Instead of scrutinising the past, we should regularly identify avenues for improvement and apply them quickly.
Those who study project management become quickly aware of the importance of lessons learned. Considerable emphasis is placed on the possibility for a company to learn from its mistakes so that it manages projects better in the future. Unfortunately, this exercise is often carried out at the end of a project, when it is likely that the team will have already been reassigned to new projects. Moreover, a project being by definition a unique experience, most of the good ideas cannot be applied as they are. All we’ll be left with is a nice project report, nothing more.
I prefer a more dynamic, tangible approach such as Scrum.
According to this approach, at least every four weeks we need to assess what should be improved in the team’s way of working. We project ourselves into the future with real ideas that can be quickly be tested. The past is used to identify areas for improvement, but we do not linger there longer than necessary.
This is a simple approach:
First identity the facts – What can we improve today or tomorrow to achieve our goals? Don’t lose too much time repeating who did what and why. What matters are the avenues for improvement.
Identify actions to improve and choose one to apply immediately
Carry out this action
Assess the outcome
Start over under Step 1
This is like the PDCA process (Plan Do Control Act) used in many management methods and in quality assurance.
Here is a real-life example:
The facts: Koud cannot finish his tasks on time because another project is taking more time than expected.
The avenues for improvement are:
Discuss with the manager of the second project
Help Koud realise that he is spending too much time on one project at the expense of the other one
Encourage Koud to refuse a task if the expected time exceeds his availability
Add resources to one project or the other
Let’s assume that the second idea is retained.
Before accepting an additional task, Koud will make sure he has enough time to achieve what he has already committed to do. The hourly reporting system will be used to give him real-time information.
Implementation of the idea during a week.
Assessment: After a week, the situation has improved but it is difficult for Koud to say no to his colleagues from the other team.
Return to Step 1 and 2: we decide to discuss with the manager of the other project to explain the chosen way of working and ask for his or her support.
In this approach, we did not lose time asking ourselves why Koud found himself in this situation. The focus was on finding solutions. Past was deemed present as the team looked for solutions. It was however not scrutinized to the point of being described item by item. In addition to saving time, this approach prevents teams from going on the defensive, thus leading to a more positive atmosphere. Moreover, by reviewing early on, we can immediately apply ideas for improvement rather than dropping them and moving on to another project.
What about you ? Do you have similar or different experiences? Let me know, I'll be happy to discuss it with you!
Artwork : Mélanie Bénard Tremblay, 2019, © Marakoudja.