Lessons Learned: Why You’d Better

Did you know that lessons learned during a project can be an enormously useful tool for your future projects? Well, I am here to tell you that they are, and here is an example. About a year ago, I was asked to work on a project where my team had to inventory IT equipment at a fairly large amount of sites. I had never done this type of project before but was more than willing to take it on. I had a single team member at the start and he seemed competent, confident, and ready to go.

We started out with a few test sites in which we were able to visit three sites in a single, albeit long, afternoon. My team member and I invited two other guys to accompany us to these sites just to make sure we knew what we were going to need to gather. Everyone understood that the product of this project was going to be an input to a much larger, more significant project a few months later. We were able to gather the data fairly quickly and even brainstormed a few ways to make the process faster, and of course, repeatable. We were good to go … so I thought.

$15,000 in travel and 700 hours of contract labor later, the end product was a spreadsheet containing approximately 1/3 of the data we were expecting. Oh, we also lost months of schedule. OUCH!

Now, we had a transition project starting that was the consumer of the data that the inventory project was to provide. So what went wrong?

1. I did not give the resource enough input to the schedule. I Googled the routes and gave them to him.
2. I did not allow time for any hiccups. I did not take into account the fact that using GPS coordinates does not translate into accurate directions.
3. I did not take into account communication with the sites prior to the visits which made for more than a few access and security incidents.

All of that is a massive recipe for failure, and fail, it did.

But after we looked at what all went wrong, we were able to make up that time during the next phase and not lose any ground. In fact, we finished early!

So, what did we do? We looked at all of the failures from the inventory phase and asked ourselves why they went wrong and how can we do it better. Some of the questions were tough as the answers pointed at the project manager on more than one occasion. As a result of these questions, and of the answers, I engaged the project team more as well as the sites. Everyone had a voice and everyone was on the same page.

Looking at the lessons you learned in previous projects allows you to use hindsight to fuel foresight? Don’t let previous failures be failures. Use those mishaps to your advantage. Turn those failures into success! Remember, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Don’t repeat the failures of the past.

How do you use lessons learned? I’d love to hear your victory tales.