ihe-file-drawer.jpgA friend of mine once told me about a technique for keeping track of lessons learned.  She keeps a file labeled “DNDTA.”  That stands for “Do Not Do This Again.” 

The idea is to write a note to yourself describing something you did that would not be such a good idea to do ever again, then put the note into the file for future reference.
I have since added such a file to my collection, and have retained many a valuable lesson in it.

It’s not that I refer to this file on a weekly or monthly basis.  In fact I rarely open it to review its contents at all.  But I think it’s the process of identifying what should go in it that makes it so valuable.

Here are a few samples of the lessons recorded in my DNDTA file:

  • “Avoid making commitments or beginning the process without first scoping out the entire job.” 

When I apply this to project management, I have to make sure the task list includes the entire implementation process.  I also remind myself to include all the handoffs and of course scheduling a retrospective lessons-learned event, which has sometimes contributed to another entry in my DNDTA file.

  • “Don’t wait until the last minute to prepare.”

This one reminds me that I have a better chance of making progress sooner when I break up the work into smaller chunks.  It also reminds me of the pain I often put myself through staying up late the night before trying to do it all at once.  DNDTA!

  • “Be careful not to overwhelm the team with multiple approaches; Pick just one proven approach, trust the process, and stick to it.”

This one comes with experience.  When you have a big toolkit full of various models and approaches, its hard to choose which approach to take or the best mental model to choose.   Chances are there are several approaches that will work.  Just pick one that you are most familiar with and is proven, and go for it.

And here’s one I just added based on today’s Thanksgiving experience:

  • “Don’t attempt to open a bottle of wine using a 2-prong bottle opener; you sink the cork almost every time!”

Similar to the one above, a good old fashioned corkscrew often does the better job.  Sometimes those tried and true approaches to project management (and life for that matter) are the best choice.

dndta-file-cabinet.gifIf you don’t already have a DNDTA file, you might consider creating one, or at least thinking about what you would put in it.

Got lessons to share?  I’d love to hear about it.

Take care,  Doug

Doug Bedinger / Consulting for Results / (925) 947-5726 

“Helping project teams work better together”



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