Making the same mistake twice should be unforgivable, yet it happens all the time. Delays, over-spends and unexpected third party hires are all unpleasant, but never more so than when it’s happened before for the same reason. With this in mind, what can professional services companies do to ensure their operations continue to improve with experience?

Look back before you leap
Keeping a close eye on previous work when drawing up plans will help. Most businesses have a degree of standardization in the work they do and the way that they do it. As such, new projects shouldn’t feel like they always start from square one. The basic framework can and should be built according to what’s been done before. Take time to see if previous work can be re-used, or if requirements can be drafted more accurately when considered against a previous project.

Furthermore, managers assigned with signing off plans need to think sideways and backwards. Do the numbers agree with what was done last time? If not, why not? It could be that the personnel involved this time offer different skills or experience. Or that lessons haven’t been learned.

Promote a culture of learning from the top
Senior management has a responsibility to ensure lessons are learned. A key point is to ensure that people have the necessary time to review and critique completed work. It may seem like time you can’t afford to spare, particularly as its not billable, but ensuring data is properly analyzed and the findings shared will save you time and money in the long run.

Metrics are your friend
It’s also important not to bin your plans once you start the real thing. Tracking actuals versus plans is the only way to monitor whether you’re really any good at budgeting on the micro level. How successfully are your people in judging time at the activity list level? Use a work breakdown structure and analyze the discussions against what your people really did – it’s the only way to create real confidence in your plans while continuing to improve. Standard techniques and measures will help ensure your findings are transferable and that everyone understands what’s being discussed.

Tortoise, not hare
In short, it’s essential that companies take the necessary time to make sure their previous experiences count. In the rush to complete the most competitive tender possible, learnings from previous, perhaps not immediately relevant projects can be easily overlooked. However, if companies are to avoid that unpleasant feeling of falling into a trap they’ve visited before, time and effort must be invested in reviewing previous experience. Making an effort to understand where things have not gone as planned in the past if the only way companies can realize improvements in performance. Inaccurate quotations created in haste can only lead to problems.