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Total Recall!

Past experiences suggest that the larger the organization, the less likely the learning is to get spread. We have worked in organizations where managers have been heard to say, “it is okay to make mistakes, but can’t we make different mistakes?” This is the result of any learning being localized, if even that. What actions can we take to ensure that what is learned moves beyond those initially learning it?

How to Remember What You’ve Learned

“It is okay to make mistakes, but can’t we make some different ones for a change?” This was a lament of a manager that kept watching the same decisions lead to the same outcome. Experience suggests this happens much more frequently than a person would think. It is important to learn from these events, not just those individuals or team members that have been initiated, influenced, or been impacted by the events. To be sure each situation is different, so a chain of events in one set of circumstances may not exactly apply to a slightly different set of circumstances. In large organizations, there may be many experiments or other sources of learning going on at any time, each of which are context informing. That is, without the background context, there may be no real ability to reuse this or claim it as learning. Each time something happens that is a teaching event or teaching moment for the team, it is something that should be considered available to the rest of the team, and posterity.

An example of the structure of the database for a product development organization

Figure 5.8 An example of the structure of the database for a product development organization.

Lessons Learned Storage and Handling

Not that formalized documentation is the be-all-end-all for how to both capture the learning and perpetuate the learning throughout the organization from now until the future. However, when considering the limitations of communications as the sole mechanism for storing, it should be clear that success requires more than communication between individuals and teams. Part of the work must include ways to record beyond those that have experienced that specific set of events and subsequent learning. Perhaps, modern databases that metadata tags to be associated with the data.

Database Storage

In some instances, capturing what is learned can be put into a database. Modern databases with metadata tags make it possible to capture things a team learns in a way that can be recovered by others in the organization. An organization with which we have worked used a tool from Wjj Software.[1]®"' A tool like this can help record those things learned in such a way to be useful, ’[he old method of recording things the team has learned in a book, which collects more dust than eyes from other team members, will not likely produce the results desired.

Tools can help, but there are more fundamental things required to maximize the results from using the tool. For example, there will be a need to segment the database, that is, develop the hierarchy of the tool to meet the needs of the organization and, more specifically, to make the database a suitable repository for the things the team learns. For example, one company that employed the use of a database in product development structured the system to support the constituent products for the vehicle. Each of the constituent parts had a field for the part name. There were assorted fields under this part, associated with subassemblies and specific things learned over time when it came to that part and subassemblies. Field failures, and root causes as well as corrective actions of those failures, are also recorded in this database. Other structure alternatives may look like:

■ Organization’s Departments

■ Discipline (example: engineering, configuration management, purchasing, quality)

■ Products (systems, subsystems components)

■ Processes (product development or manufacturing)

■ Process maturity

■ Self-directed work teams

The development of the database requires considering the extensibility, that is, more than the immediate use but how the database system can be extended as more things are learned. In the modern interconnected world, the database can make it possible for those things discovered at various sites around the world to be recorded. The many experiments regarding productivity, quality, or products can be easily put into a system that any other person in the company that has access can see the results.

Databases are part of the organizations knowledge infrastructure. This represents not only an investment in this infrastructure, but an ongoing investment. The system consists largely of storage, data transportation, and data transformation.”

As repositories of information for the business careful consideration of the security issues related to the information is important. This requires walking a balance between ease of access while thwarting would be attackers trying to acquire or disrupt the use of the information. The storage space allocated must be enough for the present amount of material recorded on the server with plans for upgrading that are congruent with the rate of growth of data stored. Experience suggests the reliability and speed of access will play a factor in the use of the system. Modern organizations have wired and wireless internet connectivity, and this facilitates ease of access. In addition to ease of access from the organization facilities, it is also possible for team members to view off site and perhaps even on their smart phones.

Introducing a tool to the company without any support is a recipe for failure. In fact, ideally those that will be using the system should have been included in the development of the system specifications and logistical needs as well as specific function content.

Communities of Practice

Communities of practice can sometime get a bad reputation. In some cases, this becomes a euphemism for outsourcing key portions of the organization to another [2]

Communities of practice can provide resources to the other parts of the organization in a specific domain

Figure 5.9 Communities of practice can provide resources to the other parts of the organization in a specific domain.

part of the organization, or even to a supplier. This displacement of the work, can have an impact on employees if the portion of the work the employee finds enjoyable is relegated to these communities of practice. This is not what communities of practice are intended to be; however, rather, it is an aberration. It might be in the organization’s best interest to not couch or guise intentions through this use of this phrase.

Communities of practice are where individuals with interest in the topic gather together to develop the organization’s relationship to that topic. Those that are part of this team are not solely those that have decades of experience in the topic, but also those that have expressed an affinity or aptitude as well. The intent is to develop this community in such a way as to have this community help the various parts of the organization understand the subject matter better, how best to apply it specifically in the context of the organization’s work, as well as provide future guidance on the subject matter allowing the organization to prepare for these external changes so as not to be such a shock when these future events happen.

It is possible the topic upon which the community of practice ruminates means different things to different parts of the organization. Therefore, it is good for the team members of this community of practice to have the range of experience that matches that of the organization. This is especially true for groups or teams that are globally distributed or where sites each have a different set of advantages. For example, some sites may have a human capital advantage; another may have a technological or automation advantage, ’[he way each of these interpret the application from the community of practice may differ by necessity. In this way, besides a variety of progress on the level of skill in the topic of the community of practice, it is essential to include a variety of functional areas in which the topic is applied. For example, configuration management community of practice in a product development and manufacturing concern could include talent representations from the following:

■ Purchasing

■ Hardware engineering

■ Software engineering

■ Product testing

■ Manufacturing

Change Your Oil Every 3,000 Lessons Learned

This is not really about oil changes; however, like anything else, benefits form a constant or recurring review. Over time and experiments needed additional features or quicker performance of the system may be discovered or required. It is a good habit to make this system an integral part of the continuing improvement philosophy of the company, with a constant review. In an earlier section we discussed the importance of“Habits” as a necessary part of any change if it is to be sustained.

Maintaining the Lessons Learned Process and Tools

No matter the solution used for collecting and storing, there will need to be some guidance on how the system works, and the rules for applications. Errant input into the system will lead to building upon this errant information, the garbage in, garbage out rule. The organization may decide to supply some guidance on how to post those learnings. For example, perhaps there is a review of the lessons learned by the team impacted, or perhaps, and more appropriately, the team should be part of developing the lessons learned. There must be some true root cause analysis competencies within the group, thus ensuring a true account of the situation and that action is taken to improve. The value of the lessons learned database reduces when suppositions and conjectures are the content.

Lowering the Water Level

When it appears that your organization is drowning with issues that never go away there are two options, learn to swim or drain the water level such that you can just stand and not drown. Learning to swim is a metaphor for the workaround that people have developed to keep the process moving. And draining the water is a metaphor for reducing the issues impeding the team from obtaining their goal.

Learning to Swim

While it would seem on the surface to be a good thing that the team can develop ways to keep the process moving, it is if used only as a temporary solution to an issue while the long term plan is developed. However, as we all know this is rarely the case as evident by such comments by individuals as, “If we are going to make mistakes can’t we at least make new ones?” or “The process says do it this way, but we do it like this to make it work.” It is these very type of issues that make change difficult because the starting point may not actually be known due to workarounds and the motivation of the people is diminished by constantly seeing the same mistakes and having to deal with it. When issues such as these go unchecked then the poor experience portion of the leadership equation (see the leadership equation section) increases and motivation declines, thus making change even more tenuous.

Tools help us do the work, but tools are not the be all end all

Figure 5.10 Tools help us do the work, but tools are not the be all end all.

In situations of repeat problems and workarounds there are commonly key indicators of their existence, the first of which is twofold: personnel could either withdraw from or become more boisterous about the issues that are of a reoccurring nature. The aforementioned condition or symptom as the case may be is the worse of the two. This is because at that point they have ascertained that no action on their part will facilitate a change so they have reconciled themselves to not providing any input. Tlie second shows there is still some hope within the individual as described by Maslow’s discussion on levels of frustration (Meta-grumbles)23.

Drain the Water

As we discussed in the beginning of this section another option would be to drain the water level; remove some of the issues that are necessitating the need to learn how to swim. There is no such thing as an organization that does not have some water in the pool. There is always room and need for improvement, especially in today’s ever evolving and fast moving world. The key is to choose the bucket that will remove the most amount of water or produce the greater motivational shift to support further change. Which approach is better would be determined by the initial starting point of the organization, the initial water level, and the willingness of its people to carry a bucket, motivational aspect. If the motivational aspect of the organization is high

Drain the demontivating parts of the change, change tempo if needed

Figure 5.11 Drain the demontivating parts of the change, change tempo if needed.

then a larger bucket, a change plan, might be acceptable, whereas if the motivational aspect is low several smaller buckets, rapid change items, might be the key. Either way these type of change dynamics requires that the person or, better yet, the group structuring the change knows about the people who are going to be affected by the change in a motivational manner. What is meant by a motivational manner is how they will respond to a change initiative based on their current mental outlook of the organization and its treatment of them. An example would be if someone has been provided only negative experiences as a part of the leadership equation; then they are less likely to accept the change proposal or support it without additional justification or reasoning.

The irony of experience is that we must work to gain experience and it is the nature of experience, good or bad, from work that tailors our response to improve the very process that decreases our motivation to do so. If we were to develop a curve of the worker life cycle we would see that most of those people with the greatest experience, those who know most of the issues needing change, are the least likely to either embrace a change or sponsor one.

How not Learning to Swim Can Help with Motivation

As we have referenced to numerous times up to here experience of our people, teams, and organization is the primary component of change dynamics in that experience directly affects every one of these places. While we have emphasized change planning, measures of effectiveness of change, and follow up to changes we would be remiss if we did not emphasize the motivational aspects of the change and its planning. They are directly related in that key points can be structured into a change plan to provide positive feedback and experiences. If this is done effectively it may not even matter if the change that was sought is obtained and there would be an increase in the motivation, through positive experiences, which could facilitate a better, more consistent change.

  • [1]
  • [2] Cash, J. L„ Jr., Eccles, R. G„ Nohria, N., and Nolan, R.L., 1994. Building the Information AgeOrganization: Structure, Control, and Information Technologies. Irwin
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