Ideas for a more agile practice of learning lessons

October 02, 2013 | bit-wartung | Learning Elsewhere, SDC Experiences |


Rating: 4.3 out of 5

The KM4dev discussion: Lessons Learned – The Loch Ness Monster of KM made us think about our own practice of drawing and using lessons learnt. Our conclusion: We need a more agile practice of drawing and using lessons learnt.

By Manuel Etter and Nadia von Holzen, SDC

Lessons Learnt

The KM4dev community discussed Lessons Learned – The Loch Ness Monster of KM. You can find the summary here and an additional blog reflection from Ewen Le Brogne here.

It was an interesting discussion. For us, the quint-essence was nicely summarized by Matt Moore:

A lesson is only learned if it is applied in the future.


Drawing lessons is the first step

Formulating lessons is a core business also in SDC’s learning practice. It’s a must to reflect our own actions and achievements in order to constantly improve our practice.

Identifying insights is a straightforward task. It can happen as follows:

• quick and dirty; right on the spot after an action, individually or with the organizing team: follow the three questions of an After Action Review
• with team in a more structured process along the programme monitoring
• in a bigger and more complex process combined with an evaluation process or an experience capitalization process

The actual learning and knowledge flow happens between people, in discussions, coffee breaks, random chats, with struggles, learning from failure, experimentation, etc.
Eva Schiffer

What we have to keep in mind: We cannot delegate the process of learning also not learning lessons. We have to do it ourselves.

Turning lessons into action is the 2nd and crucial step

An exercise of drawing lessons followed by a call for action is powerful. We have to DO something with the lessons. This means in practice: in project or programme reports, lessons learnt are usually contextualized and sometimes rather personal lessons. They are the results of personal or team reflection processes. They have to be turned into measures for improved practice within the planning of consecutive project or programme phases. We have to figure out a way forward and identify suitable and doable action steps.

And then we have to act and observe again what happens next.

The solution lies with the learner and his/her (collective) learning, not with the lesson itself.
Ewen Le Brogne

Transferring lessons is the 3rd and challenging step

In order to contribute to learning at the institutional level, lessons learnt must be dealt with in a different way. They must be embedded in wider institutional learning processes.

Focal points (e.g. of thematic networks) are well positioned to continuously monitor lessons learnt in specific projects and programmes. They identify patterns (repeated issues or aspects) of broad interest and relevance. The lessons learnt can then feed into an experience capitalization process, involving concerned staff from different organizational units.
Networks: Lessons are best “stored” in networks. In networks the lessons stay lively and are constantly built on and developed further.

Instead of focusing on LL databases of documents, an organisation should cherish networks around its staff.
Jaap Peel

Ideas for drawing lessons

• Ask and don’t stop asking questions.
Be insanely curious, ask loads of questions. Garr Reynolds

• Make it playful; design a game board to reconstruct the projet’s path and its key moments.
• Make it visual with Post-it notes on a big MindMap.
• With a SWOT analysis you are never wrong.

We need an agile practice of learning and using lessons learnt: reflecting, formulating, using, refining, reformulating…
What do you think? How do you learn lessons?

Further links



Comments to“Ideas for a more agile practice of learning lessons”

  1. Riff Fullan says:

    Excellent set of interesting threads around learning! This is something that occupies my mind a lot these days too: how can we support more effective learning, not only identification of lessons, but learning that causes/helps us to do things better? Not an easy question….
    The word that keeps coming back for me is: reflection. It is through reflection at individual and collective levels that we can not only identify lessons, but also internalize them, take ownership of them.
    When we think of this kind of learning in an institutional context (and take things into account such as institutional rhythms and shortage of available time), we can better appreciate the added value of games, visual tools, and linking moments of reflection with particular PCM stages, etc.

  2. Nadia von Holzen says:

    Dear Riff
    Yes, definitely reflection. It’s the noblest form of learning anyway. Already Confucius came to this conclusion.

    The habit of reflecting regularly its own practice can be nicely done by the questions Chris Collison is asking in his blog post “what’s Wong with lessons learned”:
    **What will we do differently and what actions do we need to take – for ourselves or for the organisation?
    **Could these lessons be relevant to anyone else, now or in the future? How can we ensure that they make sense and provide context and contacts for the next project or team?
    Best, Nadia


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