Managing projects is an art that takes twists and turns at every step of the way. No two projects follow the same trajectory, and every project is a new learning experience. They say that bygones are bygones, to forget what happened (generally unpleasant ones) in the past.
However, in project management (Agile or Waterfall), what happens in the past cannot be let go – even if we desperately want to. Every action and decision are etched in the record books and into the memory of customers, product owners and most importantly, the Agile (project) team itself. Based on the past actions, the nature of the future decisions is determined.
The past accounts for what the future holds. Even though something has happened much earlier in the project, the reminiscence of its being, the fruits of the labor (good or bad – objects) are registered in the project cookbook (rear view mirror). And even though it happened months or years earlier, it seems like it happened yesterday. If the outcome is not pleasant, then its ghosts haunt you in every decision you make, and a good outcome might just give that extra ounce of over-confidence that can potentially lead to reckless decision making.
The rear-view mirror is a double-edged sword. The good outcomes leads you to nowhere in the future and the bad ones will plague you like a bad rash. How do we stop looking at the mirror that dwells on the past? Or rather how we focus on looking ahead through the windshield out into the distance ahead of us?
I once worked with a customer who had significantly a lot more experience than I did around the product that I managed. Every decision I took or at every juncture of the project management process, she used to tell me how the previous project manager did it. And how it turned out to be. The comparisons are great, especially if the previous outcomes were sour, and you have something refreshing to look forward to under your project-dom. But the product owners reliant on the rear-view mirrors can have a demeaning effect by not living the moment and looking at the targets and milestones placed in front of us. The rear-view project management is not the right way to drive projects in my opinion.
Yes, there is a role for the things that have happened in the past. Its learnings are invaluable. But the learnings must be taken up objectively and, in the spirit, – definitely not to be taken as a model for decision making or managing projects without giving preference to the context.
The past is good, and the future is better. So, the project management that I recommend is to be a driver who treats rear-view mirror as history, learning from the experiences, and not creating a template based on what was done earlier. But to rather take a journey that’s completely contextualized for the project environment and create your own cookbook, innovate, explore, be mindful and enjoy reaching the target with complete focus on what you see in the windshield. Remember that the learnings from the previous projects may not be universal truths and there is every chance that something might have worked in a certain condition, and there could be a strong possibility that it may not work in your project.
Objects in the rear-view mirror appear closer than they are, so avoid looking at it once you start on your project journey.