Been There, Done That. Donít Do it Again

Been There, Done That. Don’t Do it Again

Michael Shays

You’ve built up your experience over the years and your good reputation precedes you. Now, new opportunities land at your door. One even knocked today to tell you about a need. It sounded all too familiar. You just completed an project like that. Been there, done that numerous times. You've got the solution already in your hip pocket. Right?

Wrong. There is a strong inclination to copy the work you just completed successfully and apply it to the next project. It’s called leveraging your previous experience. You’re thinking you can modify the previous solution to respond to the obvious differences between the two project situations.

This will not serve your new client well. Either the implementation will be struggle for you and your client, or after you have been taken your kudos and disappeared, your solution will gradually fall apart. A force-fit solution ignores reality.

The reality is that every client, every project, every environment is somehow unique. Instead of inventorying how the two project situations are similar, discover how they differ from each other. Probe beneath the obvious differences for what makes each unique. Then solve for the uniqueness.

A consultant performed a valuable service for a hospital that was experiencing chaos in its patient records system. There was a significant learning curve for both the consultant and the client but the end result was a breakthrough. A sister hospital heard about the breakthrough and asked the consultant to help it install the same system. After all, it also had patients, doctors, nurses, laboratories, and pharmacies.

There was a strong predisposition to see these two situations as similar, leading to a similar approach to solution. In fact they were quite different.

The consultant resisted the temptation to copy his previous solution. Instead he searched for how the two institutions were unique from each other. He found that at the second hospital the type of patient served, the type of healthcare provided, and the relationships between the physicians and the hospital, and between the nurses and the physicians, were different from the first hospital. Even more important, the locality of the pharmacies and the layout of the facilities were different. The second hospital required its own form of record keeping. The consultant saw that the centralized system that was working so well at the first hospital would not have worked at all at the second hospital. His solution was to implement a decentralized system for the second hospital.

Next time you have an opportunity to leverage your experience with a second or third project, learn how each situation is unique. There are obvious and not so obvious ways and all of them are important. Design your solution for the uniqueness, not for the similarities. Once you see how each situation is distinctive, you are bound to enjoy the benefits of a better product.

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E. MICHAEL SHAYS CMC ( is President of EMS Network, International, an association of senior consultants helping clients faced with conflict, transition, stagnation, and management dilemmas.


Michael Shays is a senior management consultant, public speaker, facilitator and mediator. He has coached executives in 24 countries in six continents to resolve conflict, manage transitions, and develop breakthrough solutions to tough problems. He has helped over 500 clients, including AT&T, IBM, KPMG and, Hewlett-Packard, and the CEOs of smaller companies. After seven years with the operations improvement firm, Bruce Payne & Associates, he passed examination as a Certified Management Consulta...

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