Business & Leadership Behaviors Project Management Thoughts

Looking In The Rear View Mirror – Lessons Learned

Whenever I wrap up a project, I think it’s always good to look back and see what we could take from the experience and what we could do better the next time. There are always lessons to be learned –that’s how we improve in any aspect of our lives, right?

I know that this isn’t a cutting-edge concept by any stretch. It’s a standard part of the lifecycle of any project. But I think it’s an activity that frequently gets glossed over or altogether dropped when schedules get busy and the next commitment is waiting in the wings.

If Hindsight is 20/20, Why Wait to Look?

I don’t know if Spring cleaning has put me in a weird mode, or what. But lately, I’ve been looking at everything that I’m currently working in (project work or otherwise) and asking myself what are the lessons that I’m seeing right now? What can be done differently to improve? There’s no strict rule that says that you have to wait until all is said & done before taking a look – so why not?

Here are a few areas that I found that could use attention:

Meetings: Why Are We Here?

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t believe that they have too many meetings on their schedules. But if we have to have them, we may as well try to be as efficient and effective as possible, right?

Lesson: Before you get started (or even arrive) – ask some questions

  • Are the right people here?
  • Is everyone in agreement on the goal for the meeting?  
  • Does everyone have what they need (materials/prep time/etc.) to meet the goals of the meeting?

If any of these items aren’t met – the meeting should be rescheduled. That is seemingly the obvious conclusion. But scheduling or canceling is generally not the action taken. Instead, we seem to just try to barrel our way through.

Ask yourself when was the last time you were in a meeting when one of those items was missing (people/goal/prep). I’d be willing to bet it was within the last week – if not today. All that does is waste time – or worse, create other issues.

Expectations: I Thought It Would Be Different….

Did you ever order something and when you got the delivery, whatever it was seemed too big/small/lighter/whatever? Even if you looked at dimensions/ingredients – sometimes what you ordered wasn’t quite what you expected.

It isn’t that Amazon, or your waiter or who/whatever didn’t give you the pertinent details. It’s just that the picture that you formed in your mind didn’t match what you received. Happens all the time, right?

Lesson: To better-set expectations – ask some (more) questions:

  • Would you walk me through how you would use this X in your process?
  • Have I talked to the person who is going to use X – or just someone representing them?  
  • What will things look like (procedures/results/etc.) when you have X?

Assumptions are the enemy of success. If you are creating something (a product/procedure/whatever), making assumptions on how it will be used or what the user believes their experience will be can take you way off course from what that user might tell you.

Get specific answers – and push if you have to. It can be like pulling teeth sometimes – but getting the information can strongly impact your results (and the perception of your results).

I’m not saying that adjustments and changes can’t be made. But rework takes time (so there’s an investment) – and unmet expectations can leave a negative impression or worse – lessen their trust in you.

Limitations: I Meant to Water the Plant

I see myself as a Hospice Gardner. My skills enable me to peacefully transition plants from a living state to the great beyond. At least I hope it’s peaceful. Sadly it took me a long time and a lot of money to embrace that I’m not the right person to be bringing plants home from the garden center.

The same can be said for purchases or commitments. How many times have you seen someone take ownership of a task or get assigned something that they didn’t truly have the time/skills/interest to take on?

Lesson: Before you bring the plants home (you guessed it) – ask questions:

  • Have you done this before?  
  • How will this fit into other commitments?
  • Are you on board with the “why” of the task?

I struck out on all three of these questions when it came to the garden. I had access to those little plant info stakes, the internet, the garden store expert, and even periodic help from my neighbor. In spite of that, I have not yet successfully kept certain plants alive.

I’m not home as much as I need to be to make sure a garden is watered/weeded/fed – or willing to give up other things to get the job done. Ultimately, the why of trying to create a Better Homes & Gardens look was not strong enough to keep me motivated.

Thank God for low-maintenance shrubs & mulch.

If you don’t get resoundingly positive responses to these questions – you need different resources. I don’t care if there is potential or aptitude unless these resources are absolutely free (or paying you) or there is an unlimited amount of time to motivate them & successfully get the job done – you need to move on to other resources.

Again, none of my rear-view mirror observations are new concepts. But they are good reminders that sometimes a little extra investigation in some key areas can have positive impacts on end results. It doesn’t matter if I’m looking at a meeting, a report, a project deliverable – whatever. There’s always room for improvement.

What are some of your rear-view mirror revelations? I’d love to hear about them.


Anne Hale is the Director of Client Services at HL Group, Inc., a premier provider of mobile inventory management and warehouse solutions. She manages our client engagements, works with Wes Haubein on sales and marketing, and is really great with silk plants.