I was contacted by a gentleman from Investor’s Business Daily in regards to a post I had done a while back on lessons learned. Here’s a brief article he wrote in which I am quoted.
Just Made A Huge Mistake? 7 Ways To Learn From It
BY MOREY STETTNER, FOR INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY
Risk-taking leaders often tell staffers, “We won’t learn anything unless we try.” But there’s a right and wrong way to learn from experience.
Ideally, you show your team how to calmly pick apart recent events with an eye on extracting valuable lessons for the future. Everyone focuses on how to do better next time, not how certain people screwed up this time. The goal: Gain knowledge, not assign blame.
But when identifying lessons learned, it’s easy to let biases or expectations interfere. You may reject comments or conclusions that clash with your preconceived notions — or claim that an apparently big mistake on your end really played a minor role in a project’s failure.
So, to learn the most valuable lessons from a just-completed project:
Promote Openness To Learn From Experience
You can stage a well-orchestrated lessons-learned exercise. But if the participants feel self-conscious or fretful about their job security, they may stay mum.
“Before you ask people to share lessons, you have to create a culture where they feel safe about being honest,” said Margaret Meloni, a project management consultant in Long Beach, Calif. “Real lessons learned aren’t politically safe. If you haven’t built trust, then they’ll say the safest thing possible.”
Some of the quietest or least visible employees may share the most intelligent, piercing observations. The best leaders insist on hearing from easy-to-overlook underlings, rather than giving them a pass.
“Some people don’t show up at meetings and say later, ‘Oh, I forgot,’ ” Meloni said. “Or they’ll show up but not participate.” Seek out these individuals and gently but firmly encourage them to open up.
Enlist An Outsider
Bring in a third party to host a lessons-learned discussion if you’re concerned that workers won’t feel comfortable leveling with their supervisor. In highly politicized organizations, employees tend to shut down when their boss says, “Tell me what you think went right and wrong with our project.”
“Whether it’s a neutral insider or a trusted outsider, you want everyone to feel safe,” Meloni said.
Depersonalize The Discussion
Participants are more apt to speak freely if they all agree to avoid pointing fingers. Coach everyone to assess what happened without lacing the analysis with harsh judgments.
“Encourage positive language,” Meloni said. Instead of saying, “Chris shouldn’t have taken time off,” say, “Let’s change our time-off policy.”
Learn From Experience: Keep It Short
When conducting a post-mortem, gather all relevant players in a room for no longer than two hours, says Jim Stewart, co-author of “How To Facilitate Productive Planning Meetings.” If the session lasts more than two hours, people get antsy and attention wanes.
Ask Three Questions
Keep the agenda simple by alerting everyone you’re going to pose three questions related to the project: What went well? What didn’t go well? What can we do better in the future?
“Let people know ahead of time that you’ll be asking these three questions,” said Stewart, a project consultant in Burlington, Mass. “If everyone does pre-work and comes prepared, you can get to the point quickly,” and emphasize what matters most.
To learn more, dig below the surface. Apply the “five whys” technique (who, what, where, when and why) to examine what happened in more depth. For example, start by asking, “Why did this machine malfunction?” and the answer leads to the next “why” question.
“You’re starting with a broad question and narrowing it down each time,” Stewart said. “You go through the ‘five whys’ to isolate the root causes of the problem. It’s the 80/20 rule: 80% of the problems come from 20% of the causes.”