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Get Smarter Faster With Before-During-After Learning Processes

Trish Lambert

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When you are pursuing a business-critical project, how do you learn? If you are like most of us, you start off the project relying on what you already know, you may or may not pick up new insights as you work through each milestone, and you look back when things are wrapped up to see how you did. If you are particularly conscientious, you might do a post-project autopsy to figure out what did and didn't work and how you should do things differently the next time around.
What if I told you that spending a little time before, during, and after your project will put you in an impressive lead over your competition?
A few years ago, I had the good fortune to be trained as a knowledge management (KM) consultant by Kent Greenes, a leading light in the corporate KM space. In addition to providing KM consulting services to large companies, I taught hundreds of people how to “do it themselves. " The primary focus of their training was in the learning processes that are one part of Kent's KM methodology-and you can put these processes into play in your own company. The investment in time and money is small relative to the return you will see from getting in the “learning process habit. "
The three processes, in the order they occur, are:

  • Peer Assist, before the project starts
  • After Action Review (AAR), during project implementation
  • Retrospect, after the project is complete

Peer Assists and Retrospects are formally facilitated sessions that can take place virtually (via GoToMeeting or WebEx) if the participants are not co-located.

  • A Peer Assist is attended by the key project team members and several people who have participated in the same or similar projects. The focus of the session is to give the project team a leg up by obtaining insights and learning from those who have gone before. The session is recorded and then transcribed so that key learning can be extracted and made available to current and future project teams.
  • A Retrospect is comprised of the key team members who have completed the project. Again, this session is formally facilitated and recorded, with learnings harvested and made available to future project teams.

While both of these processes may sound involved logistically, they can be conducted efficiently when using the right tools and working with an experienced facilitator. On the other hand, to get the most learning harvested with the least amount of time and money expended, the AAR is the way to go.
The power of the AAR is in its simplicity.  All you need in the way of tools is a flipchart, or at least a pen and paper, 20 to 30 minutes, and commitment to open and honest dialog. In a self-facilitated session, each AAR participant answers four questions:
  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • What were the differences and why?
  • What can we learn?

In the beginning, there will likely be a lot of discussion about the first question; this is a learning in itself (make sure everyone understands what is supposed to happen beforehand).  Identifying the differences and the reasons for them may also create sometimes heated discussion. As you do more AARs, you will find that the sessions will take less time and involve less heat in the dialog.

Focus the last question on uncovering no more than three items that can be put into play right away or in the very near future, while memories are still fresh.

Consider creating a learning journal where AAR results can be collected. Over time, you will end up with a robust knowledge asset that will help you move smarter and faster than the competition-every time.

Trish Lambert ( ) is president of 4R Marketing, a virtual marketing consultancy for service businesses. She has trained hundreds of people in use of knowledge management methodologies and uses the techniques in the projects she manages for clients.


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