Monday, 31 March 2014

Life of a lesson #4: "Cheeky bugger, I never said that! What I meant was...."

Recently, we’ve been looking at the following ten steps in the life of a lesson:
  1. Event takes place – an experience, idea, incident or accident
  2. Analysis and capture – through interview, AAR, workshop, report-writing etc.
  3. Packaging – write-up of lessons
  4. Review for accuracy – editing and improvement by person who identified the lesson
  5. Validation – quality check, ownership assigned and upload into a management system
  6. Review for accountability – periodic checks on progress
  7. Implement recommendations – to avoid/ensure recurrence of bad/good alike
  8. Review for effectiveness – observe changes to ensure they have had desired effect
  9. Closure – lesson status updated but retained in system for reference and to aid analysis
  10. Assurance – as part of risk management, periodic review to ensure closed status remains justified
Last time we looked at the third step – the write-up and packaging of lessons.  Now we’ll look at reviewing, editing and improving lessons.
Independent interviews and impartial facilitation of lessons capture meetings ensure that assumptions are challenged, difficult questions are asked and lessons will be understood by people that did not take part in the meeting or, for that matter, the event from which lessons have been identified.
However, with no reference back to the people taking part in the lessons capture, there is a danger that the written up lessons become too far removed from the conversations from which they originated.  Risks include:
  • Insufficient detail, notably on technical matters;
  • Over-simplification of complex issues;
  • Recommendations that 'miss their target'.
Therefore, the first draft of a lesson should always be returned for review by someone that was at the meeting or, in the case of an interview, the interviewee.

This ensures that originators of lessons retain a sense of 'ownership' and guards against their name being put against something with which they disagree.  In the words of T.S. Eliot's 'The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock'; "
 “That is not it at all,
  That is not what I meant, at all.”
Ideally, reviewers should:
  • Read through the whole lesson promptly, checking that its overall message is sound;
  • Add technical detail where this may be lacking;
  • Add supplementary reference material (e.g. diagrams, pictures, report templates etc.);
  • Re-word sentences whose meaning may be misunderstood if quoted out of context.
Importantly, however, reviewers should not:
  • Leave the lessons for weeks so that their memory of the meeting or interview becomes hazy;
  • Weaken the overall message for fear of causing offence higher up;
  • Decide to re-write the lessons in order to 'sell' the strengths, diligence and all-round excellence of themselves and their colleagues.
Once this is complete, lessons are all but ready for uploading into a management system for action, a step that we will look at next time.
For more information on lessons, knowledge management (KM) and organisational learning, please visit the Knoco website.

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