Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The 3 steps of the lessons learned loop

There are three main steps in Learning a lesson – Identification, Action, and Institutionalisation.

Identification means the review of activity, to derive learning points. An individual or a team looks back on a project or an event, and recalls what happens. Activities or tasks are identified where there was a difference between what was planned or expected, and what actually happened. This can be a positive or negative difference – things may have gone better than expected, or worse than expected. The individual or the team, often with the help of a facilitator, discusses the root causes behind what happened, and what can be learned as a result. What are the identified lessons? What should be done in future activity to avoid the pitfall, or to repeat the success? At this stage we have new lessons in the form of "Lessons Identified" (not yet Lessons learned).

Action means taking action as a result of that learning, generally either to fix something immediately, or to update a process or practice or procedure. A “Lesson Identified” is not an end in itself, but is a temporary step along the way to making a change, and to improving something. Think about an identified lesson coming out of a Retrospect, or some other form of review. What have you learned? You have either learned a way to do something for the first time, or a better way to do something, or a new way NOT to do something, or that something needs to be fixed (such as replacing equipment, training staff, changing reporting lines, extending a contract etc). So the lesson points to one of several actions, such as documenting a process improvement (or a new process), or fixing something. If the lesson is validated and the action taken, then the outcome will be improved processes and practices.

Institutionalisation means embedding the improved practice in the working habits of the organisation. You need to ensure the new or improved process reaches the people who need it, and that they act on it and adopt it in their activity. This could include broadcasting the change in a newsletter or blog, ensuring people are subscribed to an automatic feed for process updates, incorporating the new process or doctrine in training, talking through the new process in briefings, and toolbox talks, and many other approaches.

Until the lesson finds its way back into action, we can't say that it is learned. And it wont find its way, unless these three steps are taken.

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