Wednesday 16 October 2013

Lessons analysis - what's the bigger picture?

Lessons learned through experience are each, in their own right, simply tasks that need to get done because, as regular readers of this blog will know, lessons are only learned when changes happen.

However, when viewed collectively, lessons can also be used to reveal ‘the bigger picture’ through the use of analytical tools such as keywords and taxonomies.

Most online articles use keywords or ‘tags’ to help users find related material.  Applying them to a lesson when it is entered into a database or management system makes it more likely that the lesson will be retrieved in user searches.  For example, an industrious project manager searching for lessons relating to ‘schedules’ will find all related lessons tagged with that keyword.
Another benefit that such metadata provides is ‘clustering’ or grouping lessons into themes which can become topics for further investigation, perhaps through directed enquiry in one-to-one interviews, facilitated discussions or After Action Reviews.


Taxonomies are simply hierarchical classification systems, through which data is organised to show natural relationships.  Lessons taxonomies should be based on activity and be as ‘flat’ as possible.  The lowest level, applicable to all lessons, might relate to the type of recommendation contained within the lesson, for example:

·       New requirement – the lesson has identified the need for a new capability (e.g. a piece of equipment to be procured or a new post to be established);

·       Quantity – the lesson has identified the need for an existing capability to be increased in number (e.g. ‘recruit more web developers’ or ‘allocate more time to identifying a client’s requirements’);

·       Modification – the lesson has identified the need for an existing capability to be modified in order to adapt to new circumstances (i.e. ‘update the weekly progress report format’ or ‘revise the service agreements with supplier X’);

·       Performance – the lesson has identified that an existing capability is not performing as intended and needs to be improved (i.e. ‘the sales team car fleet needs repair or replacement’ etc).
Assigning a number to each taxonomy level (or ‘taxon’) creates 3 digit codes that can be ‘tagged’ onto each lesson.  Once all lessons are allocated a taxonomy code, Excel’s ‘pivot table’ function is used to show a breakdown of the lessons by type.
Conducting periodic analysis of its lessons using these and other methods enables an organisation to identify the ‘repeat offenders’ (i.e. either the topics or types of lessons that come up most often) and respond accordingly.
So what?

For one client, a high number of ‘modifications to training’ lessons resulted in a review of its training needs analysis methods and greater resources were allocated to ensure changed circumstances were fed back to the training design and delivery departments more quickly.  This shortened the time needed to update training to reflect new realities and resulted in fewer lessons of this type.

This kind of high-leverage intervention would not have been possible had the client simply managed each individual lesson on its own.

Knoco now offers lessons analysis as one of its services and more information is available here.

Over the coming weeks, we will be looking in greater depth at some examples of the kind of problems (and root causes) such analysis can identify.

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