Lessons Learned

June 19, 2008

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know I’m big on finding the lessons in whatever I’m doing or experiencing.

For starters, it’s often the one thing that makes the more difficult challenges worthwhile – to see the struggle as the gift of knowledge. Sometimes the gift is just knowing you won’t have to go through that again. Artist/author Richard Stine says it best,

Sometimes, when you least expect it,
life gives you a big ol’ sock in the nose.
Not to worry. The pain will pass,
and from it you will have gained experience,
which gives your information,
which gives you objectivity,
which gives you wisdom,
which gives you truth,
which gives your freedom from having to get a sock in the nose again.”

Socks in noses aside, even the day-to-day workings of our businesses can yield a lot of information about how we might be more successful.

What seems like eons ago, I worked for a very large engineering firm (think Dilbert) that captured “lessons learned” after the completion of each project. Noting what went wrong and what could have been done better and how was the relatively easy part. The hard part was getting that information into a format that could be shared with the rest of the company beyond the project team and easily referenced in planning future projects or refining established policies and procedures.

That difficulty of capturing and applying lessons-learned is largely the same for the solopreneur. Most often, we finish one project and move quickly on to the next without taking time for review – and soon the details are lost to memory, the lessons along with them. And even when we do take the time to review, what do we do with that information?

Like everything, if it doesn’t have a place where it belongs – that you can easily access – it won’t get used and you might as well not bother. You must have places where you can put your lessons learned. And that means having some sort of document that outlines how you do business – a manual of sorts for your policies, procedures and standards. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – no one is probably ever going to read it but you. And it can grow and change over time as you refine how you work best. Maybe your “manual” is just a big 3-ring binder with dividers like “daily operations,” “client relations,” “contracts/legal,” “finances,” “marketing,” etc., with blank loose-leaf paper ready in each section. Keep the binder close at hand and every time you think of something you want to do differently, jot it down in The Manual. Just writing it down will help the lessons stick. Then between one and four times a year, review and synthesize all that information into a more formal document outlining your policies, procedures and standards. Rather than making it all up as you go along, having such a business manual will help you be more consistent in your actions, deliberate in your choices, and focused on your goals.

Don’t lose all the valuable information you are learning from your experiences. Create a place for them to belong.

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Do you have a written set of policies, procedures and standards? Do you follow them? How and when do you update them? How has such a “manual” benefited your business? If you don’t have a have a written set of policies, procedures and standards, have their been negative consequences for your business?

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