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Wear every bruise or scrape as a badge of honour

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Guest Blog by Bettina Wink – Project Manager at Stoneseed

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine met me for a cuppa in our local café, with her was her twelve-year-old daughter, who was looking rather despondent, and in need of cheering up. Mad keen on skateboarding, she had taken a tumble on the ramps and had rather lost her nerve.

I suggested that every bruise is a badge of honour - she should brush herself off and get back out there…. show that ramp who’s boss,  that she was the gutsiest girl I know and has learnt something valuable. She smiled and nodded and nicked another cream slice.

This café encounter let me ponder the bumps, scrapes and errors I made not just now, but over the years of working on projects. It reminded me to look at a different perspective: every failure has taught me something that I now use to prevent similar issues happening again. Project Managers can get quite bruised in the process of project delivery, but we learn from it and change it next time. The key is how to share this experience productively; so here are some of the very best practices I have experienced to share and learn from mistakes in the workplace.

Use your PMO 

Especially for larger projects, lessons learnt sessions can be dry, one-sided and feel like a big waste of time for attendees. One of the best ways to prevent this happening is to bring in an independent moderator for the session and this is where your PMO team or an independent PMaaS consultant could be invaluable. Unbiased, they can ask questions without anyone in the room feeling victimised.  

Not just forms please!

Whilst many best practice guides tell us to use this template or that, filling in a form rarely records the entire lesson. For us to establish successful and lasting working relationships with our project teams, we need to interact and discuss the contents of pre-recorded forms. This means the author must enrich the data they provide and be able to deliver even difficult messages diplomatically. Those who receive criticism can ask for recommendations. This brings me to the next and perhaps most important point:

Create the right ‘headspace’

During any lessons learnt activity it will be the moderator’s responsibility to ensure that every participant understands a few ground rules to help interaction:

Listen to understand, not to respond. The first rule of engagement in lessons learnt sessions is to share the experience and to acknowledge where problems occurred. Reminding attendees that the goal is to understand and improve which may mean listening to some uncomfortable criticism.

Be willing to admit to mistakes. One way I have seen this work well is where the first statement each attendee was asked to make had to include an admission to something they or their team could have done better or something they struggled to accomplish. By everyone admitting to vulnerabilities a level playing field is created: nobody has ever succeeded in life without making any mistakes. 

Learn and move on fearlessly. Acknowledging and learning from mistakes should not stagnate your teams’ creativity and willingness to try out something new. This fosters a culture that is an engine to your company rather than a brake.

In summary, when looking at the lessons you learnt, practice a little self-compassion the next time you feel like a project has failed. Seek an independent view, acknowledge the errors, take the opportunity to learn from them. Wear every bruise or scrape as a badge of honour. Under no circumstances let it stop you from getting back on that metaphorical skateboard and trying again, following a new path or being creative in the approach you take. Learn and move on fearlessly. (ps That twelve-year-old was back out on the ramps the following day)

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