Tuesday 13 December 2016

The structure of a lesson in a KM system

I blogged yesterday about Garbage In, Garbage Out in KM systems, and the need to feed the system with high quality lessons. But what is a high quality lesson?

Based on a figure in the US Army handbook,
"Establishing a lesson learned program"
In this blog post I won't go into the whole quality issue, but focus on one point - the structure of a lesson; what it should contain. 

Many organisations use the After Action review process to discuss and identify lessons, or it's big brother, the Retrospect. These processes are a structured discussion and analysis of learning points, and involve discussing the following points:

  • What was expected to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • Why was there a difference?
  • What is the learning for the future?
  • What action should we take to embed the lesson?

This logical flow ensures lessons are based on observations (particularly observations where the actual outcome deviated from the planned outcome), on insights derived from root cause analysis, on reframing the lessons as advice for the future, and on moving this advice towards action.

Lessons should be documented in the same way and following the same struture as these review processes.

Each lesson should contain:

  • A description of the intended outcome of the activity or issue being discussed;
  • A set of observations of the actual outcome, based wherever possible on ground truth, evidence an measurement;
  • Insights of the root causes behind the observations;
  • Advice for how the root causes can be tacked in future, either to repeat a positive outcome or avoid a negative outcome;
  • Actions to embed the advice in policy, process, standard operating procedures or guidance.
By using this structure, each lesson then becomes a stand-alone document which can be read and understood in isolation. 

The US Army adds a side branch to the lesson structure as shown above. There are cases where the solution to the root cause has already been implemented, and no advice for the future is needed (the advice has "already been taken". The US Army call this a Best Practice rather than a lesson. 

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