Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Where Do You Keep Your Lessons Learned?

I'll never forget a conversation I had with a client one day. It was just before we were both going to make a presentation of assessment findings and recommendations to senior management.

I asked her if she felt senior management would be willing to take action on the recommendations. "Oh yes," she said. "They don't want another Project X (fictitious name) to happen." I realized I had missed something in my interviews.

"Project X?" I asked.

"Yes, it went over budget by $1 million dollars and was a big black eye on our company," she said.

"Why was that?"

"Lack of solid test practices, people not communicating well....all the thing you have there in your PowerPoint deck," she said.

This got me thinking about something we all know and discuss, namely, "lessons learned." We mention them as if they are in a book like the President's Book of Secrets.

However, I think that is seldom the case.

My belief is that most of the lessons learned are in people's heads, which makes sense. So are requirements, test criteria and a lot of other things. Not a great storage method, but it is reality for many.

I'm not even proposing there should be a book of lessons learned. However, I think they should be reflected in practices, processes, systems, whatever you use to guide work.

One thing  I have found inexpensive and effective is a team knowledgebase. Whether it be a wiki or some other method, at least it is accessible.

Of course, I must also mention the evil twin of lessons learned, "lessons not learned." This one is painful and we all are well-acquainted with it. Imagine the Homer Simpson facepalm and you have it.

It is frustrating because then we are left asking "Why don't we learn from the hard knocks?"

Here is my short list of reasons:

1. Lack of reflection - We don't regroup and reflect after a major event, so we never identify the key learnings, even as individuals.

2. The pain is not great enough - It's like "death by a thousand paper cuts" so we ignore the event and move on. I have often said that there is nothing like a good disaster to get management's attention.

3. Lack of leadership - A good leader and coach knows how to remind the team "Don't do that!"without being a jerk. Good leaders also knows how to fix the process to prevent the mistakes from happening again.

4. Short memories - Time can heal a lot of wounds. Five years from now, Project X, might not seem so bad. However, a new Project X could be devastating. Remember when we blew up the moon (just kidding!)?

By the way, the lessons learned don't have to be your own. In sifting through the rubble of the Moore tornado, I have found several pictures I have turned into the picture lost and found effort. Hopefully, they will be reunited with their owners.

I am now on a mission to take digital pictures of all my prints, DVD copies of all videos and put them in a bank storage box, just in case. I am taking a video of all our personal property "just in case." Oh, and I'm also working on getting a storm shelter installed. Two F5 tornadoes close by in 14 years are too many for me!

I would like to hear how you and your team handles "lessons learned." Leave a comment and let me know.




Kishore said...

We used to add/update a) checklists b) template documents based on lessons learned. This used to help preventing similar errors.

Randall Rice said...

Hi Kishore,

Thanks for your comment. I agree that ultimately that is where the lessons learned should be reflected. I often call this the "missing feedback loop" from testing - failure to create new tests from defects.