Nick Milton is the author of The Lessons Learned Handbook: Practical Approaches to Learning from Experience. He shares some of the initial research for the book on his blog, including a list of key success factors to get right:
“It seems that effective lesson-learning contains many elements, each of which has a positive impact on the success of the system, and that a successful system needs to incorporate as many of the elements as possible. These elements are cultural as well as procedural. The most important things to get right seem to be
1. Ensuring that lessons lead to action, and that these actions are followed through to application in future projects. It is probably the lack of follow through that causes the greatest frustration.
2. Clear involvement by senior management, with clear expectations that the lessons learned system will be applied. Without senior management attention, time for lesson-learning is not prioritised, or lesson learning is treated as a tick-box activity.
3. Formalising, defining, embedding and consistently applying the system (and there are sub-issues here, for example accountabilities, and avoiding the “tick box” mentality).
4. A supportive culture (and this will be driven largely through the behaviours of leadership, and by the importance they place on lesson learning).“
1. A Lessons Learned process is, or is ideally, a collaborative process – in an environment of shared practice, with trust among the members of the group, explore the “lessons” the group can take from its past practice, so as to apply those learns both to its own future practice, and the future practices of the organization. The tenets that govern an effective approach to lessons learned are held in common with collaboration.
2. As with collaboration, there are many technologies that can be used – most commonly a “lessons learned database” – but if that’s all the process is, it will fail. The success indicators in Nick’s list above are non-technology factors. It’s vital to get those right for Lessons Learned.