First time’s a mistake… The value of lessons learned

In my best Max Bygraves’ voice, “I wanna tell you a story”. About 25 years ago, yes I know I don’t look old enough, I was an Officer Cadet in the Territorial Army. One evening during the OC’s (Officer Commanding) leaving exercise, I was taken under the wing of the OC, partook heavily of the falling over water and ended up not going to bed til 4am in the morning; fabulous you might think…yes I would agree, if I hadn’t got to get up at 6am for PT and a day’s exercise. Making the most of my new found priviledges (so I thought), I duly got up at 6, grabbed my bedding and moved into the Officers’ Mess to resume my slumber, oh yes! Unfortunately, my plan was short lived, I was rudely awoken and summoned to see the SSM (Squadron Sergeant Major) who politely reminded me that I was little more than a private soldier, had not earned the right to lie ins; suitably chastised, I got dressed in my PT kit and joined the rest of the squadron (minus Officers) for PT. You may be asking yourself where this is going? One of the things he said to me that day, has stayed with me ever since; Whilst pointing out the error of my ways, he recognised that I was still ‘wet behind the ears’ and said “The first time is a mistake, the second time is a habit”. A lesson that has stuck with me ever since.

lessons learned

How does this apply to you?

During a conversation on Twitter, I was talking to a business acquaintance of mine. As is the norm we exchanged pleasantries and he went on to say that he was very busy but the plans he’d made were being disrupted by issues that were cropping up on existing jobs. It sparked a few questions in me. I asked “Was the stuff that took over foreseeable? What have you done with it i.e lessons learned?“. The questions were well received and prompted some thought.

The questions to you…

  1. When you are planning a project, how often to you give yourself the time to consider the potential risks, things that could go wrong based on the lessons learned from prior projects?
  2. If so, how do you assess the severity of them and what countermeasures/actions can be put in place to eliminate or minimise the impact of them?
  3. At key points in the project or at project completion, how do you assess the progress of the project and capture the lessons learned?
  4. How do you then update your planning or operational procedures to avoid the repetition of them as a result of those lessons learned?
  5. What would the impact be on your costs, quality and on-time delivery of your projects?

In the quest for continuous improvement of profitability, delivery quality and on-time delivery eliminating risks or having countermeasures in place can be a significant tool in your armoury; lessons learned is a very useful technique to assist in this… Lessons learned should not focus just on the things gone wrong, it is just as valid to capture the things gone right, the successes so that these can be replicated in future projects.

As Mr Smart said to me

The first time is a mistake, the second time is a habit

If you have any thoughts or things you would like to share, please comment on the post.

If you want to find out more about lessons learned or failure mode avoidance techniques please contact me