Chain of events: Acquaintance writes email, referencing this blog from APQC. I respond with a rant, augmented by a couple of acidic twitter messages to release steam. These rants are posted to my Facebook status line, and results in a brief conversation there with a FB friend – who initially believes I’ve lost my mind.
And now here. Why here? I’ve already responded to the acquaintence, and interacted with the FB friend, and overall made my point. Well, I’m blogging now to establish some measure of permanence to my thoughts. My apologies then to those two individuals who have already been subjected to my rant.
The APQC blog asked a very reasonable question: “What’s the Deal with Lessons Learned?” The author then posits several reasons:
“What is it about capturing and applying lessons learned that so often trips us up and causes us to never get past the “capture” step of the process? Is it that the mistake or error that prompts the lesson is so context-dependent that we think others couldn’t benefit from it and therefore we don’t capture it at all? Or could it be that whatever repository these lessons disappear into is so unorganized that retrieving them in order to apply them is a huge undertaking? Or is it simple communication–in other words, we simply don’t share our lessons learned proactively with those who might benefit from them? Or some combination of the above?”
My answer: E! None of the above.
My acquaintance works in the Pentagon alongside his command’s “lessons learned” people, and shared that they go in the field, watch exercises, and then let people know where they made they repeated mistakes. He was asking the same question: why don’t these programs work as intended?
In organizations where the machinery is larger than the man, where we serve and tend to the machines, where human behavior and decisions are minor aspects of the overall production line – then things like “lessons learned” along with six sigma, Lean, etc., make some sense and have proven results. The trouble comes when we apply these mechanisms in organizations where the human predominates.
My response is below, slightly edited, but retaining all the snarkiness. I should add that I was responding in the context of military training and operations. In most organizations, my opinion is strongly against “lessons learned” programs.
Regarding lessons learned… Let’s think about this for a moment. The underlying presumption regarding “lessons learned” is that what worked before, will work again – and the context around the new situation will not differ enough to make the “lesson” insufficient to the new challenge. This is arrogant, demonstrably false and dangerous.