Lessons Learned


Extract of the NATO Lessons Learned Handbook – 2nd edition – Sep 2011

“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.”
– Douglas Adams, author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.

Every individual needs to be part of the Lessons Learned (LL) Capability of an organisation in order to support the effort and overall success. That includes you!

A lesson is not learned until something changes in the way we operate, and the ones who need to change are the ones affected by an issue—the stakeholders.

Likewise, stakeholders are the first and often only personnel who will be aware of potential lessons – observations and lessons identified – as they are the ones who are most closely involved in this issue. Unless these potential lessons are submitted via a LL Process, it is unlikely that it can be learned by others. The stakeholders must share their potential lessons.

All personnel, regardless of rank, must understand that they have a responsibility to document observed problems, shortfalls and successes. There must be provisions for all to make observations. Ideally, observation reporting will complement routine reports and returns, not replace them. These observations from within the organization are likely to be the main focus for observation capture. However, observations from outside the organization should also be captured and reviewed.

An Observation is “a comment based on something someone has heard, seen or noticed that has been identified and documented as an issue for improvement or a potential best practice.”

For a given activity, an expected outcome exists. If expectations are either not met or exceeded, there is something to learn. Any difference from expected outcome should be documented as an observation that describes: the sequence of events, conditions under which the events occurred, and other quantifying details.

A special type of Lesson Identified is the Best Practice.

The Best Practice is “a technique, process or methodology that contributes to the improved performance of an organization and has been identified as a ‘best way of operating’ in a particular area as compared to other good practice(s). Ideally, a Best Practice should be adaptive, replicable and immediately useable”

How to gather observations.
An observation is the basic building block of a LL process. The observation must convey the basic details of the observed issue, with detail sufficient for further analysis. At a minimum, the observation must address the questions “what happened?” and “how did that differ from what was expected?”

Checklist for Inclusion of Observations
The answer to all of these questions should be yes for an observation to be suitable for inclusion in the LL process. 1. Is this an objective observation and not just an obvious complaint about something or somebody? 2. Is this a problem with the system and not just a simple mistake by somebody? 3. Does this adequately and correctly describe the observed situation? 4. Would you spend your own money or budget to fix this issue? 5. Would you spend your own time fixing this issue?

Observation Template
The NATO- template for an observation has a header and a body with four fields Observation, Discussion, Conclusion, and Recommendation (ODCR).

Best Practice Template
The BP – template is based on the initial JWC paper.

How to insert an Observation or Best Practice
Each learning organisation should have an own Lessons Learned process, procedures and its respective insertion point. You should primary insert it there. If you cannot find a proper insertion point you are encouraged to send it to the CIMIC Centre of Excellence.