Overheard the other day, by the water cooler:
"...oh yes, I wrote a Lessons Learnt Report about that last year, but I don't suppose anyone read it, let alone used it, before they did the exact same project this year"
I think we can all admit to being familiar with this can't we? At the end of an event, or a project, or a delivery cycle, we write a Lessons Learnt Report, because we're supposed to. Because that's what the process is. Because we need to get a tick in the box. Because it's generally accepted to be a good idea.
It's not always obvious which is the best way to get from A to B - sometimes a straight line is best, sometimes it's not and sometimes we don't know. When we don't know, we weigh up the pros and cons, the risks and opportunities that each solution presents and we make a decision based on our experience and what we know now.
Most of the time we get it right, or nearly right, so that the end result is 'good enough'; sometimes we get it wrong, or we need to adjust along the way. Often we use more time, money or resource to get the end result than we would have done if we knew at the start what we know now. And because of all of this, we have decided that we should capture the key points where a poor decision was made or areas for innovation based on experience, so that they can be used in the future.
It's a great idea, because then we'll make good decisions next time and do things better, cheaper and faster. Except it doesn't usually happen like that. Why?
So what's the answer? Save ourselves the effort and stop doing them? Well, no, that's not what we think. There is value in the very writing of them - the author has to think about all the things that could have gone better and come up with some new ideas. This is an extremely valuable critical thinking exercise in itself. And when Lessons Learnt Reports are well written and then put somewhere where anyone can easily find them using keyword searches, then there's a good chance that they might get used.
I'm looking forward to overhearing this conversation:
"I'm in the process of planning my project and I've just read Geoff's Lessons Learnt from last year. It was so useful, probably saved me weeks and the company thousands. I'm a convert!"
Managing Consultant, CITI Limited