• Bill Brown

How To Make Your Lessons Learned Initiative Succeed

Many organizations have attempted to implement a lessons learned system only to find that their best efforts fall far short of their expected results. At that point the system is either abandoned or it requires significant rework to bring back to life. With proper planning and consideration at the outset of the initiative this outcome can be avoided. To achieve success in your lessons learned initiative it’s important to understand the reasons why lessons learned systems fail. The three most typical reasons are:

  1. Lack of content

  2. Poor data quality

  3. Inability to efficiently recall information

Lack of content… Imagine the email that hits in the inbox of tens or hundreds of employees announcing the rollout of the new lessons learned system that promises a plethora of project saving knowledge at each employee’s fingertips. After reading such an email, what would your next move be? That’s right. You would click the link, login and then start the quest for knowledge. If the system has not been populated with any lessons at that point their searches will fall short of expectations by returning next to nothing. Not a good way to start off. Most users will be less likely to use the system if they don’t see some immediate value. To avoid this we recommend “priming the pump” by doing two things:

  • Assemble a team of subject matter experts and knowledge evangelists to brainstorm some recent lessons learned and enter them into your system.

  • Using the same or similar team, scour your files, wikis and other media for existing documented lessons learned and enter these into the system.

Poor data quality… While we hope that all employees put their best foot forward and document their lessons learned in a manner that is coherent, complete and consistent with corporate policies and procedures, we know that is not always the case. If we allow our lessons learned system to be populated at will without any filtering and management, consumers of this knowledge may uncover information that is incorrect and misleading. Without a mechanism to review and monitor content your lessons learned system may serve to drive users away with incorrect and stale information.

Inability to efficiently recall information… Users will need a variety of search mechanisms to recall relevant lessons learned because not everyone locates information in the same way. Some are able to use complex keyword searches with multiple Boolean logic constructs. Others simply want to browse topics or categories. While others can remember key events on a timeline and prefer to recall lessons learned based on those memorable events. Any of these techniques can be efficient and effective but all should be considered for your lessons learned system so that your users can find the information they need. Search mechanisms should also be comprehensive in nature to include the entire universe of lessons learned. In other words, don’t make your users traverse several islands or pockets of knowledge to get what they need. Without efficient recall users will be less likely to find value in your lessons learned system and will find other ways to store information, or worse yet, go without entirely.

By recognizing these typical pitfalls and addressing them in your lessons learned system, success won’t entirely be guaranteed but you will make significant strides toward an effective and efficient lessons learned system.


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