Friday, October 27, 2017

KM in Small Organizations - Start Small and Smart

I wrote in an earlier article (posted on LinkedIn) about the need for small organizations to find appropriate and adapted ways to integrate knowledge management practices within their organizational routines.  Each organization should look at opportunistic entry points for KM practices.  Tackling knowledge management across the organization may be overwhelming, even in a small organization, when most employees are already playing multiple roles. 

Why not start small AND smart?  Why not start where it could have a significant impact within a relatively short amount of time?  I’m talking about the Business Development Office (BDO).  Whether it is a non-profit organization constantly writing proposals seeking funding or a private sector firm looking for new clients, the Business Development Office is often ripe for the implementation of some knowledge management best practices.

Let’s take, for example, just one key concept, lessons learned, and see how it can apply in the context of the work of a Business Development Office:
·       Lessons learned from previous business development efforts
These are lessons internal to the BDO based on the team’s own experience developing and submitting proposals.  These lessons are meant to be implemented within the business development process. Proposal development is typically a short cycle environment where it would be relatively easy to implement rapid learning and adapting and ultimately show rapid results.  This is also where lessons learned can quickly be validated and embedded in work routines as best practices. 

  • Lessons learned from previous projects
These are lessons documented throughout the organization about the implementation of projects.  These lessons are meant to be embedded in the design of future projects and therefore in the content of proposals.

These two sets of distinct lessons learned activities should be undertaken in parallel, but if the organization is starting from scratch, the BDO can provide the necessary impetus by 1) starting its own lessons learned practice focused on its own processes; 2) identifying opportunities for drawing from project implementation lessons (even in the absence of a more formal process for documenting lessons learned across projects).  This would help create the necessary awareness and buy-in for a more formal and rigorous process for documenting lessons across projects.

Over time, combining the rapid learning cycle of the lessons learned at the BDO process level with the longer-term lessons learned from project implementation would result in higher win rates but also in performance improvements within projects.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Group Conversation Styles and Lessons Learned Discussions

I recently facilitated a day-long effort to discuss and capture lessons learned with a group of participants from West Africa and the Maghreb region.  While I have worked extensively in Africa in the past, this was a return to international development work after a decade of work with engineers and scientists in the aerospace industry.

There were a couple of elements in the design of that day of lessons learned that contributed to making it less than 100% successful  (perhaps it was 75% successful, not a disaster at all).  One such element was a potential mismatch between the group conversation style which is part of the local / regional culture on the one hand and the facilitation style and approach on the other hand.  I want to figure out what I could have done differently in the design of the sessions as well as in the facilitation approach and my own communication style.

It's difficult to disentangle the communication/conversation style issue from the lessons learned paradox which stiffles real learning in the international development community.

Note on the lessons learned paradox: Facing strong pressures to document successes and share success stories, international development partners, especially those whose existence depends on continued funding from donor agencies, have little incentives to take a hard, honest look at their programs and projects and discuss -- let alone learn from -- what isn't working.  This isn't just a problem of lack of individual psychological safety within a group.  It's a problem at the organizational and industry level.  The incentives are simply not supportive of learning based on open, honest conversations.  Instead, the focus is on providing "evidence-based" results.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Experience Capitalization, Another Approach to Lessons Learned

The vocabulary of knowledge management and organizational learning is a never ending source of learning, especially when practicing across industries.  While looking at United Nations activities around Knowledge Management, I came across the term "experience capitalization."  Intuitively, I knew what it was referring to but I couldn't remember ever encountering the term before.  My first instinct was to try to figure out how that might be similar to or different from variations of lessons learned activities.

Here's what I found:

Experience capitalization includes the identification of lessons learned and good practices, but it goes beyond identification to include a significant effort to create materials for dissemination of the lessons and good practices.  This reflects the international development context within which the importance of disseminating good practices and lessons learned through appropriate communication channels is paramount and perhaps more complex and challenging than dissemination in a corporate environment. The use of the term appears to be more prevalent in agricultural development (FAO, IFAD, etc...), which makes sense because the UN consulting request for proposals where I first encountered the term was related to an agriculture program.

For additional information, see the following:
In parallel, as I was preparing for some facilitation of lessons learned conversations in French, I came across the term "retour d'experience," which literally means "return on experience" but if I say "return on experience" in English it brings up a possible association with "return on investment."  Perhaps each experience can be perceived as an investment (in time) and the return on that investment in time can be in part measured by the lessons learned in the process, as long as the lessons are indeed properly identified, captured and shared.