In project management they're called "lessons learned". In medicine they're referred to as "postmortems" and in the military they're labeled "after action reviews". No matter what you name them, they are one of the most important tasks within a project. Project close out is often an overlooked phase and with that, the lessons learned exercise. This practice is essential in understanding the successes and failures of the project. It is also key in future project success.
Before a project it is important that you goal set. Simple, yet often people begin a project without a goal in mind. I?m astounded at the amount of work done just for the sake of doing something. Little consideration is given to whether it's where resources and effort should be invested. Define what you want to do, and why.
You also need to baseline. Understand where you are so you can measure progress. Additionally, a baseline allows you to set expectation. If a typical campaign yields a 10% engagement rate, don't goal set with a 75% engagement rate as an objective. Be aggressive, but realistic.
When conducting a lessons learned exercise ensure that the purpose, process, and payoff have been explained to participants. Provide necessary project reports to all stakeholders beforehand and set the expectation that all material will be reviewed before the discussion.
Oftentimes participants are reluctant to share information they feel is critical. Ask that each person list 3 items that are "sustains" and 3 items that are "improves". This will typically coax the discussion forward. Once complete, provide a report on the session and close out the project.
When it comes time to kick off a new project, pull out previous lessons learned reports. These act as a prompter for clarifying questions, identifying risks, and determining additional deliverables.
Discover the Real Problems
I'm currently reading The Design of Everyday Things. In the book the author, Don Norman, addresses "The 5 Whys". He explains that engineers and business people are trained to solve problems, but designers are trained to discover the real problems. He states that "Good designers never start by trying to understand what the real issues are. They take the original problem as a suggestion, not as a final statement, then think broadly about what the issues underlying this problem statement might really be."
In my experiences this is the greatest overlooked opportunity in project closeout. Many of us conduct the lessons learned exercise, but we don't take the time to understand the project failures or the identified need to improve. In his book, Norman tackles this very issue and the impact it has on marketing. Designers consider the actual needs of the people and the use of the product. Marketing is more concerned with what people will actually buy as well as their purchasing decisions.
My recommendation is as you conduct your lessons learned exercise; include a designer in the process. Use that individual to identify the original problem and then walk through the "5 Whys" to uncover the actual underlying problem.
Consider the Use of Jidoka
If you want a great example, look at Toyota. The Toyota automobile company has developed an extremely efficient error-reduction process for manufacturing, widely known as the Toyota Production System. Among its many key principles is a philosophy called Jidoka, which Toyota says is "roughly translated as 'automation with a human touch.'" If a worker notices something wrong, the worker is supposed to report it, sometimes even stopping the entire assembly line if a faulty part is about to proceed to the next station. (A special cord, called an andon, stops the assembly line and alerts the expert crew.) Experts converge upon the problem area to determine the cause. "Why did it happen?" "Why was that?" "Why is that the reason?" The philosophy is to ask "Why?" as many times as may be necessary to get to the root cause of the problem and then fix it so it can never occur again.
As you evaluate your marketing projects the questions above act as a great guide. Even as you evaluate mid-project milestones through A/B testing, lead scoring, and enablement ask "The 5 Whys" to understand why you're not generating the projected success.
As Norman surmises, "A brilliant solution to the wrong problem can be worse than no solution at all: solve the correct problem."
What steps do you take to learn from marketing projects?