Making Collaborative Learning Sustainable and Creating Best Practices

Last week I wrote about the role of collaborative learning in achieving a transformation to Lean Value Streams. To make it more challenging and take it to the next level, let’s assume that all the people involved in the learning scenario all work for the same company, but they are in different functional groups and may never work together as a team again. In other words, how can the lessons learned by the integration project team be communicated to other project teams?  How can we make organizational learning sustainable?

In practice, collaborative learning translates into activities such as asking one another for information, evaluating one another’s ideas, reviewing the results and quality of other’s work, analyzing what works and what doesn’t and communicating the lessons learned. The end result, if done well, is a collection of best practices that allows staff in future projects to avoid wasting resources, speed up delivery, increase the value of the product for the customer and have fun in the process.

But there are challenges with establishing the best practices in the first place and sustaining them on an ongoing basis. First, everyone in the value stream is busy doing their day job (getting the project done); so how do they find the time to pause, reflect on what happened and carefully capture the insights so that someone else will benefit? The level of effort involved is significant since you need to take into account that the people that will be using your best practice may be in another function, another country, another business unit and another language. Will they be able to understand and internalize your insights? Second, how can you make sure that the best practices really are the best; how can you build quality into the process so that you truly have reusable practices and not just a collection of interesting anecdotes?

Other challenges for teams wanting to use the lessons learned from others include finding the best practices in the first place and overcoming the ‘not-invented-here’ syndrome. Professionals who have become skilled at working independently and solving their own problems have difficulty accepting input from others. Modern search engines make it much easier than ever to find things, but it’s still a challenge to sort the wheat from the chaff and identify the really useful information. If it’s hard to find the best practices or if the first few experiences using them is not positive, the professional will quickly revert back to “I can do it better myself” thinking.

There are a number of ingredients to creating a collaborative learning environment that results in sustainable best practices. Specifically, you need investments, appropriate incentives, a quality process and effective tools.

  • Investment: Capturing and communicating lessons learned is not free; it requires an investment in people resources (e.g. giving staff the time to spend on learning), processes (such as requiring a post-project review after each project) and tools such as knowledge repositories. 
  • Incentives: If the organization does not have a culture or history of collaborating and sharing knowledge, you will need to create some incentives to change behavior. The incentives may be financial (such as bonuses for salaried management or staff) or non-financial such as recognition within their peer-group or as part of an enterprise recognition program.
  • Quality process: The process of creating best practices should involve a formal copy-editing process to ensure that all documents are readable and consistent and a review process to ensure that new best practices are complementary to existing best practices. Furthermore, the enterprise project life-cycle methodology must ensure that there are explicit up-front activities for project teams to actively look for and re-use existing tools and practices.
  • Effective tools: Best practices must be easily discoverable and useable. While general purpose document repositories, wikis and integrated search tools are essential, organizations should also be looking at supporting mobile devices and customized apps for tablets. Using best practices should be fun and intuitive and shouldn’t require a training course to use.

For more information, visit Informatica Best Practices. For a real-life example of integration best practices check out Informatica’s Velocity methodology.  Or better yet, visit Informatica World in May 2012 www.informaticaworld.com to learn the best practices in person.  See you in Las Vegas!

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