Experience is the best teacher.

Learn from other people’s mistakes. 

You might have heard many pithy quotes from your parents when you were young.

I’ll add another.

Don’t ride your bike off a cliff.

In The Berenstain Bears story The Bike Lesson, Small Bear receives a shiny new bike and can’t wait to jump on and ride away. Papa Bear first shows Small Bear all the ways NOT to ride a bike. One of those is riding it off a cliff and into a tree.

As a project manager, I completely relate to Small Bear’s enthusiasm to dive into a fresh new undertaking.

How can we mine the nuggets of wisdom from those that have gone before but without the road rash?

We have tools in the corporate world. Depending on the project management approach, there are:


The US Army developed AARs to analyze what happened, why it happened, and how to improve after a project wrapped up or an event occurred.

Lessons Learned

In the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) guide, lessons learned are considered organizational process assets. The PMBOK guide encourages updating lessons learned as needed and when the project closes. Planners use these corporate assets as inputs for new projects’ planning processes.

Sprint Retrospectives

Sprint retrospectives are part of the Agile mindset of continuous improvement. They are held at the end of each sprint to discuss:

  • What went well
  • What could be improved
  • What the team will commit to improving in the next sprint

Whatever you call it, before starting the next project, hit the pause button. Take time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished. Celebrate wins. Look at what could have gone better. And find something new to try. There’s always room to improve and capitalize on success.

The Perfect Storm

Previously I was lead on a team that did support and project work. It was challenging because the work was difficult to plan. Some weeks the support work was light, so there was plenty of time for project work. On other weeks we were flooded with support requests while project deadlines loomed.

In other words, a perfect storm.

Our business partners were frustrated because they didn’t know when we’d address their requests. They would keep calling, visiting, and emailing to check the status of their request.

Kanban Board

We introduced an electronic Kanban board to visualize our workload and workflow. Kanban boards show assigned tasks, tasks in the backlog, who is working on what, and the estimated time to completion. The board was a way for IT leadership to see our workload and capacity and for our business partners to see where their items were in the queue.

Building on Success

I carried this success story/lesson learned into my next role. My team and I were working on implementing Salesforce.com Sales Cloud and Service Cloud. We used a Salesforce.com accelerator, which was a Kanban board within the Salesforce.com application. Using the Kanban board helped us work with others in the company and track our project’s progress.

When I became a business intelligence manager, I used the Kanban board in MS Teams to work with different IT teams to requisition servers, open ports, install software, and develop data visualizations.

The lessons from previous experiences provided a process to collaborate and communicate with others in the company.

Rizing Star Methodology

SAP’s Activate Methodology and Rizing’s Rizing Star Methodology are built on lessons learned from previous implementations.

SAP Activate Methodology jump-starts an implementation with SAP Best Practices, a proven project management methodology that combines the best of waterfall and Agile principles, guided configuration, process flows, test scripts, and industry-specific accelerators.

Rizing Star builds on SAP Activate Methodology with specially curated content for the Consumer Industries and Fashion sectors.

Pay it Forward

Using what we learned on a past project is a great way to be more efficient on future projects.

So, when you complete a project, pay it forward by collecting and leaving a record of the team’s reflections for the next project team to use. They’ll be able to avoid the rough waters and repeat the stretches of smooth sailing your teams found.

John Parnell, in his article Profiting From Past Triumphs and Failures: Harnessing History for Future Success (PDF), said, “Without knowing where we start, we are doomed to travel at random, or worse, in what might be harmful directions until we thrust our organization over a cliff.”

Let’s learn from past experiences.

And avoid that cliff.