Lessons Learned as Organizational Project Memories

Lessons Learned as Organizational Project Memories

Raul M. Abril (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain) and Ralf Müller (Umeå University, Sweden)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-540-5.ch008
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This chapter suggests established research approaches to capture and validate project lessons learned. Past research indicates that due to the temporal nature of projects, improper management of knowledge, especially lessons learned, constitutes a risk for present and future projects. The authors argue that case study research is appropriate for developing lessons learned and that an inductive methodology can be used to generate hypotheses. These hypotheses are validated through an analysis of their Goodness of Fit into learning related business questions. Quality assurance in a lessons learned process should include a formalism to avoid loosing knowledge in the coding process, a formalism to avoid equivocality in the knowledge transfer to third parties, and validation techniques for the identified knowledge items. Furthermore, the authors argue that a common understanding should be achieved before organizational learning influences decisions and/or actions.
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Projects are intrinsically of temporal nature, they exist for a limited period of time and are characterized by frequent change of team members, depending on the skills needed at any particular point in time in the project (Turner & Müller, 2003). Continuous dispersion and re-formation of project teams causes brain-drain problems through people leaving projects and simultaneously integration problems by people joining projects. Improper management of knowledge, especially lessons learned, constitutes a risk for present and future projects (Reich, 2007).

Under the term “organizational project memories” we include any organization that is project driven including its higher order organizational structures like programs and portfolios. Therefore, for the purpose of this chapter, when we talk on organizational memories, we also consider organizational program memories and organizational portfolio memories.

Project lessons learned demand two sets of knowledge to be externalized in order to reduce equivocality (i.e. different understandings after reading them). These are (1) knowledge of the ex-post mortem project life cycle like knowledge about the performance, deliverables and resources (e.g. Kasvi, Vartiainen & Hailikari, 2003), and (2) knowledge of the ex-ante contract like knowledge on the situation and context (e.g. Abril, 2005). Project lessons learned are thereby a subset of the organizational memory. This, in its most basic and traditional sense, can be defined as stored information from an organizations’ history that can be brought to bear on present decisions and/or actions (e.g. Huber, 1991; Walsh & Ungson, 1991).

Anecdotal experience (e.g. Senge, Kleiner, Roberts, Ross, Roth, & Smith, 1999) and past research (e.g. Darr, Argote & Epple, 1995; Eskerod & Skriver, 2007) indicates that if action is not taken then knowledge from experiential learning (e.g. Kolb, 1984) is not preserved in the organizational memory (e.g. Cooper, Lyneis & Bryant, 2002). On the other hand, capturing lessons learned and reusing them has a positive impact (e.g. avoiding known mistakes) on the performance of other projects (e.g. Gulliver, 1987; Kotnour & Kurstedt, 2000; Karlsen & Gottschalk, 2003). An important limitation has to be noted here that exceeds the scope of this chapter, knowledge will only be considered successfully transferred when it is reused (e.g. shaping or guiding subsequent behavior). Unfortunately, you can have an excellent organizational memory that is not being used (e.g. Newell, Bresnen, Edelman, Scarbrough & Swan, 2006).

This last observation brings up an interesting debate about the term “learned” from the behavioral and cognitive perspectives of the organizational learning literature. In the behavior perspective of the organizational learning literature (e.g. Huber, 1991) an entity learns if, through its processing of information, the range of behaviors is changed. This means that the members involved in the project influence their decisions and/or actions influenced by others’ prior knowledge captured in lessons learned. On the other hand, in the cognitive perspective of the organizational literature (e.g. Weick, 1995) an entity learns if, through a sense making process which is an attempt to reduce multiple meanings, it reaches a common interpretation of a state of affairs. This means that the members involved in the project have reached a common understanding on the whereabouts of the project which can be externalized (in the sense of Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995) in the form of lessons learned.

We argue that for an organization there is no conflict between both perspectives in organizational project memories and, furthermore, that a common understanding should be achieved before organizational learning influences decisions and/or actions.

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Nick Bontis
John P. Girard
John P. Girard
Chapter 1
Peter Stoyko
This chapter describes how organizational culture is both a “vessel” for preserving organizational memory and a force that conditions the way... Sample PDF
Organizational Culture and the Management of Organizational Memory
Chapter 2
Nicholas N. Bowersox
Recent business practices over the past decade have been tainted with corporate restructuring strategies such as downsizing, reorganizations, and... Sample PDF
Downsizing and Building Organizational Memory: A Paradoxical Relationship between “Brain-Drain” and “Brain-Gain”
Chapter 3
Nicholas P. Robinson, Prescott C. Ensign
This chapter argues that a trusting corporate culture predicated on values that emphasize sharing and encourage interactions amongst stakeholders at... Sample PDF
Effective Stakeholder Knowledge Sharing for Effective Organizational Memory
Chapter 4
Jerry Westfall
This chapter discusses the revision of the SECI model originally based on Japanese organizational culture into a model based on American... Sample PDF
Revising the SECI Model for American Organizational Culture
Chapter 5
Parissa Haghirian
A growing interest in the various aspects of knowledge transfer within multinational corporations has been evidenced by a recent surge in empirical... Sample PDF
Knowledge Transfer within Multinational Corporations: An Intercultural Challenge
Chapter 6
Patrice Dunckley, Suzanne Roff-Wexler
This chapter provides perspective and practical techniques that individuals and organizations can use to maximize knowledge transfer efforts. It... Sample PDF
Valuing a Multiplicity of Views: How to Tap Informal Networks to See the (W)hole
Chapter 7
Haris Papoutsakis
This chapter explores the ways that Knowledge Sharing Networks support the flow of organizational knowledge within a firm. Based on the assumption... Sample PDF
Organizational Knowledge Sharing Networks
Chapter 8
Raul M. Abril, Ralf Müller
This chapter suggests established research approaches to capture and validate project lessons learned. Past research indicates that due to the... Sample PDF
Lessons Learned as Organizational Project Memories
Chapter 9
Jerry Westfall
This chapter discusses employee recall due to training presentations. Recall is an employee’s ability to remember what they knew or have learned via... Sample PDF
Will You Recall What You Knew?
Chapter 10
Maria de los Angeles Martin, Luis Olsina
With the aim to manage and retrieve the organizational knowledge, in the last years numerous proposals of models and tools for knowledge management... Sample PDF
Added Value of Ontologies for Modeling an Organizational Memory
Chapter 11
Juha Kettunen
This study analyses how strategic management is integrated with budgeting in the cities using the Balanced Scorecard approach, which provides a... Sample PDF
The Collective Process and Memory of Strategic Management
Chapter 12
Kimiz Dalkir
Research on how organizational memories can be created, preserved and made available for future reuse in NPOs is presented. An initial review of the... Sample PDF
Organizational Memory Challenges Faced by Non-Profit Organizations
Chapter 13
Susan G. McIntyre
The case study of the Chemical, Biological, Radiological-Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) Research and Technology Initiative (CRTI), a Canadian... Sample PDF
Creating and Sustaining Meta Organizational Memory: A Case Study
Chapter 14
David Bennet, Alex Bennet
This chapter begins with a brief discussion of the basic concepts related to the unconscious life of an organization, and then addresses specific... Sample PDF
Associative Patterning: The Unconscious Life of an Organization
Chapter 15
Michael JD Sutton
This chapter introduces the research domain of knowledge management educational programs and issues associated with the preservation of knowledge... Sample PDF
A Manifesto for the Preservation of Organizational Memory Associated with the Emergence of Knowledge Management Educational Programs
Chapter 16
Marie-Hélène Abel
Learning can be considered an outcome associated with acquiring new competencies (Sicilia, 2005) and adding new knowledge. A competence is a way to... Sample PDF
An Organizational Memory Tool for E-Learning
Chapter 17
Sajjad M. Jasimuddin, N.A.D. Connell, Jonathan H. Klein
It is generally recognized that Walsh and Ungson (1991) “provided the first integrative framework for thinking about organizational memory”... Sample PDF
Understanding Organizational Memory
Chapter 18
Les Miller, Sree Nilakanta, Yunan Song, Lei Zhu, Ming Hua
Organizational memories play a significant role in knowledge management, but several challenges confront their use. Artifacts of OM are many and... Sample PDF
Managing Knowledge in Organizational Memory Using Topic Maps
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