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Handbook 11-33
June 2011

Chapter 3. Organizational Considerations

Do you ever have problems finding the answers you need?

Have you ever wanted to find someone who has done this before and could give you some pointers?

Do you ever think there has to be an easier way to do something?

How much time have you spent looking for a document on the Web and not been able to find it?


If you are determined to create a lessons learned (LL) capability within your organization, you have one basic question to ask yourself: What is the purpose of my LL program? Answering this question should help you determine what functions from Chapter 2 you require. Most organizations also have constraints, be they people, time, funding, etc. These limitations will impact the extent to which an organization can devote resources to creating what is probably a new program. For example, the "low-budget" approach might be the implementation of a program that focuses only on the collect-analyze-share functions. The "high-budget" approach may focus on the collect-analyze-share-archive-resolve functions.

Organization structure also plays a role. Organizational structure is a key component for sustainability of information empowerment. You should address organizational considerations from the very beginning, allowing the organizational transformation to occur gradually and positioning the company or military unit to fully leverage newly acquired information once it is available.

More often than not an inherent challenge lies within corporate organizational structures to accommodate the functional responsibilities of everyday business. Departments may need to work collectively only when they are focused on specific initiatives. Unfortunately, LL systems are usually ineffective because they invariably introduce new processes, when instead they should be embedded into the processes they are meant to improve. An LL program will thrive under the following conditions:

  • Where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.
  • In situations of rapid change, only those that are flexible, adaptive, and productive will excel. For this to happen, organizations need to discover how to tap people's commitment and capacity to learn at all levels.
  • Where systemic thinking is the cornerstone of the learning organization, as the training that integrates all others to comprehend and address the LL as a whole.

Military organizations with distinct levels of command and well-defined hierarchies admittedly have fewer challenges when it comes to implementing and integrating LL programs. Militaries, which are faced with life-and-death decisions, unlike corporations, which focus primarily on making a profit, have real motivational reasons to learn from their mistakes to prevent the needless loss of life and equipment, to say nothing about winning their nations' wars. From that point of view, corporations might benefit from understanding the success the military has achieved integrating LL processes into daily operations.


Following are a few questions to help you determine the purpose and scope of your LL program:

  • Is your organization willing to expose problems or mistakes for the betterment of the collective whole, and can you do this in a way that does not intimidate employees or workers?
  • Do you want a centrally managed, formal program, or do you want a decentralized program that places more responsibility at the lower levels for LL implementation?
  • Who is the best person or office to put in charge of your LL program?
  • How do you intend to identify issues for analysis?
  • What ways does your organization have to share information?
  • After you identify issues and analyze them, do you want to have a way to recommend corrective actions and then monitor their implementation?
  • When sharing information, what are your release procedures for this information beyond your office or organization?
  • What additional automation requirements are necessary to support the purpose of your program?
  • How will you know your LL program is working?

Management and Coordination

The common practice is to perform LL at the end of a project phase; however, timing is everything. Do not wait for the phase or project to be over; do LL early and often. LL should not be an afterthought but a key component of all project management processes. (See Appendix C, Military After Action Reviews/Reports.)

Initiating and planning:

  • Identify similar projects.
  • Gather useful information.
  • Determine mitigation strategies, if applicable.
  • Incorporate LL into the new project plan.

Identify projects from which to gather data:

  • Look for common threads to projects similar in nature.
  • Common topics.
  • Common learning.

Gather useful information:

  • Interview people.
  • Review historical project data.

Tips for best results:

  • Capture LL as close as possible to the learning opportunity (e.g., after an issue has been resolved, change in scope has occurred, or a risk has been mitigated).
  • Identify project management processes that can be improved because of LL, and make the improvements.
  • Maintain an LL log throughout the life of the project.

Learning in organizations happens in two ways:

  • Learning by individuals.
  • Investing in team members who have knowledge the organization did not have.

Key take-aways for any organization:

  • You must gather and implement valuable knowledge to be reused for the betterment of future project success.
  • LL are gathered and implemented during and not just at the end of the project.
  • Timing is crucial in gathering LL.
  • You must build LL documents that can be effectively used for future projects.
  • Plan for LL.

Knowledge Management

What is knowledge?

Knowledge is more than data or information. Knowledge comprises a range of strategies and practices used in an organization to identify, create, represent, distribute, and enable the adoption of insights and experiences. Such insights and experiences comprise knowledge, either embodied in individuals or embedded in organizational processes or practice.

Knowledge management (KM) efforts typically focus on organizational objectives, such as improved performance, competitive advantage, innovation, the sharing of LL, integration, and continuous improvement of the organization.

Types of knowledge

There are three types of knowledge:

  • Tacit: Personal knowledge that resides within an individual, which relies on experiences, ideas, insights, values, and judgments. Knowledge that is resident within the mind, behavior, and perceptions of individuals. Knowledge developed and internalized by an individual over a long period of time, incorporating so much accrued and embedded learning that its rules may be impossible to separate from how an individual acts.
  • Explicit: You can convey formal knowledge from one person to another in systemic ways such as documents, e-mails, and multimedia. This is knowledge easily codified and conveyed to others.
  • Organizational: The combination of critical data, information, and knowledge with collective intellect, which enables an organization to learn from experiences, innovate, make decisions, create solutions, perform tasks, or change positions.

Eighty percent of an organization's knowledge is tacit. Organizations must value and capture both.

KM efforts overlap with organizational learning and may be distinguished from that by a greater focus on the management of knowledge as a strategic asset and a focus on encouraging the sharing of knowledge. KM efforts can help individuals and groups share valuable organizational insights, reduce redundant work, avoid reinventing the wheel per se, reduce training time for new employees, retain intellectual capital in an organization during employee turnover, and adapt to changing environments and markets. The challenge for any LL program is to find a way to get people to share tacit knowledge among themselves.

Figure 3-1. Cognitive hierarchy

Knowledge is meaningfully structured and based on experience. Some is usable as the basis for achieving understanding and making decisions. Other knowledge forms the background against which administrators or commanders make decisions. The cognitive hierarchy, shown in Figure 3-1, portrays the place of data, information, and knowledge in developing understanding. This figure also shows the roles of KM and information management in this development.

Lessons Learned Examples

In 2007, Mattel Chairman and CEO Bob Eckert's organization learned some valuable lessons after issuing a major toy recall just prior to a significant shipping month. Faced with angry consumers and lawmakers, Mattel had to take responsibility for the recall. Regrettably, the media also chose to saturate the news with the Mattel story as the lead. Mattel had to act fast to reclaim traction with consumers and stakeholders, which ended in praise for the way the company handled the situation. Bob Eckert states the most important thing in a crisis situation is to be straight about it and be quick. Below are five key LL from the crisis at Mattel:

  • Always act fast. Confront the issue; do not hide from it. In Mattel's case, the company was very public about the recalls, and the CEO even issued a public apology.¬†A quick reaction makes¬†it easier for companies to cope with and take control of¬†the situation. Reacting quickly helps companies score "bonus points" with the public, slightly reducing the¬†negative impact that a recall has on the company's reputation. When companies are slow to react or spend most of their time placing blame on others, the public reacts negatively, criticizing companies for their negligence and irresponsibility. A quick reaction won't solve all of the problems, but failing to do so will open up a new can of worms to deal with.
  • Keep an eye on your supply chain. To save on costs, Mattel has shipped manufacturing overseas to China. Having multiple offices and operation sites makes it difficult to keep an eye on day-to-day operations. According to the Financial Times Press article "Trouble in Toyland: New Challenges for Mattel-and 'Made in China'," one of the main issues in the lead paint crisis at Mattel was that Chinese contractors had subcontracted the painting of the toys to another company that used inferior and unauthorized products. A lot of companies get caught in similar traps.
  • Take responsibility. Be the bigger person and take the blame - public finger pointing is not going to get you anywhere. In the Reuters article "Mattel Sued Over Toy Recall," it was reported that Mattel's CEO¬†stated that the company was increasing the aggressiveness of toy-testing methods, which would likely result in additional recalls as a precautionary measure.
  • Tighter regulations and inspections. In the Wall Street Journal article, "Mattel Settles Suit Over Lead in China-Made Toys," author John Kell writes: "Toy makers were hurt by a number of product recalls in 2007, leading to millions of dollars in costs for testing, legal expenses, advertising, and product returns. Mattel recalled millions of toys that year, including those produced under licenses for characters including Elmo, Big Bird, Barbie, and Polly Pocket. The issue later led to mandatory federal toy-safety standards, which included testing and tough new regulations for lead and chemicals in products intended for children under 12."
  • Take action¬†and communicate. During a crisis, such as the one experienced by Mattel, a lot of business leaders say that changes are going to be made and policies will be followed more consistently, but do they actually follow up on their word once the storm has passed? Do not say something just to look good in front of the public; they will know if you mean it or not. Give weekly updates and use the power of social media to communicate to consumers about the progress your company makes as it works toward a solution. If 100 products have been tested, let the public know. There are enough resources available today to control the media and communicate a company's commitment to its consumers. It is never more important than in a time of crisis to communicate and reassure the public that things will be all right.

Thoughts on a Lessons Learned Program at Brigade Level and Below for Military Units

Generally, a brigade-size military organization (3,000 to 4,500 Soldiers) is the first level within the military that would be appropriate for establishing an LL capability. At this level, there are no dedicated individuals to perform the LL mission. It would be necessary to assign this responsibility to a person as an additional duty. These duties would generally reside in the operations section of the staff.

In terms of specific functions, you would more than likely focus on the collect-analyze-share functions. Collection might be as simple as directing subordinate organizations or battalions to provide after action reports (AARs) at the completion of each mission or operation. This could be directed in the operation order or it could be codified in the unit's tactical standing operating procedures. The format may be similar to the one at Appendix C or more simplified.

The observation-discussion-recommendation format works nicely for this purpose, as a simplified version. Once the brigade receives the AAR, it is provided to the various staff sections for review and minimal analysis. If the recommendations are deemed appropriate by the staff, the unit commander can elect to share the report with other organizations in the brigade. A copy should also be provided to the brigade's next higher headquarters for its assessment, for information, and for further dissemination. The goal should be to rapidly provide the observations and recommendations or lessons to as many interested units as possible to effect change.

Another collection technique could be the use of a small team to observe, with permission, a training event or exercise conducted by another unit in your organization. Your team becomes informal observers who are not directly involved in the event but benefiting from the actions or inactions of another unit. Once you gather the observations, you can prepare a report or briefing to inform your Soldiers on what you saw and the best way to execute specific missions.

In most instances, analysis of the observations should not be so rigorous that it slows the sharing of information. Rapid sharing of information remains paramount to the success and effectiveness of your program. As stated previously, the key to a viable program is honest and open communication at all levels and a work/training environment where individuals can learn from their mistakes.

The following is a small sample of organizations and their visions, mission statements, and intents that dictate their LL programs. More details on the agencies and their methods of working LL are covered in Appendix D.

U.S. Army

The Army's mission is to fight and win our nation's wars by providing prompt, sustained land dominance across the full range of military operations and spectrum of conflict in support of combatant commanders. The Army does this by learning from its experiences and documenting them for forward units to use on a daily basis. The documentation is done through the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) and the Joint Lessons Learned Information System (JLLIS). CALL collects, analyzes, disseminates, integrates, and archives Army and joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational (JIIM) observations, insights, lessons (OIL), and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) to support full-spectrum military operations. One of the most important operative tasks in CALL's mission statement is collection. Collection of the latest OIL and TTP and their subsequent integration into the operational and institutional Army helps units and Soldiers meet the serious challenges posed by today's operating environment. CALL collects OIL, TTP, and operational products and records from the field primarily through five methods:

  • OIL from the operational Army.
  • AARs.
  • CALL liaison officers.
  • CALL collection and analysis teams.
  • Operational products and records submitted from the operational Army.

Department of Energy (DOE)

DOE's overarching mission is to advance the national, economic, and energy security of the United States; to promote scientific and technological innovation in support of that mission; and to ensure the environmental cleanup of the national nuclear weapons complex. The department's strategic goals to achieve the mission are designed to deliver results along five strategic themes:

  • Energy Security: Promoting America's energy security through reliable, clean, and affordable energy.
  • Nuclear Security: Ensuring America's nuclear security.
  • Scientific Discovery and Innovation: Strengthening U.S. scientific discovery, economic competitiveness, and improving quality of life through innovations in science and technology.
  • Environmental Responsibility: Protecting the environment by providing a responsible resolution to the environmental legacy of nuclear weapons production.
  • Management Excellence: Enabling the mission through sound management.

Within these themes are 16 strategic goals that are designed to help DOE successfully achieve its mission and vision. One of these goals is to develop an LL center.

The DOE corporate LL database provides a central clearinghouse that allows ready access to and communication about collected information on a timely, unimpeded basis by all DOE elements. The database is used to collect and share LL and best practices pertaining to all DOE activities.

DOE corporate LL is a Web-based LL tool designed to facilitate the sharing of information in a consistent and timely manner among headquarters elements, contractor, and subcontractor entities. The DOE LL application provides a mechanism for communicating experiences throughout management and across functional areas. The sharing of LL can potentially reduce risk, improve efficiency, and enhance the cost effectiveness of DOE processes and operations. DOE LL is a feedback mechanism for the DOE complex intended for facility management use and promoting continuous improvement in defining and planning work. It can be used to identify LL for improving performance, planning, and for correcting hazardous conditions.

DOE LL also provides an LL feedback mechanism for the job planner for selected types of work. DOE's integrated safety management, feedback, and improvement function encourages the use of LL during hazard analysis and work-planning activities. DOE LL uses an integrated, user-friendly, Web-enabled PC browser interface capable of generating topical LL extracted from the DOE LL database and external sites. The output generated is based on previously established user profiles to provide customized LL reports. The data in DOE LL is updated daily and compiled after SME review of DOE LL reports submitted from across the DOE complex.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

NASA's mission is to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research. To do that, thousands of people have been working around the world - and off of it - for 50 years trying to answer some basic questions. What's out there in space? How do we get there? What will we find? What can we learn there, or learn just by trying to get there, that will make life better here on Earth?

NASA Procedural Requirement (NPR)

The NPR establishes the agency's requirements for collecting, assessing, validating, documenting, and infusing LL recommendations involving but not limited to engineering, technical, science, operations, administrative, procurement, management, safety, maintenance, training, flight or ground-based systems, facilities, medical, and other activities. The center-level LL committees are the key organizational elements in administering this process. An agency-level LL steering committee facilitates knowledge sharing of LL activities across NASA centers.

The LL process is a two-level (centers and headquarters) set of information management processes designed to preserve institutional knowledge, communicate experiences that can potentially reduce risk, improve efficiency, promote validated practices, and/or improve performance in the areas identified above. Lessons are collected from individuals, projects and programs, or supporting organizations primarily at the center level. The content of LL systems in the NASA environment are discoverable and searchable across the agency to the broadest extent possible. Lesson recommendations are assessed for potential changes to policy, procedures, guidelines, technical standards, training, education curricula, etc. and infused back into the system via existing corrective action systems. NASA's process is to capture the knowledge and the other referenced documents through two principal requirements: (1) establishment of LL committees at the center level and (2) closed-loop infusion of LL recommendations into center and headquarters documentation and training. Contractors are encouraged to use their existing LL processes and systems where they meet the requirements of the NPR.


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