Re: Lessons Learned - Building skills to recognize and describe them #lessons-learned


Hello Eve - 

You wrote: 
I’d appreciate your thoughts on how to help people build skills to see and share lessons learned. We’re starting with (existing) meetings, and thinking about how to transition them from information exchanges to knowledge-building opportunities. Currently, at one of these meetings, someone sharing a great report might simply read out its title, and stop there. They won’t know how to highlight its value.
You also mention that you've already searched the forum for previous threads on this. Hopefully you've come across posts that reference the US Army's AAR process and CALL. If not, I'd recommend you find info on those, as they lay out an important part of the answer to your question. 

After that, there are two ways to think about lessons learned: one is in the context of a work process, whereby a worker identifies a better way to perform a task/step/operation that is already otherwise encoded and practiced. The better way improves the process via less time to complete, less labor to complete, improved quality in the output and/or increased revenue. Let's call this process innovation. It centers on "know how". 

The other type of lesson learned centers on "know what." The US military had a hard time with IEDs (roadside bombs), because the enemy was constantly changing how they deployed them, and there was latency in the existing approaches the Army had for describing these and disseminating it back out to field so that others could learn about new IED types. As a result, people were dying or getting hurt because of the latency. They eventually improved their lessons learned process so that the time was reduced between one unit discovering a new type of IED and other units being made aware of it and how to detect and defuse it, thereby saving lives. 

This required improving (or innovating, if you like) on the meta process of identifying and disseminating lessons learned, where the 'lessons' consisted mainly of 'know what', rather than 'know how.' 

In the world of commerce and other types of orgs, no one dies if processes remain inefficient or ineffective; or new knowledge is not rapidly codified, disseminated and reused. Therefore, the impetus to implement and maintain the discipline around lessons learned processes is lacking. 

This is where aligning incentives with behaviors and business outcomes comes into play. So I'd suggest you work backwards from the end goal you want (desired future state), and the impact of not achieving it (current state). Identify the cost in dollars and cents of not having any ability to routinely identify and implement lessons learned. Figure out what it would be worth to have a robust and consistent system in place for doing this. 

Then identify incentives for employees who are on the front line and exposed to the places where lessons learned come up, and failure to leverage them incurs cost. 

Then develop a campaign for raising awareness of the importance of lessons learned, the places where they come up that you want people to address, the business benefits of addressing them, and the WIIFM of doing it for the employees. 


Tom Short Consulting
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