Thursday 20 January 2011

Attention to the speed of learning

Speed of  SoundFor the knowledge management culture change to take hold, the organisation must not just benefit from KM, it must be SEEN to benefit. And that means that the speed of learning, and the speed of change, must be fast enough to be visible.

Lots of people are sceptical or suspicious of knowledge management. They say "well, it sounds OK in theory, but I want to see it happen in practice". So if you engage them in KM activities, they expect to see something happen as a result. If they spend time and energy in KM, sharing their knowledge, or identifying lessons, then they want to know that this time wasn't wasted, and that the business is benefiting as a result. If they see nothing, then their scepticism is reinforced.

So let's look at two examples of lessons-learned systems.

In one, knowledge and lessons are collected from projects; through dialogue, through group discussions, and through storytelling. These lessons are used to update company processes, company standards and guidance. The standards and guidance have a rigorous review process, and a 2-5 year update cycle. The speed of update, and thus the speed of company learning, is so slow, that many folk don't realise that their lessons have had any effect at all. As far as they are concerned, the lessons have disappeared into the ether. And of course there are countless opportunities for repeat mistakes in those intervening 2-5 years.

In another system, lessons are reviewed very shortly after identification by a senior team, and guidance documents and processes are updated very quickly - within weeks if not days. And the knowledge manager in charge of the system puts wall-posters together to take out to the team who contributed the lesson (as well as other teams) to acknowledge the contribution of knowledge, and to state what's happened as a result. In this system, the speed of learning is high, and is highly visible.

Here's another example - a drilling-team leader talking about how he made learning visible in his team.

"The very first well was only 22 days, but we had a hundred and fifty ideas come in from offshore. There were some were good ideas, and some were not so great ideas. But we very quickly took them, worked on them, and sent them back out, and people saw we were serious about learning when we quickly put their ideas back into the program."
So in your organisation, if you are to win over the sceptics, think about the speed of learning. Is it years, or weeks? Is it fast enough to be visible? Or is learning invisible, in which case people will rapidly some to feel that they are wasting their time, as nothing seems to happen as a result.

Pay attention to the speed of company learning, and the speed of the learning cycle.

Learn fast, and learn visibly.

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