So, going with the majority, let’s say your project has failed somehow. It may have finished over budget. It may have gone way off the timeline. It may have delivered a non-working solution for the end user. Or it may have been canceled altogether in midstream either by the customer or your own organization. At any rate, you have a project that failed to some degree and likely a frustrated customer, displeased senior management team, and a staff of project professionals that think they wasted the last 6 months to one year of their professional lives.
What do you do to rebound from that and to help others on your team rebound from that experience? And what do you do to help ensure that next time isn’t a repeat performance of this project? For one thing, we do not bury our heads in the sand or try to sweep it under the rug. That which does not kill us makes us stronger, right? Let’s learn from the past – learn from our failures and the failures of our projects so as not to repeat those same failures again and again.
Here are three key steps to take to help ensure that going forward we realize greater successes on our future projects:
#1 – Have open communication with your team on issues
Whether it’s your own budget concerns, morale issues, or rogue behaviors of a team member – make sure you discuss concerns. If appropriate, do it one on one, but for most project discussions, conduct them as a cohesive team. The more everyone is in the loop as a team the more everyone can help to rectify issues before they get out of hand.
This applies both during a project – especially a troubled one – and after the project to learn, as a team, what everyone considers to be the issues that negatively impacted the project. Consider it somewhat of a pre-lessons learned exercise. Take this information forward as you prepare to meet with your customer post-project to conduct lessons learned sessions.
#2 – Take issues to your customer early
Be sure to take any issues that arise to your customer as early as possible. If you need to discuss first with your team – as you should anyway for planning purposes – by all means do so. And if you need to discuss with your executive management to make sure they are aware and are backing you, then you should do that as well.
Always remember that the project is for your customer. They’re paying for it so they definitely have a stake in its success. They do not want you to fail – so get their buy-in and aid on issues and issue resolution. Put them to work. Build a two-sided cohesive team with the your team and the customer’s team and you’ll greatly increase your chances of project success.
#3 – Conduct lessons learned sessions
I’m in the middle of conducting the June PM survey on Managing the Project. One of the questions concerns how often do we conduct lessons learned sessions. It’s still early in the survey process, but sadly the results are not looking good. So far nearly half of the responders are stating that they conduct lesson learned sessions 0-10% of the time. Several have emphatically stated that they have never conducted lessons learned sessions.
What that tells me is that we are doing a poor job of figuring out what went wrong and brainstorming with our team and our customer as to how we can do it right next time. How can we ever fully get it right next time if we fail to figure out – or even want to figure out – what actually went wrong this time? If we don’t identify what went wrong then future successes may just be out of pure luck.
Conducting thorough lessons learned sessions with our team and our customer will help us rebound from our failed projects with new knowledge on how and why we failed and how to prevent that the next time around. After all, there are often some degrees of similarity in the projects we manage and learning valuable lessons about our failures can help us to succeed next time with flying colors.