Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Are you really doing it right?

I was in a meeting the other day with and the subject of looking at learning from experience in a business context came up. We talked about some of the approaches that are commonly used and someone mentioned After Action Reviews came up. “Oh yes we do all that.” was the response, but I couldn't help feeling that in the way it was said that what he really meant was “Yes we do that but really its a waste of time.” It seemed to me that maybe it just wasn't being done right for that organisation.

One of the most important lessons I have learned is that attempts to cookie cut solutions and jemmy them into every instance where a similar issue appears to be present are almost always doomed to failure. That's not to say it is not a popular approach with some professional service firms that seek to commoditise “knowledge” and churn out templates of work client to client. Its little more than snake oil sales IMHO.

But that is not to say you can't reuse techniques it just means that doing so is usually much harder to do than you imagine, and that every single instance is unique and needs to respond appropriately to each particular circumstance if you are going to get value from it. By taking the harder route the approach evolves and develops richness.

AAR, Learning Review, Lessons Learned, call it what you will, (and you may well have to change the name to make it palatable) is one such technique and it does have a place in the KM canon but it is by no means easy. David Gurteen made me aware of this article by Nancy Dixon that summarises some of the challenges and has some interesting thoughts on how to approach it.

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