Sunday, November 2, 2008

The difference between saying you're sorry and meaning it: Formalizing the lessons learned process

I just read a great post on the site, titled "Avoid the Same Old Mistakes by Focusing on Lessons Learned". The guest blogger is Duncan Haughly, and he writes about the importance of taking the time to review the good and bad of past projects and learn from them. He also discusses how organizations can create a culture "where people not only take the trouble to learn from past projects, but actually want to learn. A culture where we apply best practices and discard bad ones."

This is such an important idea, and he did a great job of outlining the key steps in making it happen successfully. Too many times you'll hear management say "Oh, that won't happen to us again, we'll do X or Y differently next time". Then the experience fades and months/years later the project team finds itself repeating the exact same mistakes. Steve McConnell in many of his books stresses the importance of reviewing lessons from past projects at the beginning of each new project. People might not always see the value in spending the time reviewing these important lessons, because as Derry Simmel says in the article that Duncan Haughly references, we're too much in a culture of 'let's go and get it done' and not 'let's make sure we plan properly and review lessons from the past before going forward with this new project'.

This reminded me of something I am going through now with my 4 year old. I should be grateful that atleast she is good at saying she is sorry for something, but what I am trying to get her to understand is that repeatedly saying sorry is ok, but making sure you think about what you did and the impact it had and try your best to not do it again is even better. It might be a lot for a 4 year old to fully understand, especially because many adults don't even get it.

So of course this whole idea is not just limited to software projects, it can apply to all areas of life. It's better to take the time to reflect on what was done right or wrong and learn from it than continue to repeat old mistakes.

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