Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Why so much Learning After, so little Learning Before?

Learning Happens One of the standard models for Knowledge Management is the idea of "Learning Before, During and After".

Ideally these three activities should be embedded in project process, so that a project
  1. Starts by reviewing and accessing all the knowledge it needs,
  2. Learns as it goes, improving its processes during the course of the project, and
  3. Identifies, analyses, documents and shares the new knowledge it has gained, for the sake of future projects. 
For the project itself, the most powerful of the three is "Learning Before". If a project can maximise it's knowledge up front, especially if the team can discover the things it doesn't know that it doesn't know, then success is much more likely.

And yet, when you look at internal company project frameworks, or even at  generic frameworks such as Prince 2 or ISO, there is almost always no trigger or requirement for Learning Before.

Prince 2 has a required, and well documented, step at the end, for creating lessons (although this could be much improved!), but has no step at the project start-up, requiring a search for, and review of, existing knowledge. 

This astounds me. Why even bother to collect lessons at the end of a project, if nobody reviews them at the start of the next project!

I think the answer is that it is psychologically easier to share than it is to learn.  A project team can feel proud and recognised (even a little smug at times) for sharing lessons, while asking for lessons can feel like an admission of incompetence ("can anyone help me with this?"). 

Learning After is Teaching - Learning Before is Learning, which is Much Harder.

You get around some of these barriers by introducing non-judgemental techniques such as Peer Assist and Knowledge Management plans, which take the exposure out of asking for help, or seeking for knowledge. And you also address it by developing a culture of Asking, rather than a culture of Sharing.

However I suspect that if 80% of companies require their projects to do some sort of Learning After, probably less than 10% require them to do Learning Before. 

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