Some time ago I agreed to speak at the EDO International Congress “Learning Organisations and Organisational Knowledge Creation” to be held in Barcelona, Spain during 14 – 16 May 2014. They asked me to present a paper on “New Perspectives on Knowledge Management in Organisations” and I was happy to agree especially as one of my colleagues at Knoco Chile, Javier had presented at this congress in past years and found it to be well attended and simulating.
As I was starting to gather my thoughts on what to include in the paper I found myself remembering and example of ‘what not to do’.
A very well known company had tendered to design, procure, build and commission a project on behalf of a client. Included in the very substantial proposal document were words similar to “we will review our lessons learned database and ensure our learning is applied to this project”.
In due course they were informed that they had won the contract and a planning meeting was arranged with the client. At the end of the meeting the client asked if they could now view the lessons learned database mentioned in the tender document. As I am sure you can imagine ‘no’ would not have been an acceptable response so a laptop was set up in the meeting room and the database displayed on the large screen.
Very quickly they started to become embarrassed. Nobody ‘owned’ the database so the quality of the content of the lessons was highly variable; in some cases it was nothing more than a bland statement saying something didn’t work, no advice given on how to avoid the same error, just a statement. Some blamed things on sub contractors, some contradicted previous entries. Things had just been thrown into the database and with over 4,000 entries trying to sort the useful, quality lessons with specific actionable advice from the rubbish was very difficult.
The client wanted to make a point and drew their attention to the words in the proposal “we will review our lessons learned database and ensure our learning is applied to this project” and asked them to allocate senior staff to go through each entry, one at a time and explain to them how that would potentially impact their project. It took a lot of time and cost a lot of money but they had no other choice than to do what the client had asked for.
I am going to write the paper for the Congress on how the management of experience has moved on from databases to lessons management systems and how the assigning of actions based on that experience is a vital way to ensure that the learning is embedded in the organisation.