Friday, 30 May 2014

Life of a lesson #9: we're done when I say we're done, got 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 – ensure that changes have taken place and/or 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 how an organisation assures itself that a lesson’s recommendations have been implemented; we’ll now look at lesson closure.

As we have already seen, robust lessons management systems have checks and balances such as periodic reviews that monitor lesson progress and hold lesson owners and other stakeholders to account.  It is during such meetings that lessons recommended for closure are reviewed and, where sufficient evidence justifies the decision, closed.

Early on in its efforts to identify and manage lessons, the British Army decided upon two closure statuses:
  • Lessons were closed ‘green’ when recommendations had been implemented and no further action was required;
  • Lessons were closed ‘black’ when the lesson was deemed out of date, or that other initiatives had addressed the issue from which the lesson was drawn, or that the recommendations now lacked official endorsement, or that there were neither the resources nor will to implement them.  A recent development in this area has been the continuous management of ‘black’ lessons as risks.
Once lessons have been closed, some organisations ‘remove’ them from their databases or systems but I recommend their retention for 3 reasons:
  • Research - when faced with future problems, it can be useful to be able to consult historic lessons (including the commentary and audit trail) to understand how similar issues were tackled in the past;
  • Analysis – trends, themes and ‘common issues’ can be detected through data-mining, taxonomy analysis and keyword searches;
  • Assurance – any robust system of lessons management should include periodic review of closed lessons to ensure that the decision to close remains valid (we will examine this in greater detail next time).
For more information on lessons, lessons management systems, knowledge management (KM) and organisational learning, please visit the Knoco website.

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