Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Lessons Learned Survey results

You can find the full results from my recent Lessons Learned survey on the Knoco downloads page

They are pretty interesting. My main conclusions are as follows

It seems evident from the responses to this survey that a large proportion of companies and organisations are attempting to operate, or are intending to operate, a lessons learned system in some part of their organisation. However less than half are actually satisfied with the effectiveness of this system.
No one industry segment can be shown to have “got lesson-learning right”. Certainly lesson learning seems more prevalent in the oil sector and the military, but even there, satisfaction ratings are not uniformly high, and survey responses are too few to be certain.

In most cases, lessons learned is being applied to project activity, and project-related team dialogue processes such as After Action review and Retrospect are commonly used to identify lessons, together with incident investigations, external evaluations, and individual submissions. However there are many barriers to operating these processes, and even more barriers to actually following through with the learning and making a difference to the work of the organisation. The issue of re-use and re-application of lessons is a constant theme in the responses quoted here.

It seems that effective lesson-learning contains many elements, each of which has a positive impact on the success of the system, and that a successful system needs to incorporate as many of the elements as possible. These elements are cultural as well as procedural. The most important things to get right seem to be

• Ensuring that lessons lead to action, and that these actions are followed through to application in future projects. It is probably the lack of follow through that causes the greatest frustration.

• Clear involvement by senior management, with clear expectations that the lessons learned system will be applied. Without senior management attention, time for lesson-learning is not prioritised, or lesson learning is treated as a tick-box activity.

• Formalising, defining, embedding and consistently applying the system (and there are sub-issues here, for example accountabilities, and avoiding the “tick box” mentality).

• A supportive culture (and this will be driven largely through the behaviours of leadership, and by the importance they place on lesson learning).

Learning lessons seems to be something that the majority of companies seek to do, but it seems to be easy to do badly. If a company wishes to learn effectively, they need to address lesson-learning as a complete system, they need to make sure that all elements of the system are in place from identification through to reapplication, and they need to ensure that they have the full backing and attention of senior management. From this foundation, success should be possible.

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