Pavlov’s Employee Negative Lesson Learned

By Jon M. Quigley and Shawn P. Quigley

Negative Motivational Lessons Learned

We have been spending considerable time on lessons learned and the learning organization.  Lessons learned can have various perspectives, personnel, project, and both.  We will take a break from the pure project aspect, and consider project and personnel.  Lessons learned by personnel can have both positive and negative motivational aspects based upon reinforcement by previous project patterns of behavior (management / supervision).  We will illustrate what is meant by this by providing you with an example of negative motivational lessons learned.

Project is Underway

We start with a project, well underway.  The project is to deliver a complicated system consisting of numerous constituent parts.  The prototype parts are assembled to produce a working prototype of the system.  While the prototype system is being constructed a project engineer that is responsible for one of the subassemblies noted an error in the design of the product, which will prevent the system from functioning as required.  The individual who noted the discrepancy is design engineer with domain knowledge and technical expertise; however, he is not directly responsible for the full assembly of this product.

Pavlov Strikes in the form of the Organization

This is where we have an indication of negative motivational lessons learned.  One would expect the engineer to state the design flaw to the project manager with supporting evidence.  This would allow the project manager to modify the prototype as required to make a functioning product.  However, due to negative reinforcement on current and previous projects the engineer did not present the opportunity to improve the prototype.  Reinforcement is an experience that has been repeated numerous times.  We have shown that experience is an exponential driver of behavior and performance.  This can be considered an example of Pavlov’s effect that through repeated reward or discipline positive or negative behavior can be embedded in the individual thereby causing positive or negative project performance.  This subsequently impacts both delivery and functionality.

Process, Procedure and People

There are three categories for lessons learned and these are process, procedure and people.  Process is a group of procedures put together to accomplish a specific objective or task. Procedure is the guidance provided to perform a task. People are the method to complete the task.  Lessons not learned (or negative lessons) in each of these categories can cause a project to fail and on a larger scope put the organization at risk to going out of business by losing time, money and customers.


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