run a “lessons learned” session after the completion of a project? Good practice would have us carry out such an evaluation following any significant piece of work – and collective learning from previous experiences has got to be a good thing, right?
Well done you.
Now ask yourself this – how often do you actually apply the learning that was so heart-wrenchingly drawn from the exercise in group suffering and torment that is a “Project”? Or do you put the “lessons learned” document in the project filing cabinet, never to be seen again (and where the lessons will quickly get forgotten)? Not feeling quite so self-satisfied now, hmmm?!
As Forrest Gump put it, “Stupid is as stupid does.”
If you’re forever repeating the errors of prior experience, then go figure… So here’s my tip if you don’t want to repeat the failures of before.
Don’t do a “Lessons Learned” session at the end of a project.
(Pauses for a moment to allow the gasps of shock and indignation to pass...)
I suggest incorporating a “Long Hard Look” exercise at the start of a project phase as part of project initiation and planning.
These sessions should involve a focussed sub-group comprising of key stakeholders and the project team and will focus on answering three key questions:
- NEW OPPORTUNITIES: What should we start doing that we currently don’t do?
- INHIBITORS TO SUCCESS: What are we currently doing that should we stop doing?
- SUSTAINED SUCCESS: What are we currently doing well that we should keep doing?
You then need to build the learning points from the “Long Hard Look” into your project principles and approach. This will help you to create the manifesto or statement of intent that will drive the overall project team towards as successful outcome. (See also Jim Harris’s excellent article, “Data Governance, Commander’s Intent and Semper Gumby,” for more on this).
Regular “Short Hard Look” health-checks during project progress are also a good way of ensuring that the project remains on track to meet its outcomes…