Thursday, August 24, 2017

Learn to Plan and Plan to Learn

Experience is inevitable. Learning is not.  Being intentional and planning to learn isn't such a bad idea.

I had an interesting conversation this week which triggered some additional reflection around learning plans and learning agendas and then I was asked a question about project learning plans during the NASA Virtual PM Challenge.

1. USAID is advocating the use of Learning Agendas at the Mission/Country level.  Those are linked to country-level assistance programming.

2. I've talked in the past about individual learning plans, which can be part of an individual professional development effort.

3. What about learning plans at the project or program level?  Would it be appropriate to have learning goals at that level?  Under what conditions?  If you're trying out something that involves an innovation, wouldn't you want to have a well thought-out learning agenda?

At the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center where I've worked with projects for the past nine years, projects have to include a lessons learned plan in their project implementation plan.  It's typically a couple of pages long though I've seen some 15-page documents that were more in line with an essay on project learning than a pragmatic plan of action. I like the effort and level of thinking put into the longer documents, but the key is to make those plans implementable with existing resources.  These plans have not, as far as I know, highlighted any specific learning agendas.  They spell out a number of key practices meant to facilitate team and organizational learning, but they are not tailored in terms of any thematic focus. Sometimes you can't really predict what you'll need to focus on.  In some cases, however, you know in advance that you're trying a new strategy or that there is something unique and interesting about a mission and it might be useful to develop a tailored learning plan.  The science component of the mission is, by definition, a learning agenda.  Each mission has a specific scientific objective, a set of questions it is trying to answer about earth, space, a planet or the universe.  I have always worked on the project management side of the mission, trying to help project teams learn how to better manage the development of the mission from a perspective of cost, schedule, scope, people, etc... Without good project management, the mission will not get off the ground and no science objective will be achieved.

4. What about learning plans at the organizational level?  How would an organizational learning plan sync with an organization's mission, strategic plans, etc...?

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