Lessons Learned

You may have heard Einstein's definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I'm constantly surprised at how often companies don't take the time to carry lessons forward into new efforts.

Part of your job as a business analyst is to act as its institutional memory. It's your responsibility, as you interface with the various end users at your company, to pay attention to what works and what doesn't. But, you can take it a step further, especially if you're new to the company. Take it upon yourself to proactively uncover the best way to get results with your end users with a lessons learned analysis.


Your Most Important Analysis

The most important business analysis you can do has nothing to do with a product, service, or data system. It's a diligent and intentional analysis of how to get the best results at your company for your end users. I know it's a bit of a divergence from what you normally do, but not by that much. To perform a lessons learned analysis, you simply spend some time talking to the right people about what works and what doesn't work.

So, who are the right people? They’re usually the people who have been around a while. Ideally they're your more seasoned end users, but they don't have to be. Oftentimes people move around the company, so the most knowledgeable person about a job isn't necessarily the one currently doing the job. Either way, you must identify your real subject matter experts (SMEs), regardless of title or position. These are the war veterans that have the scars to prove it. They've been through numerous efforts to build reports and other data systems and they have both good and bad experiences to share.

When you get an audience with one of these SMEs, start by asking them about projects or similar efforts where they had an especially positive or negative experience. People have a tendency to share negative experiences, which is important, but it's more important to hear about positive experiences, so try hard to get them into that conversation at some point. It's common to start strolling down memory lane, but try to keep the conversation initially focused on gathering the list of experiences (positive and negative). Once you have the list you can have a more focused discussion about each experience, but if you don't get the whole list upfront, you may run out of time without every knowing about important experiences.

For each experience, even the negative ones, make sure to focus on what went right. Even the worst projects have something that went right–make sure to get that. Of course, there's the other side of the coin, but you don't want to ask what went wrong. Instead, ask how it could have been done better. That's really what you're after–it does little good to know what went wrong when you don't plan to repeat it!



The best way to get the best results for your end users is to actually analyze how the best results obtain at your company. You do this with a lessons learned analysis. Find the veteran SMEs at your company and talk with them about their experiences–both bad and good. Find out what worked and what could have been done better. As soon as you see patterns emerge, you'll start unlocking the code to your company–never to repeat the same mistakes again. Any other way to do your job is just–insane.

About the Author

John Weathington

John Weathington is President and CEO of Excellent Management Systems, Inc., a management consultancy that helps guide organizations to achieve strategic goals, improve critical processes, and leverage the power of information. For over 20 years, John has helped clients of all sizes including an impressive list of Fortune 100 firms to include Visa, PayPal (eBay), Hewlett Packard, Sun Microsystems, Hitachi Data Systems, Cisco, and Silicon Graphics. His unique blend of leadership, management, and technical talent and skills are a rare find in the consulting arena.

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