Its a phrase thrown out when you need to score some quick-- but cheap-- points with a prospective client. "Throughout the project we'll apply lessons learned..." We're hoping this makes us sounds introspective and efficient. Eh. Does it?
Reflecting back on some recent, personal lessons learned... As a runner, don't eat a yogurt found at the bottom of my computer bag before a 1/2 marathon. As a mother? Don't sprinkle carpet fresh on the rug in front of your toddler. As an impatient DIY-er obsessed with spray paint? Take the extra two minutes to find a couple sheets of newspaper or be forever reminded of the project when you pull into the driveway.
Our errors are almost always the byproduct of little decisions made in the moment that we think will save time or effort. In each case, the lesson learned is super specific and results from that seemingly small thing that caused pain (or acute inconvenience). The experience inspires a heartfelt, "I learned my lesson. I'll never do that again."
At work, the same applies. Most of us have the good sense to plan for and manage around the big stuff-- legislative requirements, updating our bosses (and their bosses), and projecting the appearance that our team is right for the job. But it's the little, daily decisions-- and they're infinite-- that pose the most risk. It'd be impossible to generalizing them in a way that's helpful.
As an alternative, we can do two things to better navigate these little decisions and reduce the most painful, derailing lessons learned.
- The first is to establish project or division core values-- and not like the generic ones someone copied and pasted onto the agency or corporate website. Instead, these a handful of things held up as more important that everything else that inform and guide decisions. There should be no more than 3 and they might be something like inclusion, quality, and durability (intentionally leaving out things like efficiency or innovation or whatever isn't a top value).
- Develop a quick recovery process (or the project equivalent of "stop, drop, and roll.") Everyone gets the urgency and takes action to fix the problem. You're overly worried about how you caught fire or who struck the match but you address the issue and move on.
Our real lessons learned are so number and so specific that they're not likely to really help someone else-- even someone in similar situation. Instead, we can offer a process to help steer and keeping moving forward.