Apples, lawn mowers and eggs
Have you got the sort of brain that makes you want to peel and apple in one long strip, or to optimise your lawn mowing by always moving forward – never pulling the lawn mower backwards, or cracking an egg with one hand while getting the next egg out of the carton. Yeah, that’s me. How can I do it better? What can I change to make the process more interesting, faster, or more effective?
Evolution and organisations
At a macro level, an organisation is a living organism. It’s a mass of people, activity and conversations. Like a person, an organisation grows and develops on the basis of learning, acquiring knowledge and experience. That’s learning something new, something old, something borrowed and something – well you know the rest. Without change, there is no movement, no growth and no evolution. There is very little life on earth today that has not had to evolve to sustain itself. Some of the evolution is physical, and some is cultural. An organisation is no different.
One of the key ways to learn is to review the way you do things and make change in preference for new and improved systems. This needs to happen at an individual, team, business unit and organisational level. This is survival. Survival of the fittest in business is all about adaptability and adaptability requires evolution. There should always be a buzz of activity that viewed at a macro level could be seen as a gradual shift in the appearance or even the essence of the organisation – the culture.
Quality Assurance – Gotta Love it
Many years ago in a distant place and time I had a role as a Quality Assurance Manager. That’s a tough gig. Apologies to all you QA managers out there, you know we love you, but it’s like telling people you’re a librarian. You know what, I really liked that job, I actually did. I believed in it, which is always an advantage unless you’re a great actor? Anyway, the point is, Quality is a critically important part of any organisation. In many ways it’s the backbone. Takeaway the backbone and your left with a slightly unpleasant looking pool of ah….stuff… on the ground.
Quality assurance is about setting a baseline, essentially a minimum standard. Minimum doesn’t mean poor by the way, if that’s what your thinking. Your minimum may be a high standard. It’s about delivering what you said you would, and later determining what went well, what didn’t, and what can be taken from the experience to modify or re-engineer processes in order to continuously improve. Yep, that’s right, to adapt and evolve.
Quality – why wouldn’t you?
A Quality system used properly makes so much sense. Work out how to do something well, make sure you always do it that way, by auditing your actual processes and then keeping an eye out for how to do it even better.
So here’s the lesson
The whole review, lessons learnt process is a big part of quality. In many ways it’s the self-audit of your process, your project, your service. It’s critical to continual improvement and you know what else, it’s critical for employee engagement. Whether they say so or not, your average Joe or Josephine, wants to work in the best organisation they can, they want to provide good service and they want to talk about how things have gone (preferably well). Quality assurance is the driver of continual improvement. The lessons learnt process should be a facilitated process that allows all people to come to the table and give their opinion on performance. If not, you risk missing vital opportunities.
I just cannot be bothered
Most people shy away from lessons learnt because frankly it feels like just more work you have to tack on to the end of that project and often at a time when you feel like you’re done and dusted on that one and you couldn’t care less if you never saw its ugly face ever again. Good riddance. Can we just look at something new, start again?
But lessons left, are lessons lost. They can be the golden opportunity that passes you by. Handed to you on a platter, the opportunity to make your life easier, more interesting and satisfying and you’re turning your nose up at it.
Lessons Learned Tips
Let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start
At the start of the project you should know what the key performance indicators are and they should reflect the desired outcomes of the process. Knowing what they are, measuring them regularly and reviewing either their shortfalls or their success is critical to continual improvement (evolution). Understanding why you didn’t achieve them or exceeded them, is the process of lessons learnt.
And lessons learnt doesn’t have to be the last thing you do on a project. Great management includes starting a project or task with reviewing what you did well on the last project. What were the lessons learnt and what did we incorporate into or alter in our processes as a result and what should we therefore be aware of when we head off on this next project journey?
It’s mine. No it’s mine. Now come on let’s share
All lessons learnt should become the highly valued property of the whole organisation. Too often, pockets of organisation far outperform others. They guard the secrets to performance improvement jealously within their circle of trust, or it simply just doesn’t occur to them they need to spread the love.
Ongoing reviews and issues lists
On a large software/hardware upgrade and installation project I managed a few years ago, we carefully ran an issues list. Against each issue or opportunity was an action, a responsible person and a delivery date for the action. It was a simple process and as a team we reviewed this at regular intervals. This way, no issue was swept under the carpet or disappeared somewhere in time or space. Subsequently no opportunity was lost. A data base like this should be accessible to as many people as possible. It’s a knowledge repository.
Ownership and accountability
It’s critical that a person is nominated to take ownership over issues and opportunities and they are accountable for tracking the progress of their review, development and implementation and they report back to the project team.
For a fresh perspective – expose yourself
Why not bring in someone from another team, or completely unrelated discipline as a matter of course, to provide a fresh perspective on what you’re doing and to spark ideas. This is an effective and efficient way to cross- functionally pollinate as well.
Change management becomes absolutely critical. Picture a changed procedure buried deep in the archaeological layers of your quality system, never to see the light of day. Or perhaps communicated without explaining the reasons and values of the change to the recipients. Do you think this is up for a quick adoption? I think not.
Wherever possible, changes and improvements should be aligned with a company’s overall strategies. For example, a change may be made that focusses on the delivery of excellent customer service, a zero tolerance safety strategy, or a particular people related value. This will carry more weight and give the team greater context for the change.
A learning culture
First up, you need to be developing a culture of learning and continual improvement. If you, your boss, your team or your colleagues don’t have a burning desire to continuously improve the way you’re doing things, then ask why not and get down to Kmart quick smart and buy one. If there are no lessons learnt going on in your workplace, then ask yourself the question, do we really have a continual improvement culture?
Leave no stone unturned
If you learned something, and you have a devised a way forward, then for goodness sake implement the change. It doesn’t take long to disengage staff from the process if there is no follow through.
Not just another meeting please.
Make lessons learnt meetings positive and effective. Be well prepared with an agenda, objectives and all the information, data, issues and opportunities lists etc. to really kick some goals.
Cast not the blame
Keep your hands in your pockets, sit on them or wear mittens. Pointing the finger, assigning blame in a condescending manner but with a sympathetic face and or being really subjective is a recipe for a certain asphyxiation of potential outcomes.
Get the size right, it counts.
Matching the size of the lessons learnt process to the size and scale of the project is critical of course. Let’s not have a 3-day conference in the Bahamas to discuss that $20K project and let’s not send an email for a multi-million dollar gig.
Finally you say – That’s a wrap
Every day we all learn something new and we subtly change and evolve how we behave:
- “that route’s always congested, I’ll take a new one, or change the time of day I travel”;
- “I don’t like the taste of that, won’t choose witchetty grub soup next time, I’ll take escargot it sounds sophisticated, it’s French, must be good”; or
- “That person likes my jokes so much they called me Dad, I’ll keep a little gem up my sleeve for our next meeting”.
We conduct an unconscious lessons learnt over and over every day. I am just suggesting we are disciplined in our use of this very natural process in the workplace to do things better.
Good luck and would love to read your thoughts in the comments below.