Originally published September 16, 2015

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Lessons learned: explaining what an individual or team has learned as a result of their experience, using documents, presentations, discussions, and recordings — including what they tried, what worked, what didn’t work, what to do, what to avoid, problems faced, how problems were solved, what they would do differently, and key insights and nuggets

It’s easier to get people to talk about successes than about failures, but there is often more to be learned from the latter. Designing a process to capture and reuse lessons learned from both can yield great benefits.

Lessons learned can be written down and stored in a repository, presented during a community meeting and recorded for later playback, and discussed in a roundtable on a conference call. A facilitator can collect individual lessons learned from multiple people and compile them in a summary document.

Avoid capturing generic platitudes such as “it’s important to have a good plan” or “involve support groups early.” Instead, look for nuggets such as “use one extra ounce of grease to lubricate the sub-assembly during routine maintenance to prevent engine failure.”

Provide ways for lessons learned to be presented and discussed during community events. Don’t just publish them in a document or in a database.

Once an initial collection of lessons learned has been published, ensure that it is periodically reviewed and updated. This should be part of the standard process for capturing, publishing, and maintaining lessons learned.

Consider scheduling a separate recurring conference call during which a team or individual is asked to discuss their lessons learned. Record the calls, and write down the best ideas for publication.

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Proven practices: selecting, documenting, and replicating processes which have proven to improve business results so that others in similar environments or with similar needs can benefit from proven successes

Usually referred to as best practices, proven practices are methods which have been demonstrated to be effective and lend themselves to replication to other groups, organizations, and contexts. The problem with the term “best practice” is that it connotes that an ideal has been achieved, where “proven practice” more reasonably asserts that an approach has been tried successfully.

At Ford, where proven practice replication has been a foundation of their knowledge management initiative within manufacturing, senior management made it a priority for plants to share their proven practices with each other so that all plants could benefit from efficiencies being realized at any one plant. When visiting one plant, the senior vice president would ask which practices had been shared with other plants, and which ones had been implemented from other plants. Each plant visit included similar questioning, and this established the importance of the process.

Communities of practice are a natural vehicle for proven practices to be shared. Threaded discussions, repositories, and community knowledge sharing events can be used to publicize proven practices and encourage their application. Document templates for proven practices should be provided so that all necessary content is captured, including process descriptions, photos, and specifications. Video recordings can be helpful in showing how a process is actually performed, and can be delivered through standard e-learning systems.

Proven practices should be as specific as possible, have obvious benefits, and be readily reproducible. Here are three Ford examples from Measuring the Impact of Knowledge Management by APQC:

  • A forklift operator whose job was to transfer stacks of truck frames from a rail car to the production area, thought that there was enough space on the rail car to accommodate five stacks rather than four. Trials were conducted and the idea was proven.
  • A plant investigated the benefits of replacing up to 40 individual air houses on the roof with one unit. Multiple plants now have the larger units.
  • A product developer created a mathematical model that associated design variables and features with known customer expectations, likes, and dislikes. This predictor model was replicated across all vehicle platforms.

Consider offering a formal process for collecting, storing, disseminating, and replicating proven practices. The resultant benefits can often be used as proof of the value of a KM initiative.

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