Missing ingredients for successful lessons learned programs

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to hear about lessons learned programs that fail to reach maximum potential and end up gathering lessons that eventually get lost somewhere down the road or simply fail to enhance short or long-term results for organizations. 

Lessons learned programs are not just about collecting or registering experiences from different areas or teams within an organization. It’s about offering a model where past experiences can genuinely drive learning and enhance organizational performance. 

Recently I had the opportunity to implement a lessons learned process in a metallurgic company. To enhance the case for lessons learned we took an approach where three teams had to design a rod mill with the same characteristics. We provided a single team with information about similar mills developed by the company, including very important knowledge regarding the energy requirements, the field operations, and specific considerations of the feeding rates. All of these had been previously recorded in a lessons learned template.

The other teams that had to develop the mill from scratch faced various difficulties, including investing time in gathering information that had already been included in the lessons learned template. Finally, the team that was able to work with the lessons learned achieved much better results in terms of quality and engineering.

This simple test allowed the company to understand the importance of implementing a lessons learned process and took a step forward in order to secure a formal procedure where the engineering teams have to consult previous lessons learned as part of the design process. In the final report, they have to specify which lessons were used and add their own insights and findings in order to enhance the lesson. The quality team was placed in charge of the procedure and they were also entrusted with the responsibility of modifying processes and design specifications in order to ensure that key knowledge is being embedded into the flow of work. 

What ingredients allowed the process to run efficiently?

  1. A specific role/team is responsible for supervising lessons learned development
  2. Senior leadership support (aware of the benefits and importance)
  3. Constant measurement (KPIs are made part of the development process and end report)
  4. Training (senior leaders, engineers, and product designers were provided training in order to understand the fundamentals of lessons learned registration)
  5. The process was embedded in the flow of work 
  6. Consequences for not following the procedure (the quality team audits lessons learned)
  7. Agile and adaptable in time (the original lessons learned template and process was adapted to fit the organization’s procedures and culture)
  8. Supporting technology – lessons learned are registered in a knowledge portal so that they can be easily accessed 

Lessons learned may appear to be an issue that is often considered secondary in comparison to other procedures or knowledge management tools. However, when implemented correctly, they can genuinely drive value and improve organizational performance so that new projects or challenges can be met knowing exactly what worked best in the past- and how that knowledge can be used in the future. 

Autor: José Carlos Tenorio

José Carlos is a leading knowledge management and project management specialist. He has experience working in diverse sectors such as engineering, IT, mining, oil & gas, infrastructure, and environment.

Currently, he is part of Carambola taking charge of diverse data and knowledge management projects.


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