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Profound “Aha’s” and “Duhhh’s”
By Ammar W. Mango

Project Management practitioners call them lessons learned. These are lessons from things gone right and things gone not so right on the project. It is easy to talk about things gone right but not the more important lessons; opportunities for improvement, or what some call mistakes.

I want to leave dry Project Management Lingo and stick to what happens in real life. In reality, lessons learned are broken down into two categories: Ahaaa’s and Duhhh’s. Aha moments are those of discovery and learning. Usually they have to be profound to provoke an Ahaaa! the longer the “aaaa” part the more profound the experience. Then there are “duh” moments. These are not as welcomed. They usually are statements made by others when we finally see what is supposed to be an obvious basic fact. These are profound, but we do not know that when we make the mistakes. Both Aha’s and Duh’s are key in the development of professionals.

Some deny the Aha! moments. These are the “know-it-all’s.” Learning is a risk of seeming ignorant, instead of being an opportunity to grow. They lose a big chunk of the learning by their denial. All to please the ego. Some also deny the duh moments, and these too face problems learning. A mistake is a risk of getting exposed, instead of a chance to improve.

Every professional should reflect on his personal Aha’s and duh’s, to grow and improve. Everyone can write a book about these based solely on personal experiences, if one is observant enough to catch them.

My favorite personal Aha! moments, Well, I have two favorites. One from my mentor, who taught me that I can be a manager and be me. I can adopt any style, learn from best practices, improve my skills, and anything else that I want, and still be me. He taught me that I can be a manager and have a heart. I can be a manager and have a sense of humor (it does not mean that I have one). It was an Aha moment that opened up lots of doors for me, without having to pretend to be someone I am not.

My other favorite Aha moment, professionally, is when I learned from another mentor that if someone is disrespectful, mean, or not cordial to you, most probably he or she is like that with everybody. So, it is the person’s problem not yours. Protect yourself from the actions, but never take it personally. Many times people I found repulsive, I found out others found them the same way even worse. So, it is not really my problem. This helps a lot in picking your battles wisely.

I have had my duhhh! moments as well. I will only mention one even though God knows they are plenty. I learned that if there is an inherent problem in a setup, unless you address that inherent problem, trying to make things work is a futile effort. I bought once a Cafe in a land far far away, and a long long time ago. The previous owner was not doing well and the cafe was going out of business. The main problem with the cafe was the location. It was out of sight, and not very inviting. I thought I can outsmart the problem by giving the cafe a slick name, offering gourmet cakes, fancy coffee etc. But how does all that fix the location problem? it does not; duhhh! So instead of becoming a cash cow the place turned into a cash drain. The rest is history, and lessons learned :)
What are your Ahaaa’s and Duhhh’s? Please do share.

Ammar W. Mango, CSSBB, PgMP, PMP is an Organizational Project Management Consultant at Method (www.methodcorp.com). You can read more from Ammar on his blog.

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