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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Improving the function of lessons databases

Organizations need to gather and utilize past "lessons learned" but too often, critical information is lost or simply not used. Here, Alan Thompson of KBR Production Services gives five top tips for improving lessons databases.

1. Ensure your lessons database has a balance of successful and unsuccessful lessons. A narrow "blunder avoidance" database full of, "don't go there - we did and it failed" examples, affects the way personnel perceive lessons and also affects the organization's clients' perception of processes.

2. Make the context, categorization and specific details of lessons clear if you want them to be used appropriately. Improve the categorization of a lesson by asking a lesson user to check if the lesson is valid, current, in the correct context and available and for use.

3. Develop an expert or skill finder system for your database to give users a choice of knowledgeable contacts. Include relevant information on experts so the user can make a specific choice and quickly get the information they need. Make experts "duty bound" to answer callers to maintain the function of the system.

4. For organizations with knowledge repositories spread across several countries consider the use of a "loose federation" database model, where each business unit "owns" their own data and the processes from which it was derived. In this model, users primarily look for lessons from their own business unit, then spread the search out across the company to other business units who in turn, decide if they can help with their own knowledge and "broker" the information they have.

5. Ensure your database remains fresh and useable by using it yourself with your own projects.

Adapted from "Getting real value from lessons databases" by Alan Thompson in the current issue of Knowledge Management review.

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