Lessons Learned

When is a lesson really learned? Do you find yourself using the phrase and repeating the mistake? I do. I need to be more observant and reflective both during and after a project.

Why do I do it. Why can’t I learn the lesson? This generally happens for one of two reasons: I felt the sting but didn’t actually look for the source or I assigned the need for correction to the problem not myself.

The first one is easy to explain. If it hurts, I know it hurts and I want that to stop so I say “I get it! Now let’s move on. Lesson learned. I won’t do that again.” But THAT is never defined as an action or a strategy (source) it is defined as the pain. Now this may sound very personal and nothing to do with business; but if we stop for minute and think about the last failure we experienced in a client or team setting it won’t take long to find an example where we just wanted to move on and forgot to really examine the failure point and change our standard approach.

The second is more nuanced. I also have found myself on the team with problems, but determined that the issue wasn’t my failure. In those cases, I have nothing to fix, right? Wrong. There is a lesson to be learned from being a party to a problem even if you are not a part of it. The lesson is to look out for that thing in future efforts and correct early. We rarely work alone these days and just because one person’s poor or hasty decision caused the issue this time around doesn’t mean that they are the only one responsible if it happens again or with a different team.

The best solution to both of these is sometimes referred to as Post Mortem analysis. In many of my clients’ industries that is not a well-regarded term (healthcare professionals and administrators frown upon use of death language), so we can just call it “project aftercare”.

  • What happened?
  • What didn’t work?
  • Why?
  • Next time that happens or we reach this decision point, what should we/shouldn’t we do? Don’t be too rigid here. Just some alternatives that were perhaps discussed. When you work the next project that has this issue, the circumstance may be perfect for the failed solution to work. This isn’t about never doing it again, it is about learning the lesson to pause and consider.
  • Where does our collected learning live? This one also needs discussion. It isn’t the same group every time and lessons shouldn’t be personal; so where can we collect project knowledge in the PMO?

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