Many organizations have an approach for identifying and recording lessons learned, perhaps as part of a post-project review or similar process. Unfortunately, lessons learned reports have a tendency to end up on a shelf gathering dust, or lost in the un-chartered corner of a fileserver somewhere. Let's get real. How many people will really trawl diligently through a number of lessons learned documents in order to glean some key point? The reality is, if you can motivate employees to initiate any kind of "learning before doing" activity, then you?re doing pretty well.
Remember the last time you packed your bag in preparation for a business trip?
All those things you need to remember? tickets, passport, currency, itinerary, contact, driving license, power adaptor, Ipod?
We manage to remember the things we need for our business trips without going through each past suitcase-packing experience in our minds, one by one. Somehow, we maintain a meta-level list in our memories. And yet, when it comes to lessons learned, we expect people in our organizations to work thought a pile of lessons learned reports in the hope that a key insight will leap out at them?
We need to find ways to package knowledge into easily accessible "knowledge assets" - structured with a customer in mind.
The steps below are taken from the best-selling fieldbook "Learning to Fly - Practical knowledge management from leading and learning organisations", written by Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell. They don't require sophisticated, bespoke technology just a wilingness to think-through and structure what has been learned.
1. Identify a customer for this knowledge. Have a clear customer - current or future - in mind when considering the creation of a knowledge asset.
2. Get clear what your knowledge asset is really about. What is the scope of your knowledge asset? A knowledge asset needs to cover a specific area of business activity.
3. Identify a community of practice relating to this subject. The community will be the source of the knowledge initially, the users of the knowledge in immediate term, and the people who have an on-going responsibility for validating the future contents of in the knowledge asset. This is key ? or there is a real risk that you will end up with an electronic time capsule - a snapshot in time of the way things used to be done - rather than the current, prized know-how in your organisation.
4. Collate any existing material upon which you can base your knowledge asset and look for general guidelines. Provide some context so that people can understand the purpose and relevance of the knowledge asset. Are there general guidelines that you can distil out of this material?
5. Build a checklist illustrated with examples and stories. The checklist should tell the user of the knowledge asset:
"What are the questions I need to ask myself?"
"What are the steps that I need to take?"
Illustrate it with examples, stories, pictures, digital photographs, models, quotes, video and audio clips if possible.
6. Include links to people. Create a hyperlink to the person's personal home page or e-mail address wherever you mention them in the text. Include a list of all the people with any relationship with the content. Use thumbnail photographs if you have them available.
7.Validate the Guidelines Circulate the guidelines around the community again, and ask "Do the guidelines accurately reflect your knowledge and experience?" "Do you have anything to add?"
8. Publish the knowledge asset. Store the knowledge in a space where it can be accessed by its community. Often this will mean the company intranet.
9. Initiate a feedback and ownership process. Encourage feedback from users, so that they pick up and eliminate any invalid recommendations. Instil a sense of obligation that "if you use it, then you should add to it".
Over time, you'll build up a series of knowledge assets which relate to the key practices in your organisation ? the areas which can bring competitive advantage. The creation of these tangible knowledge assets provides a focus for the communities of practice associated with each one, and ultimately will give credibility to your knowledge management efforts.
Chris Collison is a renowned expert in knowledge management and an experienced practitioner in the leadership and implementation of organisational change from a people perspective.
As a best-selling author, he has presented to audiences at business schools and at conferences around the world, and is a regular contributor to specialist knowledge management publications. Chris has worked with leaders at the highest levels of many public and private-sector organizations, sharing the practical experiences he gained whilst working in BP's knowledge management team, and his deep understanding of the human dynamics of major change programmes.
Visit the "learning to fly" website at http://www.learning-to-fly.org