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This Focused Performance Weblog started life as a "business management blog" containing links and commentary related primarily to organizational effectiveness with a "Theory of Constraints" perspective, but is in the process of evolving towards primary content on interactive and mobile marketing. Think of it as about Focusing marketing messages for enhanced Performance. If you are on an archive page, current postings are found here.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Lessons Learned, Revisited -- A while ago, I waxed poetic about the potential in using weblogs to document lessons learned in project environments. My thought were picked up by McGee and Dina, in the context of their's and others' discussion of the topic.

However, I've been giving the subject some more thought recently and have developed another point of view on the general subject of "lessons learned" and "knowledge management."

Lessons learned are nice, but not enough.

Lessons applied are the real source of value of learning.

If a team or individual learns something from an effort, there is absolutely no guarantee that they will remember it the next time a similar situation is encountered. Over time, there is even less of a chance that others (or the organization) will benefit from that "learning." Whether lessons are derived from positive/negative surprises that one would want to recreate/avoid in the future, or from the confirmation/denial of some hypothesis/theory, their cataloging, reviewing, discussing and/or reporting are all actions insufficient to fully take advantage of the "learning."

Lessons learned must be transformed into lessons applied. That application involves putting the lesson into the context of the process with which it is associated. Take the "lesson." Describe it in terms of the causes, effects, and consequences associated with it. Determine (in a timely manner, while still fresh in the mind) what needs to change in the process, what the new process needs to look like, and how to make -- and institutionalize -- the necessary changes so that the desired outcome is assured in future applications of the process.

Along these lines, I have to differ with some recent comments by Esther and Laurent on the lack of value they see as inherent in periodic status meetings. While I might agree that they should be unnecessary at the individual project level, there is no better practice than a weekly half-hour review of a portfolio of projects to highlight both immediate issues that cross project boundaries and to trigger timely actions on learnings and their application. (A half-hour has usually been sufficient for my clients that use buffer management to limit content and focus attention in these meetings.)

If one thinks of such meetings not as reporting to the manager (as Laurent mentions), but to the organization and its future, then a whole new agenda for such sessions can be derived (What's hot today? What can we do about it that leverages organizational support from outside the individual project? What have we learned since last together? What are we going to do about it?) In this way, the concern that Jack has about knowledge retention would become less of an issue.

This approach involves two prerequisites. 1) It requires an understanding of the process, and an easily applied and accessed method of documenting it. 2) It requires "slack" in capacity to be able to address the changes in a timely manner. Regular readers of this weblog probably recognize the TOC Thinking Processes -- especially the Transition Tree -- as useful tools for the understanding problems and processes, and rational multi-project management is a way of freeing up capacity for system and process improvements.

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