Yesterday I made a potato salad. It wasn’t the first time I’d made it, but it was one of the better ones I had created. Why? Because I did something different. I added olives and smashed the potatoes a bit more than usual, giving the salad a creamier texture and more aromatic flavor. I had never done either of those things before. According to my notes, my last attempt was fairly average and uninspiring. I wrote that it needed a bit of a kick. So this time, I decided to try adding the olives. There were no leftovers, so it must be getting better. Still, I wouldn’t say it’s good enough to be a standard recipe quite yet.
Cooking is a great way to start using lessons learned diagnosis in your everyday routine. To do this assessment, you analyze your performance by answering questions that capture what went well and how results could be improved. It doesn’t matter if everything came out better or worse than expected. To grow, you need to understand where you have been and choose some steps for moving forward. The advantage of doing this kind of in-depth analysis is that the time invested in doing deep reflection generally leads to better results the next time around. You can do this regardless of how big or small, personal, or professional the project is. Getting a chance to understand the shortcomings and appreciate your successes will decrease the possibility of repeating failures and increase the odds of duplicating successes.
Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.
Doing a lessons learned exercise may seem laborious. If you’ve had a difficult time or outright failed, you may want to move on from that bad experience quickly. However, taking a bird’s eye view will help you to comprehend shortcomings and capitalize on incremental improvement. When you have success, celebrate; but also analyze why you were successful and how you can repeat that going forward. Taking some time to deconstruct your success is just as important as evaluating when you fail. Nothing is ever done100% correctly or incorrectly.
Discontent is the first necessity of progress.
— Thomas A. Edison
Here is a list of questions focused on success, challenges, and growth that you can use to self-evaluate and improve your future results. While you do not need to use all of them, getting in the habit of doing the lessons learned exercise, even for a few minutes, will help you to quantify your development and visualize greater success.
Focus on Success
- What went well?
- What were the factors that led to success?
- How can those be replicated in the future?
- How could I get better at that next time?
- When could I attempt that again?
- Who made contributions to your success?
- Have I thanked them?
Focus on Challenges
- What could I do better next time?
- What was a challenge I faced?
- How did I overcome it?
- What did I learn from that?
- Where did I miss the mark?
- How could that be mitigated in the future?
Focus on Growth
- Something I learned from this was…
- Something that surprised me was…
- From that, I learned…
- What was something new I attempted to meet a challenge?
- How did that go?
Whatever way you capture your answers, make sure you are able to access that information quickly and efficiently. Answering the questions above makes your analysis into a resource for solving problems in the future and recalling how you have met challenges in the past. Being proactive in considering your results will help you to avoid project amnesia and lead you to more success in the future.
My potato salad is almost good enough to standardize. Doing lessons learned analysis the next few times I make it, I’m sure that it won’t take too many more attempts before I have a winning recipe to share with future generations.
So whether you are cooking a meal or creating a new solution for a client, lessons learned is a great tool to keep improving on your results.
Using simple language like, “How are you today?” or “Looks like you’ve had a busy day,” are simple gambits that often lead engaging conversations.