Monday 4 March 2013

Case history - failure of a lesson learning system

design-database Here's an interesting article entitled "Defence lessons database turns off users". I have copied some of the text below, to show that, even thought the lessons management software seems to have been very clumsy (which is what the title of the article suggests), there was much more than the software at fault.
 "A Department of Defence database designed to capture lessons learned from operations was abandoned by users who set up their own systems to replace it, according to a recent Audit report. The ADF Activity Analysis Data System's (ADFAADS) was defeated by a "cultural bias" within Defence, the auditor found. Information became fragmented as users slowly abandoned the system".
So although the article title is "defence lessons database turns off users", the first paragraph says that it was defeated by cultural bias. There's obviously something cultural at work here (other than the bright spark who called it ADFAADS) ......
"Although the auditor found the structure and design of the system conformed to 'best practice' for incident management systems, users found some features of the system difficult to use. Ultimately it was not perceived as ‘user‐friendly’, the auditor found. Convoluted search and business rules turned some users against the system". 
....but it also sounds like a clumsy and cumbersome system

"In addition, Defence staff turnover meant that many were attempting to use ADFAADS with little support and training".
...with no support and no training.
"An automatically-generated email was sent to 'action officers' listing outstanding issues in the system. At the time of audit, the email spanned 99 pages and was often disregarded, meaning no action was taken to clear the backlog".
A 99-page email is daft, but even so, there needs to be a governance system to ensure actions are followed through.
 "It was common for issues to be sent on blindly as ‘resolved’ by frontline staff to clear them off ADFAADS, even though they remain unresolved, according to the auditor".
Again, no governance. There needs to be a validation step for actions, and sign-off for "resolution" should not be developed to frontline staff.
 "Apart from a single directive issued by Defence in 2007, use of the database was not enforced and there were no sanctions against staff who avoided or misused it".
There's the kicker. Use of the lessons system is effectively optional, with no clear expectations, no link to reward or sanction, no performance management. It's no wonder people stopped using it.

So it isn't as simple as "database turned off users". It's a combination of

  • Poor database
  • No support
  • No training
  • No incentives
  • No governance
  • No checking on actions

It's quite possible that if the other items had been fixed, then people might have persevered with the clumsy database, and it's even more likely that if they built a better database without fixing the other deficiencies, then people still would not use it.

So what was the outcome? According to the article,
.....establish a clear role and scope for future operational knowledge management repositories, and develop a clear plan for capturing and migrating relevant existing information ..... prepare a “user requirement” for an enterprise system to share lessons.
In other words - "build a better database and hope they use it" Sigh.

1 comment:

Ian Mayo said...

Nicely put.

Not wanting so 'suck up', but I suspect one shortcoming in the project was the lack of Knowledge Management professionals.

I expect that the business rep's will not have had the experience/skills to identify the critical success factors for the lessons learnt venture. But, they did have the resources to start a software development project. So, that's what it turned into.

As you said, really it should have been a knowledge management project that recognised it included cultural, organisational, and software components.

Taking this perspective would have greatly assisted the software part of the venture, since it would have given the system a task-oriented focus, rather than just 'store this data'.

Personally, I think referring to such a thing as a database damns the venture from the start: it's a workhorse, to enable a business process, not a dumb repository.

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