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Limits of Lessons Learned through Processes

Any learning from the process is only in the context of the process. It is not possible to say anything beyond the process or variations of inputs that are not accounted for in the process. Additionally, because we may sometimes not be aware that the process was not followed, we cannot say the veracity of the individual contributes to the data.

There can be issues with the data collection in general if it is not automated. You may be (or may not be) surprised how often self-preservation or company politics creep into metrics and the data is manipulated or twisted to not look so “bad” which leads to ignorance of a problem, and as an executive I worked with once called it, a cancer on the organization.

We have touched on this earlier; lessons learned from processes may not have adequate mechanism and methods for articulating this beyond the process area and those that immediately use the process. That is, the learning may be scenario specific.

Distribution of Knowledge

If learning from the work is difficult, distribution of that knowledge requires even more consideration. Once we know we have something that we can classify as knowledge, what do we do with that? How do we propagate that through the organization? We will need some either formal or informal or even both approaches to knowledge distribution, to ensure that what one area of the organization learns is available to all that need to know and in general, everybody in the organization at large.

Recording learning in books may not be an effective way of knowledge distribution, including process metric tracking sheets. In our experience, very few people spend any time looking through books for this information, and when they do considerable time is spent reading things that may not matter.


Databases can help with at least the recording and searching ability via tags and metadata that makes it possible to search without having to read large volumes in the hope that one will stumble upon what is needed. We have seen these types of tools used to store lessons learned about the product over the course of the product life cycle. As the product makes it through the life cycle, especially those things we learn during the development of the product, followed close behind by those things

Databases are not new and have been used for decades in business

Figure 2.15 Databases are not new and have been used for decades in business.

found in the field after launch. We have seen companies employ the system found at set up for each of the products the company develops and tracks changes over time.

There are several different databases that are currently in use for lessons learned repositories and most of them are effective in some way or another, but are they right for your organization? The trial and error method of going through all these databases can be very expensive and again run through time that probably doesn’t exist to start with. So what do we do? We will not even beging to suggest that a specific database best for your organization. That statement does not seem helpful, does it? Let’s look at it another way. What are we expecting to gain from employing this tool; how do our people want and need to see the information captured and why; can we use the database chosen across different shops, teams, and projects (i.e., is it a good fit for the whole organization). So we are back again to establishing an understanding of the objective and why it is the objective before we proceed.

70 ■ Continuous and Embedded Learning for Organizations

Community of Practice

Communities of practice are collection of specific areas of talent. For example, in our company we can have a community of practice focused on software testing, or configuration management, or even a larger focus area such as specific type of product development, for example an Advanced Product Quality Planning expert. These people have an interest in specific subject areas, and perhaps have additional training and certainly more and varied experiences.


Self-organizing groups are not orchestrated by the organization but are a natural accretion of specific talents by willing association or by invitation from some already existing talents. There are benefits to this self-organizing, first and foremost that those that are part of this group are not coerced or bribed to participate. They are involved with this subject matter and the other members through their own decision and motivation. Next, since there is no connection between the organizing of this group and the organization beyond the fact that the organization is the employer, there is perhaps reduced chance for this group being distracted for political intent or propaganda rather than the focus on the topic that the individuals bring to bear on the topic out of genuine interest.

Organization Selected

The organization selects the individuals that will be part of this group. We have seen a company that created specialized and temporary positions that they called senior specialists. These specialists would serve a defined number of years and would be part of a group of other individuals that have similar talents and experiences. There are downsides to this form of selection.

Boundary spanning is gathering intel from the outside world to help the organization adapt

Figure 2.16 Boundary spanning is gathering intel from the outside world to help the organization adapt.

First, the selection of the right person can turn into a political boondoggle, not necessarily the best person for the job, but the person that has a similar perspective as those selecting in such a way that they can guarantee the selected individual will come to conclusions that the management will find satisfying, not necessarily moving the direction or the organization in the direction that the facts take.

Boundary Spanners

Boundary spanners are those that have the expertise and interest that put them in positions of discovery and transforming of that discovery to others, essentially propagating this information to others for them to act.

Boundary spanners are a rare breed, however, and few networks have many of them. That’s primarily because most people don’t have the breadth of intellectual expertise, the wealth of social contacts, and personality traits necessary to be accepted by the vastly different groups[1]

Boundary spanners are typically associated with information gathering from external sources and usually associated with innovation. However, this type of exchange can be seen to occur between departments and other parts of the organization as well as spreading discovery and learning through the organization. However, as the reference above indicates, the people who fill these roles have very specific attributes and are generally few in the organization as this is a strong mix of a variety of subject matter expertise, inquisitive nature, as well as a well-connected social network that allows action to be taken based upon this information.


When we consider the distribution of the knowledge throughout the organization, we are at least in part referring to the interactions of people that form the network. Much of this network forms organically, and probably because developing these networks is not really something that can be formally done. There are two types of relationships, contextually determined and actor determined, each with their own dynamics and outcomes.

Contextually determined relationships are associated with situationally or culturally determined roles. Contextual properties are intimately associated with asymmetry. Essentially asymmetry means that a relationship is not the same for both parties. This is an important property of organizational network since there are a multitude of differences between organizational members, especially in terms of status and direction of communication.

Actor-determined relationships reflect the idiosyncratic bonding that characterize relationships between interactants. For example, importance, a variable that has traditionally been examined in network studies (e.g., Richards 1985). provides a direct assessment of the tie between an informal communication relationship and work performance. It can be associated with the more access individuals have to needed task related information (Johnson and Smith related advice (e.g., Blau 1954). These peers are not formally assigned by the organization; rather, these relationships develop informally often as a result of friendships. Thompson (1967) asserts that these work-dependent relationships determine communications channels in an organization to a greater degree than such factors as affiliation, influence, and status.*

Reciprocity is another concept associated with these networks and associations. Reciprocity is the degree to which both parties in a relationship similarly characterize the relationship and is a measure of the strength of the relationship.

Nodes and Links

Networks can be documented or recorded in a way that illustrates the organization as a collection of individuals and their respective contacts within the organization, resembling a net. The individuals are represented as nodes or circles (or bodies), with connections to other nodes via links. This provides graphical representation of how the people of our organization are connected, which provides a glimpse into how the parts of the organizations communicate, ’[he links are the communications or interactions between the individuals providing the viewer with some small measure as how information moves through the organization or pathways in which information and knowledge can be shared.

Not only do we see how the individuals of the organization connect, but we can see where the individuals fit into the dispersion or conversely the accretion of knowledge. For example, an individual may be located on the edge of this net, or the individual may be in the center of the network with multiple contact points.

This is not the same as an organization chart that demonstrates the functional areas of the organizations and reporting structures as well as the management distribution for the organization. This does not illustrate the interactions beyond that of the command and control attributes of the company, even when the functional areas are broken down into respective individuals within that function area; we have no connection or inference to the ways and connection between these individuals illustrated.

In the graphic, the nodes represent individuals and the links represent the relationship between the two or more nodes or people. These nodes and interconnections are not necessarily symmetrical, that is, sometimes information is not disseminated in both directions equally, these would be referred to as asymmetrical, the graphic illustrates this via the arrow directions. Command and

We can model the individual as a network into nodes and links

Figure 2.17 We can model the individual as a network into nodes and links.

control mechanisms are often associated with the organizations hierarchy can be asymmetrical in the communication can be more top down than bottom up.

Strong and Weak Ties

In network theory we have a concept of strong ties and weak ties. Each of these have their respective benefits.

■ Essential for sharing of tacit knowledge*

■ More stable and reliable than weak ties

■ Constant sharing of the same information

The strong ties have constant contact, sharing of knowledge within the group, and repetition and as such are higher trust environments. The limitations are also due to this limitation. For example, the perspective of our team is of a similar perspective. A team solely consisting of strong tie inputs will miss information from outside of this realm; therefore these teams are missing information from outside their group that may improve or certainly influence how their work gets done. Their learning is limited to that of the immediate team.

Notions about weak ties originate from research on how people acquire jobs, and the ties that hold the disparate functions of the organization or silos together in a cohesive and effective entity.[2] [3] The strength of weak ties is perhaps the best known concept related to network analysis. It refers to less developed relationships that are more limited in space, place, time, and depth of emotional bonds. This concept has been intimately tied to the flow of information within organizations and by definition is removed from strong social bonds, such as influence and multiplex relations/!-

Weak ties may be useful for discussing things one does not want to reveal to one’s close work associates; providing a place for an individual to experiment; extending access to information; promoting social comparison; and fostering a sense of community.[3]

Three-Way Network

Perhaps some of you may have heard the acronym SIPOC, Supplier, Input, Process, Output, Customer. This is the chain of events that can describe both external and internal customers. Consider a company that has divided the work according to functional specialties. We will likely find that the work is passed from department to department; for example, requirements are written by a department that specializes in obtaining these from the customer, the product development happens in other department(s), and the testing of the product in yet another department. This is a rudimentary description of what is often referred to as a functional organization. There are benefits and drawbacks to having such a structure, just as there are benefits and drawbacks to other structures.

With this arrangement, the connected departments can understand how the parts are used in the chain of the work, along with how the work and work results impact the others in the chain. Working to understand this chain of events provides fodder for a continuous improvement of the processes of the organization. This is a good way to evoke the opportunities for improvement in the value chain, and we can use techniques such as value stream mapping and work flow charts to demonstrate the way the work is accomplished and model the way we think the work could work better, from which we can devise actions to determine if our improvement thoughts

Input, supplier, process output, is a change even within the organization

Figure 2.18 Input, supplier, process output, is a change even within the organization.

are valid through exploratory techniques such as Total Quality Management (PDCA).


We may all have experienced cliques in our high school years. These are groups that have some tangible congruent interests that connect these individuals into a group. In a company, for example, we may find people enjoy bike riding over long distances. These people may not have anything else in common, and perhaps do not work in the same department, but this common interest binds these people to exchange ideas and learn from their experiences and studying.

How people categorize their social world into affiliative groups is critical to how they go about searching for information, since the first step will often embed certain assumptions about the types of people likely to have certain kinds of knowledge. Highly dense, relatively isolated cliques can be expected to have high levels of tacit knowledge, while overlapping is critical to sharing of knowledge and the development of common perspectives throughout an entire organization.*

What we need to learn from this is that cliques, when centered around a specific area of the company, will have strong tacit knowledge from the sharing of findings and learning by the individuals from within the clique. To distribute this learning to other parts of the organization we must find mechanisms to share this knowledge which can be through mechanisms that develop common perspectives about the work and that includes a common lexicon.

  • [1] Cross, R. and Prusak, L. 2003. The People Who Make Organizations Go - or Stop. In R. Cross,A. Parker, and L. Sasson (eds.), Networks in the Knowledge Economy, Oxford University Press
  • [2] * Granovetter, M. S. 1973, The strength ofweak ties. American Journal of Sociology, 78: 1360-1380. * Johnson, J. D. (2009). Network Analysis. In Managing Knowledge Networks (p. 36). Cambridge,UK; Cambridge University Press.
  • [3] Adelman, M. B., Parks, M. R. and Albrecht, T. L. 1987. Beyond close relationships: support inweak ties. In T. L. Albrecht and M. B. Adelman (eds.), Communicating Social Support'. 126-147.Sage.
  • [4] Adelman, M. B., Parks, M. R. and Albrecht, T. L. 1987. Beyond close relationships: support inweak ties. In T. L. Albrecht and M. B. Adelman (eds.), Communicating Social Support'. 126-147.Sage.
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