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:
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:
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 projects from which to gather data:
Gather useful information:
Tips for best results:
Learning in organizations happens in two ways:
Key take-aways for any organization:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
Last Reviewed: May 18, 2012