April 15, 2022

Fixing Your Project Management Team’s Approach To Change—For Real

Ask nearly any project manager how to help a team “learn from their mistakes” and you’re bound to hear a variation on this:

“I have team members document their successes and roadblocks. By writing down and talking about their past experiences, we all learn from them for next time.”

Sounds good. Sounds…healthy, even. 

But something inside us says, “Wait a minute…”

That’s because we’ve done this very exercise with clients for many, many years. And we’ve heard stories about corporate and government teams who dutifully document past project experiences, in order to “learn from their mistakes.” But how often have we seen it make an actual difference?

The answer, we’re sad to report, is not often. In fact, it’s closer to hardly ever

It’s more about behavior than process

We can all go through the motions of “learning from our mistakes.” But acknowledgement doesn’t equal change. What does it take to not only learn but implement that learning in a way that makes future work more effective?

We propose, based on experience and years of observation, that things don’t change when you make a note of what worked and what didn’t. It makes everyone feel better. It feels hopeful. But it doesn’t do anything.

Why? Because it doesn’t address behavior.

In the Harvard Business Review, Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats write that organizations routinely derail their own learning process by focusing too much on success, acting too quickly, trying too hard to fit in, and relying too much on experts. 

Steering your team away from these tendencies requires something deeper than a list of future do’s and don’ts.

So, how do you encourage behavior change?

After decades in the business, we believe pain is the best teacher. Tiny habits? Atomic habits? Sure. But a few books can’t make a whole person—or a whole team—change course. Experiencing failure inspires change. 

When a project flops or an approach just didn’t work, that’s your cue. It means you need to grow. It means you need to change. 

Once you’ve acknowledged the pain and distanced yourself from the awkwardness of failing, you can make more neutral observations about what actually happened and identify what went wrong and what can be done differently in the future.  

And once you can identify it, you can implement the slow, steady development of new habits you need to make lasting change. Approaching a project postmortem with the intent to experience, identify, and implement will help your team become new kinds of workers: people who can do things differently without getting stuck.

Steps to real change

Avoiding bad choices isn’t enough to create change. Gino and Staats, the authors of the  Harvard Business Review article, name four ways leaders can help their team make long-lasting changes:

Destigmatize failure.

“Organizations,” the authors assert, “don’t develop new capabilities—or take appropriate risks—unless managers tolerate failure and insist that it be openly discussed.”

Don’t punish mistakes. Use them as an opportunity to learn. It’s cliché, we know. But it’s true—and truly difficult to fully adopt. 

As leaders, we’re under pressure to produce, save money, and deliver, deliver, deliver. When a mistake puts a deliverable in peril, it’s tempting to default to an “easy” fix: an angry or frustrated tone, taking over the work ourselves, punitively assigning someone else to the task.

But mistakes are the way your team will grow and become more effective as time goes on. Mistakes, as Neil Gaiman put it in his popular 2012 commencement address, prove that you’re doing something. “Make interesting mistakes,” he concludes, “make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes.” 

As a leader, convey to your team that mistakes are not only okay but important—that they are, in fact, the way forward.

Embrace and teach a growth mindset.

Managers and employees can benefit from changing the way they think about learning. A growth mindset encourages teams to seek out challenges, look for paths to self-improvement, and to persist when a project becomes challenging. 

By modeling a growth mindset and openly encouraging it in team members, managers can normalize the process of growth and change while redefining what success means. Formally and informally, praise your team members’ process and emphasize that honing their skills over time is a worthwhile—and valued—path.

Consider potential when hiring and promoting.

One global firm identified a person’s “potential for improvement” as a major factor in future success, Gino and Staats report. “After a two-year project that drew on academic research and interviews, they identified four elements that make up potential: curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination.” When the firm compared high-potential candidates with their peers, they found that high-potential candidates performed better, thanks to their “openness to acquiring new skills and their thirst for learning.”

Shifting your focus from “accomplished” to “full of potential” when you hire and promote will help you fill your team and leadership positions with capable, forward-thinking, energetic people.

Use a data-driven approach to identify what caused success or failure.

Collect data after each project—whether it launched without a hitch or fell apart halfway through. Go over the data. Analyze it. Look for patterns. Discover what went right and what didn’t and incorporate it into your findings. Using data to explore what happened can reveal surprising insights.

Just make sure you’re not tweaking the data to serve a predetermined narrative. Gino and Staats note that they have “worked with all too many organizations where ‘data-driven decision making’ is code for contorting the facts until they reveal whatever senior management expects to see. It’s the role of leaders to ensure that they and other executives are sensitive to this tendency and don’t succumb to it.”

What we want to hear

Implementing these changes is all well and good but it won’t happen unless you also have solid systems in place to help your team recount their experiences, identify challenges and successes, and implement changes.

We’ve been to countless “lessons learned” meetings with clients and you know what we want to hear? The real experiences of your team. What went wrong? What hurt

Don’t talk to us about agile versus waterfall. Don’t list the challenges as if you’re reading a report. Put your notes away and tell us what happened.

Then, tell us what you’d say about these:

  • This is the actual behavior we want to change.
  • These are our two top priorities for growth.
  • This is what success would look like, by phase. This is how we’ll achieve it, using incremental steps.
  • Here’s what we can measure to hold ourselves accountable.
  • This is our new OCM consultant who will advise us on creating new behaviors when old ones emerge.
  • This is our team MOU that establishes our group agreements, norms, and acceptable behaviors.
  • These are the behaviors we’ve asked our quality assurance vendor to show us when we veer off course.
  • To make our changes permanent, here are the activities and events that we will anchor our new practices to.

Once you’ve worked through these kinds of thought-provoking exercises and committed to systems that will keep you accountable to change, your team will be in a much better position to not only make changes based on past mistakes but will be better prepared for learning from mistakes in the future.

Hope Youngs

Client executive and chief needle threader

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Business Administration; Business Architect certification; ScrumMaster certification.


Function and Specialization
​Hope is the Client Executive at FirstRule Group. She specializes in helping companies execute on strategic objectives and loves getting things done with a rousing “heck yes!”


About Hope

​When not working, you can find Hope sharing family time with her daughters, hiking in the mountains, or feeling the wind on her face sailing.

Jarius Rice

Jairus Rice

Consultant and Partnership Builder

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Public Administration; Bachelor’s in Political Science; Prosci Change Management Professional; LEAN Six Sigma Green Belt


Function and Specialization
Jairus is an executive leader specializing in designing and shepherding organizational change and process improvement strategies. He helps clients develop strong partnerships to achieve strategic goals, maximize performance, and increase value to their customers.


About Jairus
Jairus is a combat veteran who served five years in the United States Marine Corps. When he and his wife Jessica aren’t coaching their three kids’ sports teams, they enjoy hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping. 

Shelley McDermott

Partner and Diplomatic Hostess

Education and Certifications
Project Management Professional certification


Function and Specialization
Shelley has more than 25 years of senior program leadership experience. She specializes in leading teams and optimizing high-risk, high-visibility projects.

About Shelley
Shelley enjoys cooking, remodeling projects, and spending time with family and friends. 

Stacy Steck

Stacy Steck

Partner and Illuminator

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Business Administration; Project Management Professional certification


Function and Specialization
Stacy is an expert in planning and executing transformational technology projects. She specializes in communication, facilitation, and getting things done. 


About Stacy
Stacy is passionate about fundraising and loves serving her community. She also enjoys traveling and writing.

Joanna Briese

Joanna Briese

Consultant and Project Manager

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Secondary Teaching; Applied Project Management Professional certification


Function and Specialization
Joanna is a skilled project manager and curriculum developer. She specializes in e-learning and training and has even been a trainer in the specialty coffee industry!


About Joanna
Joanna loves the outdoors, cooking, family, travel, coffee, and curling up with her cats and a book.

Nissa Burger

Nissa Burger

Consultant and Project Manager

Education and Certifications
20 years in elections managing statewide software implementations


Function and Specialization
Nissa is a seasoned project manager who specializes in all facets of software development.


About Nissa
Nissa loves summertime, cheering on her kids in their sports, and spending time with family.

Trish Coloma

Trish Coloma

Consultant and Transformation Specialist

Education and Certifications
Bachelor’s in Sociology; Project Management Professional certification


Function and Specialization
Trish is an adept project manager focused on designing and implementing governance and helping organizations manage change and improve processes. She specializes in turning vision into action.


About Trish
Trish is an avid hiker and backpacker. She’s found that just like project management, a great hike is all about the journey and good planning!

Heather Coughlin-Washburn

Consultant and Negotiator

Education and Certifications
Studied journalism and psychology; sixteen years in the IT field; Independent Validation and Verification (IV&V) certification


Function and Specialization
Heather is a senior consultant who specializes in managing complex IT projects and quality assurance. She is passionate about building successful teams and achieving positive outcomes for clients.


About Heather
Heather has a background as a professional journalist specializing in government, politics, and law enforcement. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, photography, and camping.

Lindsay Flye

People Operations Manager & Bringer of Energy

Education and Certifications
Masters of Science in Industrial/Organizational Psychology 


Function and Specialization
Lindsay is the People Operations Manager for FirstRule Group. She focuses on recruitment, onboarding and offboarding, candidate experience, and human resources policies and processes.


About Lindsay
Lindsay loves to read, cook, quilt, and be outside with her pup. She also enjoys traveling, time with friends and family, and game nights.

Larry Holden

Larry Holden

Consultant and Creator of Big Hairy Spreadsheets

Education and Certifications
Bachelor’s in Chemistry


Function and Specialization
Larry is an experienced project manager and analyst with a focus on finance and IT projects. He specializes in process improvement. 


About Larry
Larry loves cooking, skiing, Christmas movies, and hanging out with his kids. He is also actively involved in his community Little League.

Pamela Johnston

Consultant and Puzzle Solver

Education and Certifications
Master’s of Education in Counseling Psychology; Bachelor’s in Management Science


Function and Specialization
Pamela is a senior business analyst with extensive technical IT experience. She specializes in system integration and implementation, data analysis, and reporting.  


About Pamela
Pamela is a proud Duke Blue Devil2 who loves ballet, orchids, bowling, and line dancing. She is the mother to fur babies Dash and Valentino. 

Jessica Larson

Consultant and Project Manager

Education and Certifications
Master’s of Public Health; Master’s of Health Administration


Function and Specialization

Jessica Larson is a seasoned project manager with demonstrated skill in all facets of project management. She specializes in helping teams identify and understand problems and develop impactful solutions.


About Jessica
Jessica has visited 7 countries and 39 U.S. states and is always planning her next trip. In between travels Jessica enjoys gardening, hiking, cooking and baking, rooting for Seattle sports teams, and spending as much time outdoors with family as possible.

Lori Luppino

Lori Luppino

Consultant and Intuitive Collaborator

Education and Certifications
Twenty years of experience in IT finance


Function and Specialization
Lori is a business analyst with an affinity for change management. She specializes in IT finance, budgeting, and business operations.


About Lori
Lori enjoys live music, the outdoors, traveling, painting, and her family.

Duncan McDermott

Finance Manager

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Business Administration; Bachelor’s in Business Administration with a concentration in finance


Function and Specialization
Duncan is the Finance Manager for FirstRule Group and oversees billing and contracts and supports other operational functions of the firm. He specializes in tall orders and a sunny delivery.


About Duncan
Duncan played basketball for Pacific University and enjoys boating, summer activities, and billiards.

Daisye Ore

Daisye Orr

Consultant and Creative Strategist

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Public Health with an emphasis in health communication


Function and Specialization
Daisye is an experienced program leader and systems thinker. She specializes in policy development, program planning, communication, partner engagement, and working from a place of equity and inclusion.


About Daisye
Daisye loves creating art, being in nature, searching for vintage treasures, reading, and spending time with her loved ones.

Ben Robinson

Ben Robinson

Consultant and Data Storyteller

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Business Administration with an emphasis in Finance


Function and Specialization
Ben is a management consultant specializing in business operations, financial forecasting, and data analysis and reporting.


About Ben
Ben is a lifelong learner. He enjoys backpacking, cycling, and adventuring with his family.

Eric Stout

Consultant and Technical Make-It-happener

Education and Certifications
Associate’s degree in Computer Science; Black Belt Candidate; Microsoft Product Specialist 


Function and Specialization
Eric is an accomplished consultant with deep technical knowledge. He specializes in cross-business partnerships, IT transformations, and program management.


About Eric

Eric is a father, musician, snow boarder, and boat captain.

Laura Scott

Consultant and Team Developer

Education and Certifications
Bachelor’s in Business Administration with a major in Information Systems; Project Management Professional certification


Function and Specialization
Laura is a project manager specializing in technology projects. She is also known for creating inclusive, empowered, and high-performing teams.


About Laura
Laura is from Seattle and enjoys all things outdoors, such as hiking, snowshoeing, sailing, and gardening.

Insert Name

Consultant and Tenacious Observer

Education and Certifications
additional text about education 

Function and Specialization
additional text about specialization


additional text about the person

Stephanie Telander

Stephanie Telander

Consultant and Insightful Connector

Education and Certifications
Project Management Professional certification; Prosci Change Management Professional certification; IT Service Management (ITIL) and International Standards Organization (ISO/20000) certifications

Function and Specialization
Stephanie is an experienced project manager and business analyst. She specializes in taking complex things and making them easier to consume through diagrams, flow charts, and plain speak documentation. 

About Stephanie
Stephanie loves gardening, travel, cooking, crafts, family, and a good mystery.  

Chi Underwood

Chi Underwood

Consultant and Strategic Improvement Specialist

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Business Administration; Bachelor’s in Business Administration and Finance; LEAN Six Sigma Black Belt 


Function and Specialization
Chi is an experienced consultant focused on process improvement using Six Sigma methodologies and data analytics. He specializes in business analysis, team development, budgeting and the organizational design of new processes.  


About Chi
Chi is an avid fisherman chasing salmon in the Pacific Northwest. He is also a judge for the First Robotics competition. 

Sheri Anderson

Consultant and Chaos Controller

Education and Certifications
Project Management Professional Certification

Function and Specialization
Sheri is an experienced consultant and an effective liaison between business and technical teams. She specializes in process improvement, business analysis, team leadership, implementations, data warehousing, user training, and testing.

About Sheri

Sheri splits her time between Utah and Arizona and prefers to relax around water and in the mountains.  She enjoys traveling with her husband and spending time with her two adult boys and grandson.

Christy Anna Gerber

Consultant and change advisor

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Business Administration


Function and Specialization
Christy Anna is consultant with a unique ability to see beyond challenges. She specializes in  creating pathways for opportunities, learnings, and desired outcomes.


About Christy Anna

Christy Anna loves spending time with family and friends especially if that time is spent outdoors. She loves skiing, mountain biking, and fly-fishing across the West. She’s also a fan of a great book and enjoys live music.

Malcolm Hooper

Consultant and Trusted advisor

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Education; Bachelor’s in Economics


Function and Specialization
Malcolm is an accomplished consultant with many years of experience managing operations, IT, and cybersecurity. He specializes in partnering with senior leadership to advise, develop, and implement strategic and effective IT initiatives.   


About Malcolm

Malcolm loves baking sourdough bread, perfecting recipes, traveling with his family, and training for his next ultimate tournament in his free time.  

Karen Langehough

Consultant and force multiplier

Education and Certifications
Bachelor’s in Business Administration with an emphasis in psychology; Certified Master Project Manager; Certified Senior Professional in Human Resources  


Function and Specialization
Karen is an accomplished senior leader and business-focused practitioner. She specializes in human resources consulting, change management, coaching, and development.


About Karen

Karen enjoys cooking, gardening, coffee, watching Seattle Mariners and Seahawks games, volunteering through her church, and spending time with friends and family.

Susan Meenk

Consultant and Mind Reader

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Business Administration with an emphasis in organizational development; Bachelor’s in psychology


Function and Specialization
Susan is an executive leader with expertise in Human Resources. She specializes in strategic planning, leadership development, succession planning, conflict resolution, and team building. 


About Susan

When Susan is not spending time with her family, she can be found outside working in the garden, running, or paddle boarding. She is also an active community volunteer. 

Shawn Milligan

Consultant and Project Manager

Education and Certifications
Doctorate in Business Administration; Project Management Professional certification; ScrumMaster certification


Function and Specialization
Shawn is an accomplished project manager with extensive business experience. She specializes in bringing people together to make things better. 


About Shawn

Shawn is an avid international traveler and has visited all seven continents. She is also a nature and travel photographer.

Lindsey Phillips

Consultant and Intuituve Facilitator

Education and Certifications
Associates of Art’s in Liberal Arts & Sciences 


Function and Specialization
Lindsey is an experienced and versatile project coordinator known for her adept management and relationship-building skills. She specializes in spearheading projects, optimizing operational productivity, and providing excellent client service. 


About Lindsey

​Lindsey enjoys spending time with her wonderful family and two dogs, as well as expanding her skills through gardening, pottery classes, and other creative pursuits.​ 

Anne Shields

Consultant and Business Strategist

Education and Certifications
Project Management Professional certification; PMI Agile Certified Practitioner 


Function and Specialization
Anne is project manager who creates simple solutions while providing transparency into complex environments. She specializes in cross functional team coordination with multiple disciplinary dependencies.


About Anne

Anne enjoys traveling, yoga, gardening, cooking, and entertaining. She shares her Lake Tapps home with an 80-pound German shepherd-husky mix with adorably crooked ears.

Steve Smith

Consultant and Alchemist-in-residence

Education and Certifications
​Masters in Business Administration 


Function and Specialization
Steve is a distinguished consultant with experience in human services delivery, financing, policy development, and executive leadership in the government and non-profit sectors. He specializes in “How did he do that?” problem solving outcomes. 



In addition to his standing as a top-ranked volleyball dad, Steve is known for his commitment to his fellow veterans, especially as an advocate for expanded veteran housing options. He is a member of the Orlando Housing Authority board of commissioners and the managing board of the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida.

Wendy Ld Helling

Wendy LD Helling

Partner and Thought Leader

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Business Administration


Function and Specialization
Wendy has deep experience in bringing complex, multi-year projects to life. She specializes in IT project management, data management, and strategic planning.   


About Wendy
Wendy loves traveling and hanging out in warm climates.