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Friday, January 13, 2017

6 reasons why After Action reviews are such a great tool.

After Action reviews are one of the core tools in Knowledge Management - but what makes them so powerful?

After Action Reviews (AARs) are like the Hammer in the Knowledge Manager's toolkit - one of the most basic and most important tools.

They are applied in many organisations around the world as part of their Knowledge Management Framework.  They are focused review meetings, relatively short in duration, designed to help the team become conscious of their own knowledge, so they can act on that knowledge as work progresses. It is like "learning on Tuesday to perform better on Wednesday". In addition, the learning can be transferred to other teams, but this is generally a secondary role.

 This process was developed by the US Army, who use it as their main knowledge-gathering process. It does not go into very great analytical depth, and so is useful for reviewing short-turnaround activity, or single actions. It is short and focused enough to do on a daily basis, perhaps at the end of a meeting or at the end of a shift. After Action review consists of a face-to-face team discussion around 5 questions:

  • "What was supposed to happen'?" 
  •  "What actually happened?" 
  • "Why was there a difference?" 
  • "What have we learned?" 
  • "What will we do about it?" 

So what makes AARs so valuable? Here are 6 reasons (and you can find 6 more reasons here);

  1. AARs are a conversation about knowledge. They are not progress reviews or individual evaluations, they are conversations with the sole purpose of discussing new knowledge and new learning. The very act of holding an AAR is an acknowledgement that knowledge is important.
  2. AARs are high bandwidth.  Face to face conversation is far and away the best method to surface shared knowledge and to discuss it. 
  3. AARs are culture change agents. People find that it is possible to open up and to share knowledge in a group session, with no risk and no comeback. 
  4. AARs are instant feedback. As people share their knowledge, they can see it being transformed instantly into actions and improvements. Instead of their knowledge vanishing into a black hole, they see immediate results.
  5. AARs are quick and efficient. They can take as little as 15 or 20 minutes, but may have a big cumulative effect. 
  6. AARs lead to action and to change.  Or at least, they should do. Question 5 is the key here - "What are we going to do about it"? AARs are successful to the extent that they lead to change and to action. If they are just talking shops - if all they do is lead to bullet points on a flipchart - then they are a waste of time. AARs should be used to drive changes and improvements in the way a team, department or organisation works. 

If you can apply AARs as part of your KM Framework to regularly drive improvement and change, then you have made full use of this simple yet powerful tool. 

from Knoco stories

Interesting enough.

"I don't think that what I do is interesting enough" is a concern often expressed when I suggest people share more on their organisation's social network about what they do. Even, perhaps especially, people at a senior level worry that the stuff that fills their days is boring.

Firstly, what feels routine and boring to them can be fascinating to others. Things that feel unimportant can be significant. Small details can reveal insights. Good descriptions and shared stories can reveal aspects of them and how they see the world that even those who work closely with them have never seen.

Secondly, if their posts really are boring, maybe they should do something about it! Part of the value of writing posts is the self reflection it affords. Holding up a mirror to our lives, revealing what we do and why. Having this discipline makes us more thoughtful, more aware of what is happening around us. If we don't like what we see we can choose to change.

These principles apply more generally. Here on the public social web much is made of the trivial nature of many of the updates people share. But they needn't be trivial. Detail can be revealing, what is routine can have meaning. Well written posts have power whatever their topic. I've always liked the phrase "intensity of the mundane" (which I think I first heard from Rob Paterson). We consistently underestimate this intensity.

The day to day needn't be insignificant. Poets know this. We could learn from them. We can be more interesting than we think if we try.

from The Obvious?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The structure of a lesson in a KM system

I blogged yesterday about Garbage In, Garbage Out in KM systems, and the need to feed the system with high quality lessons. But what is a high quality lesson?

Based on a figure in the US Army handbook,
"Establishing a lesson learned program"
In this blog post I won't go into the whole quality issue, but focus on one point - the structure of a lesson; what it should contain. 

Many organisations use the After Action review process to discuss and identify lessons, or it's big brother, the Retrospect. These processes are a structured discussion and analysis of learning points, and involve discussing the following points:

  • What was expected to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • Why was there a difference?
  • What is the learning for the future?
  • What action should we take to embed the lesson?

This logical flow ensures lessons are based on observations (particularly observations where the actual outcome deviated from the planned outcome), on insights derived from root cause analysis, on reframing the lessons as advice for the future, and on moving this advice towards action.

Lessons should be documented in the same way and following the same struture as these review processes.

Each lesson should contain:

  • A description of the intended outcome of the activity or issue being discussed;
  • A set of observations of the actual outcome, based wherever possible on ground truth, evidence an measurement;
  • Insights of the root causes behind the observations;
  • Advice for how the root causes can be tacked in future, either to repeat a positive outcome or avoid a negative outcome;
  • Actions to embed the advice in policy, process, standard operating procedures or guidance.
By using this structure, each lesson then becomes a stand-alone document which can be read and understood in isolation. 

The US Army adds a side branch to the lesson structure as shown above. There are cases where the solution to the root cause has already been implemented, and no advice for the future is needed (the advice has "already been taken". The US Army call this a Best Practice rather than a lesson. 

from Knoco stories