Lessons NOT Learned!

Two story outhouseHave you ever noticed that the topics raised at project post mortems tend to be pretty much the same every project? It’s deja vu all over again!  How many times can we “learn” that goals were unclear, or communication sucked, or late changes to the requirements caused quality issues in the shipping product, and on and on. In fact, the same things happen so frequently that one web site actually offers a post-mortem survey. You can just give your team the survey and they can check off the things that happened . . . AGAIN. No need to analyze too deeply, all of the usual suspects are there. Check out the Project Connections web site for this survey. Membership is free, as are some of the templates. Premium membership is only $149 a year, and you can try it free for 15 days. The Lessons Learned Survey is free to basic (non-paying) members. Since it always seems to be the same “lessons”, I’ve started doing lessons learned at the beginning of the project and then managing the project to assure that these problems don’t occur . . . AGAIN! After all, who wants to make the same old boring mistakes over and over? I much prefer making new and more interesting mistakes.

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2 thoughts on “Lessons NOT Learned!”

  1. Question: what causes organizations to not learn?

    Here we have a curious observation–the same team can make the same mistakes over and over again. Why, and what can be done?

    Here’s my take—it has to do with the underlying organizational dynamic.

    Ever heard this one? “Products always ship 3 months later than originally planned.”

    Although everyone on the team knows that that’s going to happen from day one, perhaps a key conversation between the product’s GM and the division’s VP never happens.

    The VP sets an aggressive date, and although it doesn’t seem like it, he’s open to push back. But the GM decides it’s safer to play along than to challenge his boss.

    Or what about this: the VP won’t accept the real ship date, so after several unsuccessful attempts at pushing back, the GM gives in and says what he knows is the “right” answer.

    Or perhaps everyone damn well knows it’ll be late, but they all play along because it’s more comfortable than facing the reality, and having challenging conversations.

    This dynamic reminds me of a situation I saw in college. My girlfriend at the time would routinely tell her mother that she was at the library, when in fact she was at my place.

    I think her mother knew the reality, but for her it was easier to live in denial, than to have challenging conversations about control and honesty.

    So what can be done? Face the reality in these two ways:

    1. Ask yourself these questions:
    “Who isn’t facing the reality?”
    “Why?”
    “Am I somehow a part of this?”

    2. Initiate one on one conversations with key people about what you see going on. Do they see the pattern? What do they think? What pressure are they under to hold to the unrealistic dates? If nothing else, it can enrich your understanding of what’s going on—there could be a bigger picture.

    That’s my take on a key underlying dynamic that perpetuates late schedules.
    What’s your take?

  2. Lessons are not learned because the organization does not value learning lessons. In other words, the cost of repeating a mistake is less than the benefit (rewards) of solving the same problem yet again. Many organizations value fire fighting over good planning and project management. So why learn from previous mistakes? Actually, we do. When the problems happen again, we know how to solve them (we did it before) so we can quickly get to the reward. A bit cynical, I know, but maybe a touch of truth?

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