Monday, May 19, 2008

Lessons Learned

Within the project world, somewhere before you shut down a project, you should have a least one lessons learned session, where you capture items that have been learned from the project. This is something that can and should be applied in other areas of your life as well. The lessons that you learn in life are a big part of your never ending life’s education. Your own life is probably full of them, things that you have learned from experience. They can be as simple as don’t cross the street before looking both ways.

A famous quote once went (before being “modified” by a recent president) “Fool me once, same on you, but fool me twice, shame on me”. So while it is human to make mistakes and it is even expected that you’ll make lots of mistakes in your life, you should avoid to keep making the same mistakes. One version of Hell, must be a person doomed to eternally making the same mistake(s), realizing that they’re making the mistake and doing it anyways.

Within the project word, you try to get key project members together for at least one session where they discuss lessons learned from the project. This doesn’t have to be negative, it can be positive lessons or things that we did right that we should do again. Some projects do periodic sessions to make sure that they capture more of the lessons and that they can apply them before the project is over. Discussing and communicating lessons learned is all that more important in those big projects/programs where communication can be an issue, certainly efforts need to be made to make sure that the left side knows what the right side is doing, the more people involved the more likely it is that someone has learned a lesson worth sharing. It is most certainly a crime when a project makes the same mistake twice (or continues to make the same mistakes) because lessons weren’t learned or communicated. Often times projects/programs and companies keep reinventing the wheel when they don’t need to (and it isn’t one of their deliverables)! I have thought for several years now that every company should create a lessons learned database that is highly visible within their company. While it might not need to be right on their intranet homepage, there should be a highly visible link to it from there. Everyone in the company should be able to see the lessons learned by projects in the past so that they can avoid making the same mistakes. Within the operations and ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) they will often already make use of a Know Errors database, companies might also consider that their employees have read access to this as well. Maybe a wiki might serve this purpose, but the point is that the information is easily accessible and can be leveraged by your company.

Within your work and personal life, you should be recording your lessons learned. If you’re working on some project or activity, before you walk away from it, never to look back, do your own review. Ask yourself…

· What did I do right? You’re looking for things that are repeatable in other contexts. You do want to keep in mind that you’re not writing a manual (that could be goal of a different activity).

· What went wrong? Please remember this is not an exercise aimed at placing blame. This is only to identify where things could be done differently if given similar enough circumstances.

· What can I, or should I, do differently next time? If it seems like there a lot of ideas for one item, you might want to think about have a brainstorming session (where the goal is to list as many ideas as possible without judgment and they’re evaluated separately so that innovative ideas aren’t discounted or dismissed)

This is a really good exercise, especially if you have experienced failure in something you attempted or did. It can help you to receive some closure and to move on. Before wrapping up your session, you might ask other people whose opinions you value, how they have handled similar circumstances or what they might have done in your shoes. You might just be surprised to see how many other people have faced similar circumstances.

After you have recorded your lessons learned, don’t horde your knowledge and experiences, be willing to share. You might be able to share this with other family and friends. Maybe you can share it with colleagues at your company or within your industry. You might even think about being a mentor and sharing it that way. I think that it is really tragic that mankind can’t harness the knowledge of our species, so that we don’t keep making the same mistakes. Certainly some things we all have to learn for ourselves, but there are so many others where we could benefit from someone else’s lessons learned.

So next time you’re getting ready to end an activity or project and you think that there are some things that could be learned from it, why not do your own lessons learned session? Have you made use of lessons learned?If you have any other comments, I’d love to hear them. If you liked this article, please consider subscribing to the blog via RSS or email, share it on or on Digg and pass it on to anyone that you think might appreciate it. Thank you. :)

On Deck…

I’ll be publishing posts about…

  • The next in my series of weight loss strategies
  • My next Spotlight on the web.
  • More on productivity, web 2.0, social networking, family, parenting, health, and other things that you can use.

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