Practical Knowledge-Based Approach to Learning from Experience

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Survey reveals that a large proportion of organisations are attempting to implement a lessons learned system in some part of their business, and less than half are actually satisfied with this system. Read the full survey - courtesy of www.ikmagazine.com
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  www.ikmagazine.com www.arkgroupaustralia.com.au  The status of lessons learning inorganisations    A glance at the results of recent research, conducted by Knoco Ltd, into lessons learningobjectives and processes at national and international organisations. Further analysis will follow in the October issue.   Methodology In summer 2009, Knoco Ltd conducted a survey of the state of lessons learning inorganisations, using an online questionnaire. The purpose of the survey was to gain somebackground data for the forthcoming book, The Lessons Learned Handbook: a PracticalKnowledge-Based Approach to Learning from Experience, which is due to be completed atthe end of 2009.Seventy-four responses were received. The organisations represented fell into the followingcategories, with 11 respondents not identifying their organisation: academic (one);automotive (one); aviation (two); consulting and services (nine); engineering andconstruction (seven); insurance and banking (two); IT (four); legal (two); manufacturing andsales (five); military (four), mining (one); oil and gas (ten); pharmaceutical (four); publicsector (seven); and, retail (one). Prevalence of lessons learned systems Seventy-six per cent of respondents said that their organisation had a lessons learned systemin place in at least one major part of its activity. A further seven per cent were in the processof introducing one. Six per cent had previously had a lessons learned system, but hadstopped, while 11 per cent have never had a system in place.According to the research, lessons learned systems seem to be most common in the oil andgas, military and engineering and construction sectors (see Figure 2). Responses suggestedthey were also popular in mining and retail, although in this instance the numbers were toosmall to be sure.The respondents were also asked which part of their business applied learnings and at leasthalf applied lessons learned within the project context. Answers included: projectmanagement (24 responses); all activity (seven responses); software deployment and release(four responses); bidding and pitching (three responses); industrial safety occurrences (threeresponses); and, operations (two responses). Other respondents also used lessons learnedwithin the following scenarios: ã   Service improvement and related IT projects; ã   During major, ongoing change programmes; ã   Before, during and after consulting assignments; ã   Monthly e-mail campaigns; ã   Lean or Six Sigma programmes; ã   Compiled as a part of most engagements; and ã   Supply chain.  Effectiveness of lessons learned systems Next, the survey asked those respondents who had (or were introducing) a system, to rate itseffectiveness, using a score between 0 (not at all effective) and 5 (excellent). The responsesare shown in Figure 3. ã   Six per cent rated the system as 0 (not at all effective); ã   Six per cent rated the system as 1 (slightly effective); ã   Forty-eight per cent rated the system as 2 (moderately effective); ã   Fifteen per cent rated the system as 3 (good); ã   Eighteen per cent rated the system as 4 (very good); and ã   Six per cent rated the system as 5 (excellent).Figure 4 shows the average effectiveness rating for each industry group, set within the rangeof ratings between high and low scores. The highest average ratings were from retail (onesingle score), consulting and services, manufacturing (with a very wide range), military, andoil and gas. The highest single ratings (excellent) were found in manufacturing and military. Success factors Participants who scored highly (3, 4 or 5), were asked to identify success factors that resultedin a high score. Reponses were relatively varied, with respondents citing consistency of application, honesty, gaining buy-in and governance (encompassing the process, systems andpeople aspects of KM) as key to successful deployment of lessons learned processes. Alsoessential were: ã   Ensuring participants in the review process covered a wide range of perspectives; ã   Devising effective action plans after the lessons learned activity; ã   Small group discussions coupled with larger group consolidation; ã   Constant communication; ã   Clear specification of what the evaluation needs to achieve (objectives); ã   High-level management and stakeholder involvement; and ã   Team evaluation and consultation. Barriers Participants who scored low (0, 1 or 2), were asked to identify the barriers which resulted in alow score. Several common factors were identified. Senior management (11 responses) including:   ã   Lack of senior-level support; ã   Lack of buy-in/commitment; and ã   Lack of ownership/leadership. Cultural issues (10 responses) including:   ã   Resistance to flagging ‘bad news’; ã   Not seen as central to performance management; and ã   An attitude of ‘this is how we have always done things, and we will not change’.  Lack of follow through and application (15 responses) including:    ã   Not part of the process improvement process; ã   Poor dissemination and use of lessons learned; and ã   No recognised process.Other barriers included: ã   Time issues; ã   Lack of governance; ã   Concerns about litigation; and ã   Lack of a central repository or access point. Ranking the components of the lessons learned system The respondents were given a list of components of a lessons learned system, and asked toidentify whether they applied these components. The frequency of application of eachcomponent is shown in Figure 5.The most common is the use of a defined process for identifying lessons from activity, with46 of the respondents (80 per cent of those with a lessons learned system) operating in thatway. The least common was the use of rewards to incentivise lessons submission.Respondents were also asked to correlate these components with the effectiveness score forthe KM system – for example, those systems that included the definition of actions arisingfrom lessons learned scored approximately 3 on average. Those that did not had an averagescore of 2. Thus, it can be assumed that including such definitions and actions makes theprocess more effective.Generally speaking, all except four components seemed to make a significant positivecontribution to lessons learning. They can be grouped as follows: Strong positive contribution   ã   Actions defined arising from the lessons; ã   Clear high-level expectations from senior management that the lessons learnedprocess will be applied; ã   A method to measure whether actions have been completed and lessons closed out; ã   A process for validating and agreeing the actions; ã   Accountable person or people assigned to complete the actions; and ã   A defined process for identifying lessons from activity.  Moderate positive contribution   ã   A person or people to track the metrics; ã   An escalation method if the lesson or action needs to be addressed at a higher level; ã   A clear accountability for identifying lessons from activity; ã   A high-level sponsor of the lessons learned process; ã   Quality assurance of the process – for example, trained facilitation; ã   A method for disseminating the lessons; and ã   A lessons learned database, which can hold lessons from multiple projects or units. Fairly neutral    ã   Quality control of the lessons to ensure they are well written; ã   A method to measure whether lessons have been captured; and ã   A search function within the lesson database. Strong negative contribution   ã   Rewards to incentivise submission of lessons. Missing components When asked which components were missing from this list, respondents pointed to suchelements as: ã   A knowledge baseline against which to understand whether or not a ‘lesson’ issomething that should be widely known anyway; ã   A method for incorporating lessons into current practice; ã   A filtering process – quality control over lessons to be followed up on; ã   Improved accessibility to lessons; and ã   Communication – a lack of awareness. Lessons identification method Respondents were also asked to list the methods they use to identify lessons. Manyindentified more than one method, although after actions reviews (17 responses) and othertypes of project-related review (28 responses) were popular choices. Such reviews included: ã   A specific chapter in the project completion report; ã   Board meetings at the end of a project or programme; ã   Formal processes associated with project execution; ã   Retrospects; ã   Post-project workshops; and ã   Post (or milestone) debriefing of client projects.Other methods employed to share lessons learned were: external reviews and benchmarking(six responses); learning from incidents and events (five responses); individual or ad hocsubmissions (seven responses); and other processes such as: ã   Reward and recognition; ã   Post-sales pitch reviews; ã   Information exchange with partners; ã   Online community discussions; and ã   Case studies, observation and rapid improvement events. In summary It seems evident from the responses to this survey that a large proportion of organisations areattempting to implement (or are intending to do so) a lessons learned system in some part of their business. However, less than half are actually satisfied with the effectiveness of thissystem.No one industry sector can be shown to have ‘got lessons learning right’. Certainly, it seemsmore prevalent in the oil sector and the military, but even there satisfaction ratings are notuniformly high and survey responses are too few to be certain.
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