Lesson learning, retrospectives, look-backs, AALs, AARs, whatever you call it, it makes sense to learn what works and doesn’t within your own organisation – stops you reinventing the wheel, shares expertise around, keeps clients happy etc etc.
So why don’t more law firms have more success in learning lessons?
One of the problems is that lessons are often documented, but not *learned*.
So how can you change this in your organisation and get your lessons learned by your workforce (and steal a march on your competition)?
6 steps to learning your lessons
- Get your learning process right – Don’t just focus on the *end* of a project, matter or process
- Lessons are there to be learned throughout the project/matter/process and for a while afterwards as well. A review of multiple projects/matters/lessons can create valuable insights.
- Make it part of the process – are there any way-points in your case management system which could guide fee earners to learning lessons or sharing experiences? Can you add notes to practice notes or precedents? If not, how can you change processes (without creating extra unnecessary work) so that continuous learning becomes a natural part of working?
- Are identified lessons being *learned*, or are the same mistakes cropping up? Have a process to identify whether or not similar problems are recurring, that becomes an important point to investigate – why are the lessons not transferring into practice?
- Get your culture right – a culture which avoids blame and focuses on learning is key – keep working on this.
- An independent leader/facilitator for the review meetings can help keep everyone in a neutral learning-mode, rather than a blame-mode. Get an outsider in, or train up some independent people within your organisation.
- Read up on how the military create a learning culture in their AARs. If they can break out of their strict hierarchy to learn lessons, surely your lawyers/ your organisation can too?
- You need to get/keep your leadership team on board with the learning culture. They may need additional training if they don’t entirely see the benefit now. Make sure when mistakes are made, the focus is on how to understand the root cause of the problem and then share the learning (anonymised if appropriate).
- Get your technology right – a separate database full of “lessons” documents is usually unwieldy unless you have plenty of links to elsewhere in your case management system to keep signposting people back to them at the right point in their work process i.e. when they need that lesson. A sophisticated tagging/labelling system is also useful, as there are often many different lessons to be learned from one project and you will get different lessons drawn by different professionals from the same project – if they can all tag using their own natural language, then they are more likely to be able to find the lesson/document again at the right time.
- Get to the root cause – When thinking about what went wrong or right and what lesson can be drawn, it can be easy to put causes down to individuals, time management or communication skills, but you need to go deeper. Imagine a court date is missed by an individual. Why did that individual not meet that deadline? Did they know that a deadline existed? Did they understand the consequences of missing the deadline? Was it clear whose responsibility meeting that deadline was? Why did they prioritise their time differently? Is the technology they used fit for purpose? Are there sufficient staffing levels for that case load? Is there a process for catching deadlines when individuals are ill or on holiday? It isn’t enough to exhort an individual to “work harder/better”. The organisation will need to question its staffing levels, technology, processes, learning and knowledge sharing processes and understand how to engineer out these potential issues for the future.
- Keep it simple and human – although technology can assist with sharing the lessons widely, sometimes meetings, with the to-and-fro of conversations and discussions, are more effective ways to share the lessons.
- Measure your results – people care about processes which add value to their organisation. If you can demonstrate, with a mix of qualitative stories and quantitative data, the value of your lessons learned process, you can keep leadership teams on-side and persuade everyone that any effort which is required, is more than worthwhile.
If you want to find out more, there are plenty of other articles on after action learning here on the blog, or look out for my new article coming soon to Legal Information Management.
If you need help in running your AARs or training your staff in how to run then, get in touch. There is also an AAR project in my KM projects book, available here.
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