I’ve previously written about the importance of discussing and harvesting lessons regularly over the life of a project and how important it is for someone to be reviewing, distilling and sharing them. I’ve also recommended that incorporating lessons into standard practices is better than just consolidating them into a repository, no matter how easy it might be to search that knowledge base.
While meaningful effort is required to successfully implement improvements to existing lesson learned practices, the most efficient lessons learned process won’t compensate for poor quality inputs.
So what are some characteristics of a good lesson?
We don’t want so much detail that it’s hard to understand how the lesson could be applied to a different project, but there should be enough information provided to raise it above the level of common knowledge. For example, “build in sufficient time to procure resources” is too general to be of much value whereas “build in sufficient time to procure agile coaches” is more helpful without being too detailed.
We want there to be some context provided to enable a reviewer to quickly decide whether or not it is relevant to their needs.
You are probably tired of hearing “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions” but the cliche is very apropos when reviewing lessons.
If you agree with my assertion that most lessons fall into the three categories of reminders, blockers and true knowledge, this should help the submitter provide a suitable recommendation. Reminder lessons should include suggestions on how to increase the likelihood of the expected behaviors or practices being followed. Blockers should provide some recommendations as to how the hurdles could be eliminated and true knowledge lessons should include an indication of how that knowledge could be exploited.
Finally, the lesson should be easy to process and consume.
If your lessons learned practices require someone other than the submitter to review the lesson and to create meta-data suitable for its inclusion into a repository, the last thing you want to do is to make that work difficult. That will increase the likelihood that the lesson will either be discarded or won’t be properly tagged. In either case, time is wasted and knowledge is lost.
So along with enhancing lessons learned practices, invest some effort into improving the quality of what gets submitted. If you don’t, garbage in, garbage out!