Experience as a success factor for complex projects


Work and life experience is a very important topic with huge potential. In my opinion, it is used far too little and too little consciously. That's why I think it's worth giving it some thought. So here are 10 exciting questions and possible answers on the subject of experience.

By Peter Roth, April 4, 2024

What is experience?

"Experience is the knowledge and behavior acquired through perception and learning or, in the sense of "life experience", the totality of all experiences that a person has ever had, including their processing. [Wikipedia]" A person's life experience can be both in depth (extensive experience in a particular area - specialization) and/or in breadth (experience in a wide variety of areas - generalization), and consist of technical, organizational, methodological, personal, social and other elements. Basically, a person's life experience consists of all the facets that life has to offer. And it is as individual as the person himself.

Where can experience be gained?


Professional life

  • In day-to-day work on professional, technical, organizational, social and methodological topics, learning-by-doing, theory and practice
  • For special tasks: in commissions, task forces, projects, etc.
  • When changing perspectives: job change, job rotation, time out, projects, etc.
  • For professional development: Technology, methodology, agility, leadership, etc.
  • With self-employment/own company: entrepreneurial thinking and action, risks and opportunities, market, customer focus, etc.
  • Among other things.

Private life

  • In the family, friendship and community: social structures and behavior, responsibility, communication
  • Politics: structures, negotiating, winning and losing, added value, representing interests with parties and lobbies
  • Association system: Responsibilities, distribution of roles, AKV without authority, communication, vision, community
  • Sport: health, training, competition, discipline, courage, daring, goal orientation
  • Culture: values, creativity, abstraction, symbols, tradition
  • Travel: Openness, communication skills, planning, curiosity, dealing with limited resources, responsibility, dealing with the unforeseen and uncertainty, trust, absorbing information
  • A lot more

Of course, private and professional experience can also overlap and merge (examples: Business trips, family business, politics or sport are practiced professionally).

How can experience be gained?

Experiences can be acquired intentionally or unintentionally.

  • Intended/planned: Some experiences are systematically and purposefully planned, collected and built up. This can be conscious learning-by-doing or an internship at work, a targeted training program according to a training plan in sports, a detailed plan when traveling, taking into account all possible difficulties and special features such as language, food, clothing, or route planning on a mountain tour, taking into account the weather, equipment and mental and physical preparation.
  • Unintentional/unplanned: On the other hand, experiences are made due to unplanned events and behavior. In most cases, people react to events, conditions and behavior and learn from them. These special situations are usually first-time and unique in this constellation. It is difficult for outsiders to understand this situation. Only those who have personally experienced this situation can judge it for themselves, reflect on it and draw the right lessons from it. Incidentally, artificial intelligence cannot cover unintentional experiences, or only to a limited extent.

What types of experiences are there?

I differentiate between first-time experiences and experiences that build on them, analogous to our initial and further training. First-time experiences mainly happen at a young age. In other words, the first job, the first kiss, the first child, the first success/failure, the first tax bill, the first project crisis, etc. Or when you move out of your own comfort zone, whether it's your first high-altitude tour or a research project. The more special, unique, intense and unusual a situation is, the more lasting it remains. You gain experience when you find yourself in a situation that has happened before and you can apply and develop the experience you have gained from the first situation. With each application of the experience, the knowledge and behaviors are improved. You also gain experience when you gain knowledge about several different experiences. This is why experiences can also grow.

Is everything you experience an experience?

I think, in principle, yes, but there are experiences that are not relevant in themselves, are not perceived at all or only vaguely and/or are quickly forgotten. In most cases, we speak of memories and not experiences, because no knowledge has been gained from them. Valuable experiences only arise when they are special (special, incisive, etc.) and when they are consciously reflected upon and lessons and insights are drawn from them.

When do you become experienced?

Experience begins at birth and has no end date. You don't have to be 80 years old to be experienced. A young person, for example, can already have a great deal of experience in sport because they have been practicing it for half their life. Nevertheless, they will continue to learn new things every time they exercise and train, and the spectrum of topics will expand to include basic training, mental training, recovery, nutrition and equipment. Nevertheless, it can generally be said that the older a person is, the bigger the rucksack of experience he or she brings with them.

Experience is all the more valuable the more you have dealt with it. On the one hand, this can happen through reflection and realization, and on the other hand through repetition and improvement.

Of course, experiences can also be forgotten, especially if they are not relevant to you. Experiences also change over time, because although they are still present, the context has changed, resulting in different or even new perspectives.

I also find the observation that people in their mid-40s already consider themselves to be very experienced (senior or expert) and can't even imagine how much new, valuable experience they can gain in the years to come. This may be one reason why the experience of older employees is valued less, because the younger ones can't even imagine what can be added.

Which experiences are valuable?

Experience is valuable for a specific problem, a new job or a project if it is relevant. This must be assessed individually. Conversely, it is often the case that relevance is limited to the subject and technology and other factors that are at least as important are criminally neglected.

Experience, especially in social, interpersonal and personal areas, is probably always relevant when it comes to people and collaboration. For example, in projects or in leadership. Likewise, experience in planning, coordination and problem-solving is in great and increasing demand.

Which experiences are not valuable?

However, it must also be mentioned that there are experiences that inhibit or block a person, be it from negative experiences such as a fraud or an accident, in the worst case with a trauma. In general, you can probably also say that the more experience you have, the less willing you are to take risks. This is particularly evident in sport or driving, where it becomes less pronounced with age and due to the number and scope of experiences gained. This does not even have to be underpinned by personal experience of falls and accidents, but can be learned from third parties. Such experiences can also be personally valuable, but can be a hindrance for a specific task.

Why is it so difficult to deal with experiences, especially in a professional context?

Experience is therefore also knowledge and behavior that a person has acquired and can apply in their job. Similar to training, with the following differences:

In a training course, usually only things are learned that are intended in advance. These are described and can be repeated, assessed, evaluated and attested, for example in the form of certificates. It is therefore also possible for outsiders to acquire or assess this knowledge (with the necessary prior knowledge) with little effort and knowledge. A good example of this is the HR department, which selects job applicants primarily on the basis of their certificates and references, increasingly with the support of artificial intelligence (AI).

Unintentional and unplanned experiences in both professional and private environments are made on the basis of events that cannot be planned and arise in a very specific context. It is therefore very difficult for outsiders to recognize and assess the full scope of this insight. Accordingly, superiors, clients or HR departments find it difficult to assess these experiences, even though they may be the key to success.

Why is experience an important, if not the most important success factor, especially in complex plans and projects?

Complexity "refers to a large number of elements, diverse interactions, structures and processes in a context [Wikipedia]". It is therefore the complexity of a project with a huge number of possibilities that can only be partially planned and learned in a training course. In addition, projects are by definition unique, i.e. they occur for the first time in this constellation.

Unplanned events "happen" all the time in projects, which have a smaller or larger impact on the project. If a project manager lacks the experience for such events, which cannot be acquired in a training course or only to a limited extent, the project manager must first recognize the situation, analyse it, assess it as important or critical and develop an appropriate solution or action. This takes time and there is a high risk that this will not succeed straight away. If the project manager already has experience with such an event, i.e. has experienced it several times in the same or a similar way, they can quickly implement the right solution or action. As such unplanned events are part of the everyday life of a complex project, extensive life experience, especially for the project manager but also for the entire project team, becomes a success factor for the project.

I am happy to support you in your projects. Describe me your needs in a first discussion without any obligations. I listen carefully and show you potential approaches or different scenarios and how I can support you. I am looking forward to getting in touch with you!

Peter Roth

OMEGA IT-Consulting GmbH
Loorenstrasse 8
CH-8635 Duernten ZH
Tel. +41 55 263 20 20

© 2023 OMEGA IT-Consulting GmbH    -    Successfully since 1997