Lessons Learned In Government Projects – Collecting Dust?

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This topic contains 16 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Josh Nankivel 8 years, 7 months ago.

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  • #163807

    Josh Nankivel

    I came across a report today about how NASA as an agency is failing to utilize a lessons learned system.

    Perhaps this is shocking, but wait a minute. Is this really just an isolated problem?

    What do you think? Does your agency elicit lessons learned effectively and make them easily accessible? Or do they just get dumped into a black hole, never to be seen again?

  • #163839

    Josh Nankivel

    Knowledge management is tough, and I think it ends up being one of the first things cut. I’d say my agency does a decent job of collecting lessons learned (we do it at the end of each of our releases) but is lacking any real system to put them into and thus make easily available for future projects.

  • #163837

    Basically, we have several Google docs where we capture a bit about what we learned during and after a project.

    To be fair, we don’t necessarily sit down and do a true post-project review, but I’ve been in organizations where we do and it’s helpful – always found it to improve at least one part of a process or system and made the next project more efficient.

  • #163835

    Carol Davison

    Best lesson I ever learned: have a diverse crew on your project. When designing a performance management system I had HR, analysts, budgeters, economists, accountants, trade specialists, IT, etc from all races, ages, and grades. The diversity allowed us to see challenges and opportunities from many eyes.

  • #163833

    Josh Nankivel

    Thanks Andy. I think that’s the key – “improve at least one part of a process or system”

    If they don’t become institutionalized, lessons learned don’t get used.

  • #163831

    Josh Nankivel

    I think that’s an excellent example Carol. How do you ensure that you and other project managers in the organization don’t forget this lesson learned on future projects?

    Also, I wonder if this is something you could do by design or not… would it be a discriminatory practice to assign specific individuals to projects in order to create diversity? I guess I don’t think so, but how do you make this lesson learned something that becomes part of the way the organization does business?

  • #163829

    Lori Bills

    Lessons learned posted to our sharepoint for quick, easy access and a reminder for next time. Works well.

  • #163827

    Jo Youngblood

    Both. It varies vastly from research team to research team and from department to department.

  • #163825

    Mark Addleson

    The report makes very interesting reading. Here are some of my thoughts about the issues it raises.

    1) Agencies which hope to instill a ‘lessons learned’ system across the board are on the wrong track. This might seem like a small point, but it’s an important one. “NASA as an agency” can’t and never will utilize a lessons learned system. Organizations can’t do anything. Organizations (NASA in this case) are abstract. People act and share knowledge (or not). So the question is, are they. We have to understand what it takes to share knowledge and encourage (discourage) the practices. Standard management practices, I explain my book Beyond Management, discourage people from sharing knowledge.

    2) Sharing knowledge and ‘lessons learned’ is a ‘personal thing’. People readily share when they are interested in what others are doing. What they share, though, is what they know. The ‘knowing‘ associated with one’s practices is not easy to capture; it is highly contextual and largely tacit and interesting only others who are quite closely connected (e.g. friends, or people doing similar work).

    3) We make the mistake of assuming that knowledge is something you can capture and move around. IT vendors encourage this belief. Knowledge (actually ‘knowing’) is ‘transferred’ mainly through ‘talk‘ (person to person), not ‘tools‘. When there is a culture – climate and context – where people with similar interests can talk, generally, they will. Is your organization ‘talk friendly’? Most that I know are not. They perpetuate the industrial-age belief that talk and work are separate and incompatible.

    4) It is important that knowledge-workers share knowledge, though not ‘across the organization’; merely with others who have common interests. Sometimes we have to find who the others are (technology can help here), but this doesn’t start with capturing ‘lessons learned’; it starts with a culture where, when you find them, they are willing to talk.

  • #163823

    Josh Nankivel

    Cool Lori. So then at the initiation of a new project is it part of your process to review the lessons learned database on Sharepoint?

  • #163821

    Josh Nankivel

    Thanks Jo.

    Some lessons learned are very domain specific to a type of project, others could be leveraged as knowledge sharing across functional areas and types of projects.

    It almost seems to me that there would have to be an enterprise architect that looks at the lessons learned from individual projects and works with the teams to see what should be implemented on a broader scale as strategic change to what the PMI likes to call “organizational process assets”. Agree?

  • #163819

    Josh Nankivel

    So Mark, would you agree with 2 types:

    • inter-personal knowledge sharing
    • process/systems improvement (as in an enterprise architect or process engineer utilizing the lessons learned from teams, being one of the peers involved in personal knowledge sharing)
  • #163817

    Jeff S

    I regulate food items and processing plants for these items. I have a 2008 plant survey and a 2009 Retail store survey waiting for approval for release from upper management. Needless to say in 2012 the data in the everchanging food industry is horribly outdated.

  • #163815

    Josh Nankivel

    Wow Jeff. Sounds like a Lean initiative to get that cycle time way down is sorely needed.

  • #163813

    Robert Bacal

    Not surprising. This kind of thing happens when technologists try to do things without understanding human beings, and in this case cognitiion and information of all the various sorts.

    Information isn’t plain information. People use “information” that they “own”, that is meaningful to them because they have a rich set of cognitive connections that come from more direct experience. Lessons learned and best practices (which also doesn’t work) aren’t this kind of information.

    Rich, personalized information as a rich, complex and integrated structure, imagine a spider web in the head that’s connected to other webs of importance to the person.

    Lessons learned read from a document, not so much. So for that reason it’s not meaningful, alive, or relevant to those seeking information. Bluntly, people tend to start from their own internal and meaningful “data base”. They may enhance it with outside information as with the lessons learned base, but primacy will always go to the rich, meaningful information they have.

    It’s possible to make the lessons learned into personalized, meaningful information — we try to make training activities come alive in just the same way so they are more effective than reading a book, but that’s another topic.

    Of course, I could be totally wrong on this, but it’s culture, and it’s a lack of understanding about how to integrate “information” into the already existing cognitive structures people have.

  • #163811

    Jeff S

    I would agree or possibly having the person who is to review the information retire as he does no delegation. His mind is great especially in the subject matter but he also believes if you want something done you gotta do it yourself

  • #163809

    Josh Nankivel

    Agreed Robert. Lessons learned don’t do jack squat by themselves. The cultural shift of implementing lessons learned immediately and directly into the systems and resources of the organization and it’s projects is the only real way to make them valuable. One source of input for continuous improvement, which must be embedded in the culture to be truly effective.

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