Conclusion and Future Directions

Conclusion and Future Directions

Kimiz Dalkir (McGill University, Canada) and Susan G. McIntyre (Defence Research and Development, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6453-1.ch015
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The contributors to this collection have identified the critical success factors, obstacles, and future opportunities for ensuring that lessons learned processes contribute to the attainment of organizational goals. The critical success factors are categorized as: 1) conducive culture, 2) effective leadership, 3) robust lessons learned cycle, and 4) action plans. Obstacles to success are: 1) cultural barriers, 2) resource limitations, 3) lack of governance, and 4) insufficient analysis for credible results. Future directions to explore include the roles of culture and leadership, the need for standardized approaches that can be used by all types of organizations, improved technological infrastructure, and implementation of effective measurement systems. Opportunities for future research are: determining why organizations either choose to or cannot learn; the role of trust in learning lessons; optimization of technological approaches; and how lessons learned approaches could integrate processes and procedures from other organizational improvement.
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Background Summary

The literature review of Kitimbo (2014) provided a snapshot of the key findings about lessons learned from a theoretical, research and academic perspective. The definition that emerged was that lessons consist of what is learned, both positive and negative, from past experience or use in improving how well we can perform in the future. The goal is to repeat past successes and avoid repeating past failures. The major foundations for the lesson-learned cycle consist of experiential and situated learning – learning from actual concrete experience and within the concrete context in which this knowledge was socially co-constructed. In practice, lessons learned can be any form of reflective activity such as After Action Reviews, Post Project Reviews, Near-Miss Reporting, and Root-Cause Analysis.

Unfortunately, the literature review indicates that there is little empirical published evidence that organizations effectively implement and learn from lessons learned processes. Key challenges that hinder organizations include lack of formalized processes, the transient nature of project teams where members return to other responsibilities upon project completion and lack of leadership. Key success factors are in conducting continuous reviews of past experiences, clearly identifying the new roles and tasks required to carry out lesson learned processes, and ensuring that the outcomes are firmly embedded in some form of organizational memory, a process commonly referred to as institutionalization. The key takeaway is that while lessons learned can help organizations better identify, understand and address performance, productivity and innovation gaps, it is a complex process and to date has not been widely adopted. Where they are done, there does not appear to be any standardized approach to lessons learned.

As organizational learning rests upon individual and group experiential learning, a brief review of the literature on individual and organizational learning by McIntyre (2014a) surmised that lessons learned must adhere to common learning principles: a shared vision and purpose; a focus on mutual experiences; an open and trusted environment; analysis leading to corrective actions or solutions; a mechanism to test or validate the conclusions; and an integrated learning loop. These criteria together are what differentiate lessons learned processes from lessons identified processes because they require the intentional investment of the individuals, teams and organization to achieve mutual goals. Many other investigative or business processes, e.g., evaluations, inquiries, can identify that which should have been performed otherwise and make recommendations for the future, but they tend to be imposed, rather than from within.

There are certainly important times and places for these processes and their value should not be discounted; they do not however, share the same learning approach.

Paul (2014) placed the lessons learned cycle within the larger context of knowledge management, which for the purpose of this discussion is defined by Dalkir (2005) as:

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