Saturday, September 15, 2012

Leveraging Lessons Learned

Success = failure + failure + failure … Sounds familiar?

Leadership experts and management gurus have said enough about how failures lead to success. That is very true for the individuals when the respective person takes it in the right context and work on the causes of the failure to overcome it in the next opportunity. But how does this work in reality for the organization?
If you have been part of a project, which has failed to deliver the promised features on time or at the agreed cost, you are most likely out of that organization, as the management want to penalize those involved in it. In the process, the organization loses as it did not want to capitalize on the lessons learned by the team through the failed project and the new team that takes over might commit same or even different mistakes, which could again lead to failure. 
Agile projects are likely to fare better in this space as Agile project management calls for identifying things that went well and those did not went well at the end of every sprints. Here again the one question that remains to be answered is, how does the scrum master and the teams deal with the things that did not went well in the earlier sprint. Yet another question that needs to be answered is how open are the project team members in openly admitting their own errors and omissions, which could have adversely impacted the project. 
As far as the development teams, there are so much to be learnt on a daily basis, for example, the defects uncovered in unit testing, findings in the requirements, design and code reviews and even the project issues could lead to a great lesson to be learned by every other member of the team. 
Here are few ideas that will help the organization in leveraging the lessons learned by the teams through various errors, mistakes and omissions.
  • Mentor the teams to the effect that they demonstrate accountability and responsibility and that admitting a mistake early on is a good thing. The earlier, the triggers are known, it is better as other members of the team would stay away from committing the same mistakes.
  • Coach the teams to share, share and share with their peers and even across the teams. This can be accomplished by removing the mind blocks within the employees in admitting their own mistakes and they should be encouraged to share those for the good of themselves and the organization. It is the tendency of the employees that when they uncover any issues during unit testing and reviews, they would just fix it themselves and do not report it further.
  • Encourage teams to share their previous experiences every now and then and for sure there will be some takeaways from such experiences for some members of the team.
  • Bring in a culture within the organization which will discourage egos and emotions which are found to be the barriers for sharing.
  • Promote risk management and encourage every employee to participate in it. It is needless to say that every identified risk has the potential of becoming an issue and soon can come in way to prevent the project from being successful. Past experience and lessons learned is a great source of risk identification.
  • Above all, make the sharing the lessons easy by putting in place an appropriate knowledge base platform and train and encourage employees to use it.
Though the above ideas are more suitable for IT services organization, they can be practiced in any other organization as well with some tweaks.
Here is an interesting article to read on, where in Ken Bruss discusses about leveraging lessons learned for competitive advantage.