A Lesson Learned is a Lesson Earned

I recently completed a consulting assignment with a retailer that was focused on modernizing their marketing operations. During our first workshop, the COO vociferously shared that one of his goals for the initiative was to “stop making the same mistakes and doing the same things all of the [bleeping] time.” Half of his team nodded their heads, the other half stared at their shoes. Like most good feedback, it was tough to hear but useful to receive. So, a big focus of the assignment became how to enable teams to better learn from past marketing activities. While I cannot share the specifics of this assignment, I can share a few general tips and tools that you might find helpful if you are facing a similar challenge.

1. Have processes and tools in place to capture actionable learnings

Sprint retrospective meetings are well ingrained within Agile teams, but this practice is not widely embraced by marketing departments today. It can be challenging for marketing teams to take the time to effectively reflect and capture lessons from historical campaigns. Debrief meetings can turn into venting sessions, and lessons – if captured at all – are often listed sparsely as bullets in post-mortem documents. Marketers can better focus their retrospective meetings and capture learnings in a more structured way by using a standardized agenda and input document. Here is an example that you can use to anchor your post-project meetings and codify your lessons learned. You can download a version to modify and use here.

2. Consolidate and share lessons learned effectively across your team

Lessons are only valuable if you are actually aware of them. Within marketing departments, lessons too often stay locked in PowerPoints or in the heads of individual team members. Marketing departments need a process and tool to consolidate and organize lessons so that they can be easily accessed and used by all team members since some lessons broadly apply to a variety of projects. There are a number of paid online retrospective tools available. If you are just starting out, you can create a shared Google Sheet. Here is an example that you can download, customize, and use.

3. Ensure briefs and briefings include relevant lessons and tests

Writing a brief is an exercise in looking forward. However, it is important at the start of any new project to learn from the past. Marketing leaders need to enforce retrospection by including relevant lessons learned as a mandatory input for briefing documents (ideally populated by entries from their shared ‘Lessons Learned Library’). For more tactical briefs, marketers should also include any tests that they plan to run in a way that is properly structured (i.e. the hypothesis, test, and implications are clear). The Test & Learn Cards from the awesome book Value Proposition Design can help. You can download PDF versions shared by Strategyzer here and here.