Friday 10 June 2016

The 4 steps of lesson identification

The identification of new knowledge, or new lessons, involves a few steps. One critical step is making an analysis of a number of observations.

The steps involved in identifying a lesson from experience, or new knowledge gained, are as follows:
  1. Making an observation. Something unexpected or unwanted has happened, and the first step is to make this observation.
  2. Analysis. You analyse the observation, look for the root causes behind it.
  3. Generic learning. You decide the learning point - what the recommendation would be for the future, to repeat the unexpected success, or avoid the unwanted problem.
  4. Decide the action. Here you decide what to change in the organisation, to ensure the generic learning is embedded in process.
Think of the 4 or 5 questions of the After Action Review. The first two ("what was supposed to happen? What actually happened?") cover the observation. The third ("why was there a difference?") is the analysis. The fourth (""what have we learned?") is the generic learning. The optional fifth ("What action do we take") is the action.

Who carries out these steps, and using what process, varies from organisation to organisation.

Analysis as a separate function

  • In the NATO system, observations come from the troops, and all the other steps are carried out by JALLC (the joint analysis and lessons learned centre). NATO therefore separate observation from analysis and identification of learning points.
  • This same approach is taken by many  Aid and Development organisations, lending organisations such as the World Bank, and government departments such as DFID (department for international development). Here there are whole evaluation departments set up to analyse observations and draw out lessons. 
  • A similar approach is seen in major accident investigations, where an evaluation and analysis team is set up.

Analysis by management 

  • In a major engineering company we work with, the observations, analysis and generic learnings are identified by the project teams, using the Retrospect process. The actions are decided by a central group of senior functional managers (in another company, a central lessons coordination team decides the actions). These companies combine observation, analysis and lessons identification into one process, but separate the step of identifying the actions.

Analysis combined with Observation

  • In standard processes such as After Action Review and the Toyota A3 process, the project teams conduct all the steps, including suggesting the actions.
When you design your own lesson learning system you will need to decide, for your organisation, who does what in this process of indentifying the learning from activity, and whether you separate observation from analysis, or lessons from actions.  The key question to consider is whether the project team are both objective enough, and saw enough of the aftermath of the project or activity, to conduct the analysis themselves. 

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