Leaving lessons in a lessons database doesn’t work – an example from NASA.

NASA found out the hard way that just collecting lessons into a database is not enough.

Image from wikimdia commons

5 years ago, NASA conducted an audit of lesson-learning. At the time, NASA spent 750,000 annually on their lessons learning approach, centred around a tool called LLIS (The Lessons Learned Information System).  NASA was at the time (and still is) one of the worlds leaders in Knowledge Management, and they wanted to know if this money was well spent, and if not, what could be done (note of course that lesson learning is only a part of NASA’s KM approach, and thanks to Barbara Fillip for bringing me up to speed).

According to the levels of use and application found by the auditors 5 years ago, there was plenty of room for improvement in lesson-learning. Specifically –

“We found that NASA program and project managers rarely consult or contribute to LLIS even though they are directed to by NASA requirements and guidance. 

In fact, input to LLIS by most Centers has been minimal for several years. Specifically, other than the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), no NASA Center consistently contributed information to LLIS for the 6-year period from 2005 through 2010. 

For example, the Glenn Research Center and the Johnson Space Center contributed an average of one lesson per year compared to the nearly 12 per year contributed by JPL …..  

Taken together, the lack of consistent input and usage has led to the marginalization of LLIS as a useful tool for project managers” 

With minimal contributions (other than at JPL), and with rare consulation, then this system was just not working.

Why did it not work?

The project managers that were surveyed offered a variety of reasons for not using or contributing to LLIS, including:

  • A belief that LLIS is outdated, and is not user friendly
  • A belief that LLIS does not contain information relevant to their project
  • Competing demands on their time in managing their respective projects.  
  • Policy Requirements have been weakened over time. 
  • Inconsistent Policy direction and implementation. 
  • Lack of Monitoring. 
Interesting that three out of these six reasons are directly related to governance. One wonders that, even if a spanking new LLIS were introduced, whether (without better governance) anyone would bother to use it. 
The auditors suggested a number of improvements, including improvements to process, policy and resources, but one of the main issues with a lessons database is that it is a clumsy solution. Lessons should not be stored in an ever-accumulating database – lessons need to be embedded into design, into principles and into process.

Levels of lesson learning

I described, earlier this year, 3 levels of lesson learning, and the approach reviewed by the auditors is Level 1 – reactive capture of lessons in the hope that others will review them and learn from them.

Ideally any organisation should aim for level 2 – where lessons lead to changes in designs, practices or procedures. A lesson is therefore an increment of knowledge, and those little increments are used to build an ever-improving body of knowledge. Once the lesson has been embedded as a practice change, or a design-principle change, or a change in a checklist,  then it can be removed from the database.

Ideally the NASA database would be empty – all lessons would be incorporated in some body of knowledge somewhere. The only lesson in the system would be those pending incorporation.

If this system works well and quickly, then there should be no need for anyone to consult a lessons database – instead they should go to the designs, the checklists, and the design principles.

By relying on a Level 1 lesson learning system, NASA were already making things difficult for themselves. 

View Original Source Here.

When learners become teachers – how community roles shift over time

Community of practice members may start by being learners and end up being teachers who still learn.

Let’s look at patterns of behaviour in a Community of Practice forum, or discussion area.

  • When a novice employee is very new to an organisation or to a topic, they are usually very quiet in a community forum. They are still learning the basics, which they get from training and from the community knowledge base, and they spend 100% of their community time watching and reading community discussion. They don’t tend to ask questions on the forum – their questions are still fairly basic, and if they do ask, the answer is usually a version of “read the flipping manual“.
  • After a while, and maybe quite quickly in some cases, the employee starts to face problems and issues that are not in the manual. That’s when they start to ask questions of the Community, and begin to use the Community members themselves as a resource. They move from 100% lurking and reading, to (over time) mostly asking.
  • After a bit more time, the employees begin to find that they themselves can answer the questions of others. They have become practitioners, they understand the practice, and can share the lessons they have learned. This can happen relatively quickly as well – I remember interviewing one guy who was less than 2 years into the company, and a question came up on the community forum which was related to a special study he had just completed.  He answered this successfully, and reported how pleased he was to be able to “feed something back” to the CoP.
  • The more experienced members- now experts in their topic –  may take on a leadership role in the CoP, as core team members, or as subject matter experts, with accountability for teaching and for owning some of the Knowledge Assets of the Community.  However a good expert never stops learning. Only last week I saw, in a busy community forum, an expert asking for feedback, comments and advice on a document she had produced. Even the most advanced expert should spend some time asking, some time answering, and some time teaching.
Now lets map some demographics onto the diagram above. 
Imagine a far-eastern company, with many many young staff, and few experts. Here the bulk of the staff will be in the Red area in the diagram, with a few in the other segments. This CoP will act more like a Teaching CoP, with relatively little discussion and quite a lot of publishing.
Imagine a western engineering company, loaded with baby-boomers. Here a large proportion of the staff are in the blue, yellow and green segments. The bulk of community activity will be about discussion and dialogue, rather than about publishing and reading. 

As always, it’s more complicated than any simple model will allow, and there is no “one size fits all” approach, but different communities of practice may operate in different ways in different settings, largely driven by the experience profile of the community members. 

View Original Source Here.

How the demographics of the organisation affect Knowledge Management

The demographics of your organisation determine the distribution of knowledge, and therefore the Knowledge Management Framework

Here’s another factor that can affect the way you address KM in an organisation; the demographics of the workforce. Because the demographics are is linked to the distribution of knowledge across the staff, it determines how many sources of knowledge you have, and how many net users, for example:

  • A company with very many junior staff and few experienced staff will have few knowledge suppliers and many knowledge users; while
  • A company with very many experienced staff will have many knowledge suppliers, each of whom is also a knowledge user.

Please note that I am not talking here about whether older people behave differently to younger people – there are many assertions made about these differences in behaviour, few of which seem to stand up to scrutiny.

Take a Western engineering organisation. 

Here the economy is static, and the population growth is stable. Engineering is not a “sexy topic”. The workforce is largely made up of baby boomers. A large proportion of the workforce is over 40, with many staff approaching retirement – the blue line in the graph above.

Experience is widespread in the organisation – this is an experienced company, and knowledge is dispersed. Communities of Practice are important, where people can ask each other for advice, and that advice is spread round the organisation. Experienced staff collaborate to create new knowledge out of their shared expertise. Knowledge can easily be kept largely tacit. The engineers know the basics, and a short call to their colleagues fills in any gaps. The biggest risk is knowledge loss, as so many of the workforce will retire soon, and a Knowledge Retention strategy would be a good investment.

Take an Asian engineering organisation. 

China or in India the economy is growing, the population is growing, there is a hunger for prosperity, and engineering is also a growth area. The workforce is predominantly very young – many of them fewer than 2 years in post. There are only a handful of real experts, and a host of inexperienced staff – the red line in the chart above.

Experience is a rare commodity, and is centralised within the company, retained within the Centres of Excellence, and the small Expert groups. Here the issue is not Collaboration, but rapid onboarding and upskilling. The risk is not so much Retention of knowledge, it is deployment of knowledge, although the reliance on a few experts means that they must be given a Knowledge Ownersgip role, rather than using them on projects.  Rather than keeping knowledge tacit, it makes sense to at least document the basics in explicit form (the experts will be too busy to answer so many basic questions), keeping this documentation updated as the organisation learns.

These two demographic profiles would lead you to take two different approaches to KM. The Western company would introduce communities of practice, and use the dispersed knowledge to collaborate on building continuously improving practices, processes and products. Wikis could be used to harness the dispersed expertise. There would be huge potential for innovation, as people re-use and build on ideas from each other. Crowd sourcing, and “asking the audience” are excellent strategies for finding knowledge.

The Eastern company would focus on the development and deployment of standard practices and procedures, and on developing and deploying capability among the young workforce. The experts would build top-class training and educational material, and the focus would be on Communities of Learning rather than Communities of Practice. Innovation would be discouraged, until the staff had built enough experience to know which rules can be bent, and which must be adhered to. Crowdsourcing is not a good strategy, and the “wisdom of the experts” trumps the “wisdom of the crowd”.

This is one of the factors that KM must address, namely the amount of expertise in the company, and how widely it is dispersed.

View Original Source Here.

What is a healthy activity level for a community of practice?

How active should a community of practice be?

Photo from maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com

Healthy communities of practice are busy communities of practice, but what sort of activity levels should you aim at?

It depends on the type of community, of course, and the  excellent publication from the National College for School Leadership “100,000 heads are better than one (lessons from the worlds largest online learning community)” suggests target activity levels for three types of community.

Within this document, they talk about activity levels, and the level of community “Buzz”. They answer the question “How loud should the buzz be?” by saying that as a rule of thumb, a good level of buzz is generated if, in one month

for a large community of practice (more than 50,000 members): 

  • 10 per cent of members visit 
  • 15 per cent of visitors contribute (1.5% of members overall)
  • each contributor leaves between two and three contributions 

 for a smaller community set up to meet a need or complete a project: 

  • 75 per cent of members visit 
  • 50 per cent of visitors contribute 
  • each contributor leaves between four and five contributions 

For a learning group set up around a ftf event, where all participants are expected to visit as part of the event:

  • 100 per cent of members visit 
  • 100 per cent of visitors contribute 
  • each contributor leaves more than five contributions

View Original Source Here.

Example KM principles – US Army TRADOC

Here is a neat and concise set of KM Principles from the US Army.

These KM principles for the US Army Traning and Doctrine command are taken from the website for the TRADOC Chief Knowledge Office.  There are many KM principles here that could apply to any organisation.





  1. Train and educate KM leaders, managers, and champions.
  2. Reward knowledge sharing and make knowledge management career rewarding.
  3. Establish a doctrine of collaboration.
  4. Use every interaction, whether face-to-face or virtual, as an opportunity to acquire and share knowledge.
  5. Prevent knowledge loss.
  6. Protect and secure information and knowledge assets.
  7. Use legal and standard business rules and processes across the enterprise.
  8. Embed knowledge assets (e.g. links, podcasts, videos, documents, simulations, wikis) in standard business processes and provide access to those who need to know.
  9. Use standardized collaborative tools sets.
  10. Use Open Architectures to permit access and searching across boundaries.
  11. Use a robust search capability to access contextual knowledge and store content for discovery.
  12. Use portals that permit single sign-on and authentication across the global enterprise including partners.
  13. Use standardize repositories that tags content allowing enterprise discoverablity and sharing capabilities to capture, preserve and make available information essential for decisions, and actions.
  14. Document Management using common taxonomies.

View Original Source Here.

Why do some organisations just not want to learn?

Having knowledge, and doing something with that knowledge, are two different things. There is often a gap between knowing and doing.

Why do you get teams or organisations that just don’t want to learn?

Take the example of one company, with dysfunctional project management practices. They have had several external audits which tell them that their practices are dysfunctional, and that they need to introduce proper planning, proper communication, and proper risk management, and yet they don’t change. They continue as before, and their projects are delivered late and over budget.


They have the knowledge, but they don’t take the action.

This, of course, is the phenomenon addressed by the well known book “the Knowing-Doing Gap“, which describes several reasons by teams and organisations will not learn, including the following:

  1. They haven’t made a close enough link between knowledge and action.  They think that gaining knowledge, for example through the external audits mentioned above, is sufficient in itself. Certainly the company we studied had not committed to taking action as a result of the audit.   
  2. “The way we have always done things” is a very hard habit to break.   Much work is done through habit, and those habits have been built up and reinforced over the years, without being challenged.  New knowledge challenges old knowledge and old habits, and old habits die hard (the curse of prior knowledge)
  3. They are disempowered. I argued recently that although knowledge management can support empowerment, it requires empowerment in the first place. Teams which are disempowered cannot learn.   
  4. They understand the how, but they don’t understand the why. They may have imported tools and techniques and processes, but they don’t understand the philosophy behind them, and so they cannot make them work.   
You can you lead a company to knowledge, but you can’t make it learn. 
 To become a learning organisation requires more than just effective knowledge management, it requires a commitment to learning and a commitment to change.
The organisation must accept that if knowledge is to add any value, then it must lead to action. It must accept that that action may often challenge the status quo, and will frequently the way things are already done.

They must not just accept this, they must welcome it, and must empower the teams and individuals within the organisation to take action on their own learning.  And they must also realise that when the organisation adopts  new techniques and new approaches, they have to understand the philosophy behind them, as well as the practices themselves.

Only though this approach, can an organisation hope to become a learning organisation.

View Original Source Here.

Example KM policy statement, Hong Kong Police

Found here, an interesting KM policy statement from the Hong Kong Police Force. Short, but powerful, and a good example of content for a Knowledge Management policy. 

Policy Statement

The Hong Kong Police Force (the Force) attaches great importance to effectively managing the wisdom, experiences and knowledge accumulated, accrued and acquired over the years either at the individual or the Formation/Unit levels. 
Such organizational wealth which exists in the form of Major Formation / Formation databases or intangible (tacit) knowledge residing within an officer is highly valued.  
With a view to enhancing the performance of the Force and in turn to delivering a better service to the public, the Force is committed to developing and promoting KM which should at all times be aligned with the Force Vision and Mission.  

View Original Source Here.

KM vision statements, numbers 16 to 45. Number 37 is so simple, it’s elegant!

In December 2011 I wrote a post titled 15 Knowledge Management Visions.  Here are 30 more to add to the list.

All of these are vision statements for organisational KM programs, forming a core part of the respective Knowledge Management strategies.

Some of these were appended as comments to the original blog post, others are more recent additions. My favourite is number 37 – so simple!

16. NATO communications and information agency
The Vision of NCI Agency’s Knowledge Management is of customer satisfaction through knowledge superiority, the Mission is to deliver customer-focussed and cost-effective solutions through collaboration and knowledge sharing.

17. Unesco
UNESCO’s KM and ICT vision is to enable programme planning, delivery and evaluation in the most efficient and effective way, through the full and innovative use of information and communication technologies and the implementation of Knowledge Management based on a knowledge-sharing culture. This will allow UNESCO to be a modern and learning organization, capable of adapting to the changing world and playing fully its role within the United Nations system.

18. World Health Organization
The vision of WHO KM is of global health equity through better knowledge management and sharing.

19. Worcester Health Libraries
Our vision is to harness the body of knowledge and exploit it at point of need so that the right information will be available to the right people in the right format at the right time. We believe that the effective management of knowledge and information is essential for the provision of the best patient care.

20. UN Economic Commision for Africa
to ensure that ECA becomes and remains Africa’s premier think tank, consistently generating top quality, thoroughly researched products reflecting the latest thinking on issues relating to Africa’s transformative agenda.

21. Hulley & Kirkwood

What does Knowledge Management mean for our employees?

  •  Better communication with peers. 
  • Access to quality information and knowledge that has been validated by internal experts. 
  • Best practice. 

What does Knowledge Management mean for our customer?

  •  Potential cost savings by implementing lessons learned on previous projects at earlier stages of the design. 
  • Greater exposure to the knowledge and expertise of 130 engineers across 8 regional locations. 
  • More efficient delivery of our design. 

What does Knowledge Management mean for our project partners?

  •  Exposure to rationale, lessons learned and local knowledge across our organisation. 
  • Potential cost savings due to better quality information at all project and design stages.

22. Main Roads, Western Australia
OUR KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT VISION: To be recognised as a world class road authority, working innovatively with industry, our partners and the community, to share and build cutting edge knowledge and expertise.

23. The UN-REDD Programme
The UN-REDD Programme partner countries develop REDD+ readiness and implementation capacities aligned with UNFCCC requirements, through the systematic identification, capture and sharing of REDD+ related knowledge.

24  FAO
FAO will facilitate the access to and exchange of knowledge, as well as its generation, in the domain of agriculture and food security. It will assist its Members in generating, accessing and utilizing knowledge in food and agriculture, as well as any other knowledge that relates to it, required to address Members‟ individual and collective development and food security goals.

25. McKnight Foundation
We manage and share knowledge to maximize McKnight’s credible influence in support of mission and programs.

26. Samsung SDS
Samsung SDS’ mission is to provide the best possible IT service to our customers. This best service can only be created via our know-how, which is produced by freely sharing our best practice, knowledge and experience from every area within the company

27. GMI
KM: Promotes and strengthens our capacity to learn, question, investigate, share and innovate based on our organization´s culture in order to generate long term value for clients, stakeholders and workers.

28. Aspen Tech. 
All employees will have access to the information, knowledge, and processes they need to achieve their individual objectives and help AspenTech meet its strategic goals.

29. NHS library and knowledge services in England
NHS bodies, their staff, learners, patients and the public use the right knowledge and ,evidence, at the right time, in the right place, enabling high quality decision-making .learning, research and innovation to achieve excellent healthcare and health improvement

30. Ernst and Young 2002
Our knowledge management mission is to enable and steward the acquisition, sharing and reuse of knowledge by our people worldwide. By doing this, our people will be better able to generate new revenues and strengthen client relationships.

31. Department of the Navy 2014 version
The DON vision for KM is to create, capture, share, and reuse knowledge to enable effective and agile decision-making, increase the efficiency of task accomplishment, and improve mission effectiveness. To achieve this vision, the DON KM community will continue to share and leverage the significant KM experience and resources existing within the Department. Currently, DON KM is a centralized vision executed through decentralized implementation

ACCCRN partners will collaborate to build a recognisably credible knowledge base of practical and actionable know-how to meet key climate change urban resilience challenges that will ultimately improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people.

33. The Parliament of Finland 
 The Parliament is an open and competent knowledge organisation with a co-operation oriented work culture and the capacity and will to learn.

34. The U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) Knowledge Management Office
Providing secure connection to information on demand – any type of information, across multiple applications & business processes
 Consolidation & integration of information to provide a single view of data & higher value information for insights, greater efficiency & improve our competitive advantage
 Integration of partner-enabled solutions & diverse sources of information to provide acceleration of the deployment of end-to-end business processes to improve operational efficiency

35. Lloyds register Marine 
Our vision is to have a knowledge sharing culture that is recognised and respected globally by industry, our clients and our people. We will have behaviours, technology and processes that will connect our global expertise and the right information will always be in the right hands at the right time. Through our people, knowledge and expertise, Lloyd’s Register’s performance will continuously improve.

36. Office of Nuclear Energy
The vision of the Office of NE KM Program is to benefit the NE programs by providing scientists across the community with the information required to assess and analyze the accuracy of advanced nuclear energy systems and associated capabilities.

37. US Army TRADOC
 A knowledge-enabled force – one learns, everyone knows.

38. Canadian International Development Agency
The vision of CIDA is to be “a knowledge-driven organization”.

39. Comcare
Comcare will create, capture, share and reuse knowledge to support effective and agile evidence based decision-making. We will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our people and deliver high level service to our community.

40. GPET
GPET will be a learning organisation where the outcomes of previous projects and research inform future work.
Staff will have easy access to information to allow them to do their work. This will include embedding procedures and guidelines into workflows and the ability to find the latest authoritative information across the organisation.
Stakeholders will be able to capitalise on learnings across GPET programs to inform or establish best practice in GPET and their own organisations.

Agricultural knowledge contributing effectively to improved livelihoods in Eastern and
Central Africa.

JPL will “make good use of what JPL knows.”

43. Department of the Navy, 2005 version
The DON vision of KM is to create, capture, share, and reuse knowledge to enable effective and agile decision-making, increase the efficiency of task accomplishment, and improve mission effectiveness.

44. U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence
Connected 24/7 to information, knowledge, and training.

45. MTR organisation
An organisation that

  • Provides continuous opportunities for people to learn 􀂋
  • Provides skill development and renewal opportunities 􀂋
  • Provides better career opportunities 􀂋
  • Provides platform to capture and retain crucial knowledge 

Where people are

  • Aware of business and work expectations 􀂋
  • Share knowledge and expertise openly 
  • Seek new and creative ways of working

Beneficial to All Stakeholders

  • 􀂋Customers 􀂋
  • Shareholders 􀂋
  • Staff

View Original Source Here.

A story of how a community lost trust

It is possible for the members of a Community of Practice to lose trust in the community as an effective support mechanism. Here’s one story of how that happened.

The story is from one of Knoco’s Asian clients.

  • This community started well, with 4 or 5 questions per week from community members. 
  • The community facilitator forwarded these questions to community experts to answer, rather than sending them to the whole community and making use of the long tail of knowledge.  This may well have been a cultural issue, as her culture reveres experts.
  • Sometimes the expert would answer on the community discussion forum, but most of the time they answered by telephone, or personal visit. Therefore the community members did not see the answer, and were not even aware the question had been answered.
  • Often the expert did not have enough business context to answer the question (this is a complicated business), so when they did answer on the forum, the answer was vague and high-level. In a culture where experts are not questioned, nobody interrogated these vague answers to get more detail. 
  • Often the questions themselves were asked with very little context or explanation, so it was not possible to give good answers. The community facilitator never “questioned the question” to find out what the real issue was.
  • Where there was a discussion around the question, it very quickly went off-topic. Again the facilitator did not play an active role in conversation management.
  • When the facilitator followed up, to see if the questioner was satisfied by the answer, the answer was usually No.
  • A year later, the questions have dropped to 1 or 2 a month.
As far as the community members were aware through observing interactions on the forum, the questions seemed either to receive no answer (as the real discussion happened offline), or to receive worthless answers.  The users lost trust in the community forum as a way to get questions answered effectively, and have almost stopped asking. 
One way to revitalise this community will be to set up a series of face to face meetings, so that the members regain trust in each other as knowledgeable individuals, then ask the members to help design an effective online interaction. This will almost certainly involve asking the community and not the experts, and making much more use of the facilitator to get the questions clarified, to make sure the answers are posted online, to probe into the details of vague answer, and to keep the discussions on topic.
This sort of discussion is needed at community kick-off, so the community can be set up as an effective problem-solving body, and so that the members trust that their questions will be answered quickly and well.

If the members do not trust that the community will answer their questions, they will soon stop asking.

View Original Source Here.

Why Yammer’s default question is unhelpful

If you agree with me that the greatest value in organisational online discussion comes through answering questions, then Yammer’s default prompt does not help.

“What are you working on?” asks Yammer – as a work-related version of the Facebook question “What’s on your mind”.

As a way of getting people to share work-related activity, that’s a reasonable question, and pretty soon you will find your Yammer stream full of statements like

  • “I’m working on a new proposal”
  • “I’m getting ready to go on holiday”
  • “I’m finishing the assessment report”

For some people, that’s interesting connectivity, that helps them feel connected with co-workers. For others, that’s unwelcome Noise; stuff they didn’t need to know that distracts them from their own work. The risk is that the noise turns people off.

This blog has long championed the use of Knowledge Pull behaviours, and Knowledge seeking.  We know for example that Asking is tougher than sharing, but gives instant results. We know that the more questions that are asked in a Community of Practice, the more successful it is. We know that 75% to 90% of knowledge sharing comes as a response to a request for help. We (or I, at least) believe that an internal knowledge market is best grown through demand rather than through supply. And also  that Facebook is not a good analogue for in-house social media.

If you want to use a product like Yammer for knowledge sharing, then I can’t help thinking there’s got to be a better default prompt – one that drives Pull and not Push; one that develops the habit of Asking.

Maybe something like

“What knowledge do you need to help deliver your work?”
“What can your social network help you with today?”
“What question do you have for your network?”

View Original Source Here.