Learn Your Lesson well!

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

Any PM worth their salt spends a potentially painful but rewarding period at the end of the project doing a lessons learned review.  The more cynical refer to it as a Post-Mortem.  Regardless of the title, it is vital that you learn areas of improvement, new ways of tackling problems and personal improvements, but it is a process that is often misunderstood.

In my spare time I dabble in a bit of public speaking with my local Toastmasters club.  After every speech there is an evaluation.  The aims of the evaluation are simple – to let the speaker know how they have done and what they could do to improve next time.  An evaluation should always be balanced where possible, and contain at least two recommendations and at least two commendations.  By doing it this way, you (hopefully) feel positive and motivated but also with an understanding of where you can improve (and we can always improve!)

This is, to me, exactly the same thing as a project Lessons Learned review.  It is not all about the challenges and the failures.  It is about celebrating success, moving to the next project with your head held high knowing that you have learnt new skills, new problem solving techniques and areas you have improved on from the previous project.

The worst thing that a PM or Programme Manager can do is skip this critical part of the feedback cycle.  It is often done because senior managers feel that they will get poor feedback and that it will impact future career progression, but handled the right way can often be far more positive than negative.

Which brings me on to this week’s election.  As I write this, early Saturday morning, exactly 36 hours since the polls closed, it seems apparent that our Prime Minister has decided against learning lessons from her chastening experience at the ballot box – if anything she seems more resolutely determined to stick to the path previously trodden.

For a start, it would appear that the most senior Cabinet ministers are remaining in their posts (for the time being).  I understand the tried (and somewhat tested) mantra of “Strong and Stable” but it is the same old voices telling her the same advice that she had before the election.  This suggests that like the manager who is fearful of poor feedback, she has retreated back to the advisers who tell her what she wants to hear.  Normally, every speech at Toastmasters will have a different evaluator so you can get a range of opinions and views.

Secondly, unless I have missed it, there has been no acknowledgement that almost exactly 50% of the country has an opinion that does not match hers.  It seems that Mrs May has not understood one of the key issues that has undermined her plan –  only 50% of her “customers” are saying that they are satisfied with her approach.  If this was a product being sold on Amazon, it would be removed from the listings overnight and replaced by something more popular and marketable, something that would be recommended in an evaluation

If I were advising her, from one PM (Project Manager) to another PM (Prime Minister), I would recommend this:

Learn from the mistakes of the past and heed the recommendations of others.  Einstein knew what he was talking about.  Lessons Learned is as critical to a project as a Business Case or a PID… never treat it as a waste of time – it may save your career.