Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Army definitions in Lesson Learning

The Army talk about building up lessons through Observations and Insights. But what do these terms mean?


Chinese character dictionaryLesson learning is one area where Industry can learn from the Military. Military lesson learning can be literally a matter of life and death, so lesson learning is well developed and well understood in military organisations.

The Military see a progression in the extraction and development of lessons - from Observations to Insights to Lessons - and we see a similar progression within the questioning process in After Action Reviews and Retrospects.

On Slide 7 of this interesting presentation, given by Geoff Cooper, a senior analyst at the Australian Centre for Army Lessons Learned, at the recent 8th International Lessons Learned Conference, we have a set of definitions for these terms, which are very useful.

They read as follows (my additions in brackets)

Observation. The basic building block [for learning] from a discrete perspective. 
  • Many are subjective in nature, but provide unique insights into human experience.
  • Need to contain sufficient context to allow correct interpretation and understanding.
  • Offer recommendations from the source
  • [they should be] Categorised to speed retrieval and analysis
Insight. The conclusion drawn from an identified pattern of observations pertaining to a common experience or theme.
  • Link differing perspectives and observations, where they exist.
  • Indicate recommendations, not direct actions,
  • Link solid data to assist decision making processes
  • As insights relay trends, they can be measures
Lesson. Incorporates an insight, but adds specific action and the appropriate technical authority.  
Lesson Learned. When a desired behaviour or effect is sustained, preferably without external influence.

What Geoff is describing is a typical military approach to lesson-learning, where a lessons team collects many observations from Army personnel, performs analysis, and identified the Insight and Lesson. As I pointed out in this post, this is different from the typical Engineering Project approach, where the project team compare observations, derive their own insight, and draft their own lesson.

The difference between the two approaches depends on the scale of the exercise. In the military model there can be hundreds of people who contribute observations, while in a project, it's usually a much smaller project team (in which case it makes sense to collect the observations and insights through discussion). If you are using the military model, these definitions will be very useful.


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