Lessons learned are under fire for their passive role in some organizations. Many knowledge managers have been criticized for focusing on collecting them and spending little time to no time in converting the lessons learned into sustainable actions embedded in the company´s core processes. Although there´s certain degree of responsibility from the business side, knowledge managers have to keep the process moving forward.
In some cases, lessons learned don’t generate the expected impact due to the following reasons:
Failure to make the “lesson learned” part of the company´s core processes – E.g. understanding root reasons for errors and taking corrective actions. In the case of positive lessons, making the practice a standard routine in the organization.
Unclear roles and processes – who´s responsible for registering lessons learned? When? Who checks quality? (How many people in the organization understand what lessons learned are all about?)
Complicated formats for registering lessons – keep it simple; if you make the format too long or complicated then people won´t use it. Make it readily accessible.
Organizational tolerance: I have analyzed lessons learned where mistakes were made simply because the processes were not followed or substantial errors were committed by subject matter experts. When tolerance is not part of the organizational culture´s we will come to a point where people will try to hide their errors and thereby bury significant lessons. The right approach is to guide the team who made the error and take the necessary steps so that it will not be committed again. Don´t punish.
K-worker* competencies: Not everyone is an expert storyteller. I have found that lessons registered as stories are more powerful than technical lessons. Narrative is great technique but try getting everyone to do it. Those who possess knowledge not always have the capacity to transmit it efficiently. Writing is tough and takes time. Some KM teams have hired people to conduct interviews and afterwards extract relevant information in order to write the lessons. I don´t know if this is a sustainable practice due to the cost of a FET doing this. I prefer to guide people and have a set of questions which will serve as a general guideline. Its all about creating culture.
Protect lessons: lessons are part of the organization´s knowledge. They often evoke critical knowledge that is applied in various process and product development. Some argue if all lessons learned should be available organizationwide. Although this is a debatable topic I do believe that knowledge managers must think about this and try to avoid at all costs significance knowledge loss. This is important as some people often safeguard their knowledge if they don’t find a “trustable” place to share it.
Recognize good lessons: if there are lessons that prove to generate greater value in terms of competitiveness then publicly recognize the team responsible. This is a good way of motivating others to register their lessons.
Metrics: start with quantity and then move towards quality. At the beginning it´s hard to gain both so move at an adequate pace so that you can reach quality soon. It’s a cultural change so provide constant feedback and guide the teams towards lessons that generate value and are centered on critical knowledge.
In the next few days I will publish examples of lessons learned formats, so those interested may follow my blog or my twitter account in order to receive notifications.
* “K-worker” term used to describe the new age of connected workers who must have the capacity to effectively transmit their know-how.