Managing rejection is a tough task. Many find it particularly devastating and difficult to overcome when rejected professionally. Learning to effectively manage reject decisions when seeking funding is an essential skill for those doing project work.
Some project managers tend to take funding rejections as personal failure, while others conclude that the project idea was just plain bad. In the process of supporting project managers seeking funding, one of the key things that I have learnt is that falling back to this approach is simply pointless. It just creates a cycle of negativity that benefits nobody.
In our work supporting project managers, we have introduced the concept of a lessons learnt workshop as an attempt to turn rejection into learning. The workshop is an event where project stakeholders come together to share their insights and experiences of working on the project. It is a forum with a focus on identifying improvements and considering lessons.
In the process, each participant is sent an evaluation of the recently rejected project. We ask them to read it thoroughly beforehand in an attempt to ensure an effective meeting. During the workshop, the focus is on two main tasks. The first task involves sharing responses to three key questions: what worked well in the project?; what could have been improved in the project?; and what should be done differently next time?. After lessons learnt are captured, they are reported to project stakeholders. The second task is taking decisions on how to proceed further by sketching an initial plan.
We have now conducted a number of lessons learnt workshops in Haaga-Helia. Some of the phrases and keywords used by participants to describe this workshop include ‘superb’, ‘atmosphere of trust and critical thinking’, ‘really interesting’, ‘good way to cooperate’ and ‘joint understanding’.
Running a lessons learnt workshop has intrinsic value on its own through the reflective discussion which encourages team spirit and fosters a culture of trust. However, the most value comes from using the lessons to improve in the future. Therefore, commitment, active participation and particularly concrete and consistent actions from all project stakeholders is required. Advantageous and particularly positive aspects within a project are communicated and promoted as a best practice within the organisation.
Overall, running lessons learnt workshops after unsuccessful attempts in seeking funding should not be considered optional. We wish for these workshops to become part of our organisation’s process assets to provide future project teams with valuable insight. This would ensure commitment to project management excellence, foster a rejection resistant culture and ultimately generate competitive advantage.