Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Life of a lesson #5: Is this is for us? It is? Then let's get on with it....

As part of a wider discussion about knowledge management (KM), we’ve recently 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 4th step - how lessons are reviewed for accuracy and improved by those who identified them.  We’ll now look at validation, assignment of ownership and upload into a management system.
Validation – is this really a lesson for us?
Up to this point, our lesson has effectively stayed between those that identified it and the person who has written it up. Validation ensures that the organisation with the power to implement the lesson’s recommendations is satisfied that these are reasonable, sensible, relevant requests.
This does not mean that any action is taken to begin implementing the lesson; it is merely an opportunity for the host organisation (e.g. company, Army, hospital, charity, police force etc.) to agree that this is a lesson for its consideration.  Where this agreement is lacking, the lesson can be transferred (i.e. up, down or sideways) to those better placed to manage it.
It’s worth checking the lesson for clarity, brevity, punctuation and grammar at this stage also – yes, it may have been written and reviewed by others already but they may have been on an oil or gas platform off-shore, in a forward-operating base in a hot, dusty theatre of war or in a busy factory, with hot, noisy production going on around them.  To pass up the opportunity to improve their offerings in relative peace and quiet is to do them a disservice, frankly.
Metadata – what will help us find this lesson in the future?
Metadata should be added to the lesson at this point.  This is a topic to which we shall return in the future but, for now, suffice to say that we simply add information to the lesson to help us retrieve it in the future.  This can include:
  • Date and location of event from which lesson has been identified;
  • Key-words (e.g. ‘tags’, like those used at the foot of articles on news websites);
  • Taxonomy codes (e.g. classification of the issue and/or solution, perhaps through the use of numbers (e.g. 7.3.3);
  • Any categories already in use (i.e. functions, business areas, budgets etc.).
Assigning ownership – who can make things happen?
The lesson must now be allocated to someone, somewhere to see it through to implementation and closure.  This is arguably the most important element of any lessons management system, not least because its absence means that nothing happens to the lesson and it merely takes up storage space in an online folder or system.  Assigning ownership requires governance arrangements to be in place, as well as a policy document setting out how lessons are to be allocated, how managed and by whom.
We’ll return to the areas of policy and governance in the future but, for now, we will just note that a lesson should be assigned to an individual, team or department who has ability to implement the recommendations contained therein (i.e. “the levers”, the budget, the ability to hire and fire etc.).  Also, vitally, that individual, team or department must acknowledge that the responsibility lies with them – they may not like it but, for now, they simply agree that the lesson is on their ‘to-do list’ until they have implemented it, transferred it elsewhere or recommended no further action be taken (for reasons which, again, we will examine another time).
Uploading the lesson
Obviously, lessons management systems vary from simple spreadsheet tools (e.g. such as Microsoft Excel) to sophisticated, purpose-built software packages (e.g. like the Lessons Management Hub (LMH) from www.lessonlearner.com).
Whichever method is being used, a lesson should be allocated a unique reference number, remain viewable by all (exceptions to this should be rare indeed) and stay in the system until its recommendations have been implemented (or rejected, about which, more later).

Once uploaded, work can and must begin to implement the changes recommended in the lesson.  We can maintain momentum by periodically reviewing progress and we will look at such reviews next time.

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