Sometimes it is amazing how little we learn from our prior mistakes. I have worked on projects that are just like projects we did before, and yet we don’t check past success, and we fail to learn. I feel like I am trapped in the movie Groundhog Day repeating myself again and again with no doubt the same outcome. I go through this at work and at home.
Each spring I battle to save the bunnies. I live in a suburb, no major woods behind me, and no giant fields of chrysanthemums or carrots in the backyard. In fact my backyard is a fairly steep, terraced lot that is resident to a very large 90 pound dog. Even given the lack of amenities I am amazed to find that every year we have at least one, if not two, bunnies who decide to make the backyard their nesting ground. Each year I am stunned by their tenacity and outright disregard for the happenings of the prior year. I spend hours relocating the bunny nest to an area OUTSIDE of the fence area and making sure that momma bunny finds her babies and takes care of them. If she just took the time to think back to the last year and the entire relocation effort and probable panic over coming home and finding her babies gone and then discovering them in an alternative location, you would think she wouldn’t repeat the same pattern.
Then again, you would think any team would not repeat the same mistakes and blunders of the past. Documentation is there to be reviewed, team members were around the first time we tripped, and yet we throw ourselves into a project and focus forward on the goal, the deadline, completing the work. Taking the time to look retrospectively and analyze the success and failure of the past could potentially save time, cost, and improve our schedule performance.
So why do we not focus on the past? Is it because we are culturally rather than historically focused? Because we lack documentation and easy tools to gain the insight we need? Because we are just ignorant of the fact that it would help to know what has worked before?
Realistically it is just a habit, a bad habit, which we need to consciously make the decision to break. Project managers are a group of individuals who are supposed to be in charge, to lead, and to be decisive in their actions. In some ways the act of saying “I don’t know,” which is implied by turning to past projects for answers and insights may be counter to our nature altogether. Just like we focus on communication plans, stakeholder analysis, and building an accurate work breakdown structure; we need to focus on learning first and action second.
I believe that if we assigned ourselves the activity of research and analysis, for a percentage of the initiation phase of our project (that way for large projects we spend more time, for small projects, less time) we would find ourselves more successful. We would also start recognizing the value of these lessons learned and perhaps as our projects reach the closure phase we would be more inclined to spend some time documenting our own success and failure because we would understand how it could positively influence future project work. All too often the closure phase of a project entails ending contracts, releasing resources, and moving to the next piece of work. If only I could get the bunnies to move on to their next piece of work… next door!