I recently published a post that documented some of the key problems surrounding lesson learned development and application. The most surprising aspect is the cavernous disconnect between “collecting” and “applying” lessons.
I will like to sum up some contributions from diverse professionals who replied the linkedin forum and tweeted in some interesting ideas:
-Capturing lessons at a knowledgeable moment: when is it the right time to capture lessons? Rather than to pursuit people and having them register lessons learned, identify the right moment to capture them: follow up a report, show how experiences are being correctly harnessed or simply going down the drain. Push forward while others push back.
-Find the right balance between “collect before and collect after”. This one is a really nice thought contributed by Arjan van Unnik (former global head KM Royal Dutch Shell) and complements the first point. I´m going to quote the exact comment:
“If you collect after the event you may end up with piles of material, possibly less relevant for future activities. If you collect before the event you’re pro-actively looking for materials that are expected to be relevant. Collect before implies that you look for analogues (previous projects, experts, activities in other companies, etc.) that potentially could provide relevant experiences and you collect them as far as they indeed are relevant. Results: high degree of re-use, high costs/value ratio for these activities. (And of course collect before should also imply that you look at already collected materials – but it cannot be the only activity in collect before! Be careful though: a focus on solely collect before is also not a good approach. In some cases you have to collect after because you will not get a second chance to collect again (e.g: end of project phase, leaving experts, etc.).”
-How do you convince people to see lessons learned as more than just “a necessary time overhaul?”
I think this is a question that almost every K-manager must have heard at some point. Before the blood starts to boil up let´s take a moment to understand what´s going on inside the organization. If people ask that question its usually because they haven´t realized the impact of lessons for various reasons:
-Its just a repository of lessons and no one knows where it is.
-Don’t have time to read them; projects don’t review them
-No one audits the process, so once again we are left with a pile of unused lessons.
-No lessons are being converted in actions.
The last point marks the thin line between success and failure. When companies don’t see it as a priority no one takes charge of analyzing the lessons and its root cause in order to see what changes need to be made in current process (or if new standards or procedures are required). Unless we start to align lessons learned with success drivers we won´t find a solid ground for lesson development.
Effective lessons learned starts with a vision for how lessons will impact organizational development and are measured on business performance.
Here´s an example of a lesson learned template which may be adapted to suit your company´s needs.