Last Saturday (28 February 2015), Niall Fitzgerald, former CEO and Chairman of Unilever, was interviewed on The Business (RTE Radio).
I always find his interviews very interesting, but this one even more so, because he spoke frankly about learning from failure. As head of its detergents business in the early 1990s, Niall Fitzgerald was responsible for the development and launch of Persil Power (a powerful dirt-busting washing powder) which was highly successful for the first few weeks with sparkling results.
Dreams of world-wide detergent domination soon wound up in metaphorical and actual tatters, when it emerged that the washing powder caused clothes to fall apart at certain temperatures. A few months later the product was withdrawn by Unilver.
Referring to the project as his biggest failure, Niall Fitzgerald also said that it was 'probably the most important business learning experience I ever had. Your best learning comes from failure'.
That's why lessons learned should be an important component in your organisation's knowledge management toolkit. When a team or department has completed a project or a piece of client work there are huge educational and strategic benefits from analysing what you did right and what you did wrong. You can look at the strategy you used and extract useful elements to be deployed in future work or projects and eliminate (or exercise caution) less successful elements. Use the opportunity of a lessons learned session to extract useful know-how and templates.
Most importantly, use the benefit of your collective experience (successful or not) on the project to educate and engage junior staff as part of their ongoing training and learning.