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Have you learnt your lesson? What’s so good about lessons learned in agile?

Harnessing the Power of Lessons Learned in Agile: A Blueprint for Business Success. Sharing lessons from my learning, so far!



Do you ever get that niggling sensation when you ‘feel’ like you’ve been here before? OR, perhaps you see something being done again – that was done the same way before, and think ‘Why?’, perhaps even had the thought is this crazy, are we going around again doing the same thing?

Have you encountered an unwilling stakeholder who seems to be ‘hell bent’ on derailing your team’s work just by their inconsistent engagement and untimely feedback – with a feeling you that have had 'this happen before' and not drawn upon or applied your lessons learned through ways of working with a similar stakeholder? OR, perhaps you have come across business management who are apathetic in engaging or won’t support the enablement the work your team is undertaking – and yet elements of this have occurred before in another scenario where you could apply your prior experience of collaboration and knowledge sharing so to help support the management with their understanding and buy in to the work in play(?).

Or have perhaps you have encountered a similar development issue with testing challenges where you could apply your previous experience in how you have mitigated these risks and issues > through applied lessons learned. So many different scenarios where you can draw yours and your teams experience upon – not just from the last client, iteration, or sprint but from your personal vault also. 

So that’s what it feels like in some small part, of what happens when perhaps you or the team you're a part of - haven’t applied lessons learned (prior experiences of 'stuff that hasn't gone so well' - be it mistakes or epic failures) to your current work in play. You could have avoided these gut-turning experiences, with the 'more coffee needed to get through it' times, not to forget diminished efforts - towards something more meaningful, enjoyable and time fulfilling - by applying your lesson's learned in the first instance!

Adaptability and continuous improvement are not just corporate buzzwords—they're essential ingredients for success. Enter agile methodology, a dynamic approach to project management that emphasises flexibility, collaboration, and rapid iteration. At the heart of agile lies a simple yet powerful concept: lessons learned.

Here I’ll explain why lessons learned are so crucial in agile (and perhaps our daily lives) and how they can drive business success.

The Agile Advantage

Before we jump into the importance of lessons learned, it’s important understand what sets agile apart. Agile methodologies, such as Scrum and Kanban, break projects into smaller, manageable bite-size chunks called iterations or sprints. This iterative approach allows teams to deliver incremental value while remaining responsive to change.

So unlike in traditional ways of working (such as waterfall) and where you’re tracking along with perhaps some risks or issues raised, and few change requests for good measure (moreover) whilst with best practice, you still, don’t really know what or how something will be delivered until the very end, that is the nature of the methodolgy. Knowing you can’t change (ulitmate scope or deliverables) because that’s the end of the work and there’s no time or budget, or available resources left to pivot and change direction or product.

Why Lessons Learned Matter

Lessons learned are the building blocks of improvement in agile, and I’d have to add even bigger of your daily life. How do you know to not do the same thing again – you build on what you learnt last time. 

Unless you’re perhaps in favour of going through unnecessary pain and effort for you and your colleagues, family and friends in doing the same thing over again, and again - and getting the same result! Despite habitual behaviours and the unnverving comfort of what's looming – applying lessons learnt can make a huge difference in the divergent path of choice, that is to to succeed, or not. 


“Some of the best lessons we ever learn we learn from our mistakes and failure. The error of the past is the wisdom of the future.” Tryon Edwards


Lessons learned encompasses insights gained from both successes and failures throughout the project lifecycle. Here's why they're so valuable:

1. Continuous Improvement: Agile is all about getting better over time. By reflecting on what worked well and what didn't, teams can fine-tune their processes with each iteration, leading to continuous improvement.

2. Risk Mitigation: Lessons learned help identify and mitigate risks early on. By recognizing patterns of failure or inefficiency, teams can proactively address potential issues before they escalate, minimising project risks.

3. Empowered Teams: Agile empowers teams to self-organise and make decisions autonomously. Lessons learned sessions provide a platform for team members to voice their observations and suggest improvements, fostering a culture of ownership and accountability.

4. Enhanced Collaboration: Lessons learned promote open communication and collaboration among team members. By sharing insights and learnings, teams can leverage each other's experiences to solve problems more effectively and drive better outcomes collectively.

5. Client Satisfaction: Delivering value to clients is paramount in agile. Lessons learned enable teams to better understand client needs and preferences, leading to the development of more tailored solutions and ultimately higher client satisfaction.


"[Insanity is] Doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results." Albert Einstein


Best Practices for Leveraging Lessons Learned

Harnessing the power of lessons learned requires a systematic approach. Here are some best practices for integrating lessons learned into your agile processes:

1. Regular Reflection: Schedule dedicated time for lessons learned sessions at the end of each iteration or project phase. (Here) Encourage team members to reflect honestly on their experiences and share insights openly. One of my favourite events in the agility ceremonies is the Sprint Retro. I have been fortunate to have great scrum master’s and one in particular who always switched it up with a different exercise each time to keep it fresh and interesting, and to keep us thinking in a non-predictable way. (Lucky for me and the squad) This scrum master is also studying psychology, so we as a squad had the benefit of her studies and learning insights to our behaviours and thinking, and as guinea pigs – perhaps to try out new and better ways to get us all thinking!

2. Document Insights: Capture lessons learned in a centralised repository, such as a knowledge base or lessons learned log. Make this information easily accessible to all team members for future reference. This could be through a basic word document, a whiteboard with or without sticky notes, one of my favourites is 'Miro' – using some of the templates from the 'Miro-verse' to keep it fresh, interactive, and collaborative. I’ve found through my time – what the team uses most as a central repository works the best – this could be one of the many places you can employ - be it MS Teams, Sharepoint, Confluence, Miro or other shared accessible repository spaces. 

3. Actionable Takeaways: Ensure that lessons learned lead to actionable takeaways. Identify specific areas for improvement and implement concrete changes to address them in subsequent iterations. Don't ask your team if they know what they are taking away to improve - instead, ask them how they understand it, talking it back through their own words will resonate better with their way of processing, learning, and working to apply it. It will have a better chance to 'stick'. 

4. Celebrate Successes: Don't forget to celebrate successes along the way. Recognize and reward achievements to motivate team members and reinforce positive behaviors. Who doesn't like to feel good when something goes right -make a habit of celebrating - get your team together and agree on how you'd like to do this and when. It can be as simple as changing a round of applause from a clap to a snap of the fingers or getting each squad member to share in the celebration MC-ing and rotating the fun. The point is to have fun, it's not brain surgery so have fun with it!

5. Iterate and Adapt: Agile is a journey, not a destination. Continuously iterate on your lessons learned process based on feedback and evolving needs, adapting it to suit your team's unique dynamics and project requirements.

'You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending’. C.S Lewis


Lessons learned are the lifeblood of agile, fueling continuous improvement and driving business success. They should also be a way of living – for those of you who are parents, or who have a parent figure in their lives – you will be familiar with ‘teaching lessons’ to children or having them imparted to you. More often we remember those lessons and apply them, for the most part in our daily lives. Whilst we may not document them or reflect as often as we should, this is that practice, shared with others and we work towards a common agreed (delivery) goal. The practice of lessons learnt in agile puts clear actionable guardrails in place to support the success of the practice and its application. 

By embracing a safe - open culture of reflection, collaboration, and adaptation, businesses and organisations can harness the power of lessons learned to deliver value to clients, mitigate risks, and an ability to stay ahead of the competition in an ever-evolving business landscape. 

So, let's make lessons learned not just a box to tick, but a true (and fun) cornerstone of our agile journey towards excellence and our continuous improvement – professionally and personally.

Author | Sarah Verity - quenable.com.au 

For more information on how you can start to explore your business agility potential and how we can help you- Contact | quenable or email directly to info@quenable.com.au

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