Lessons Learned Must Be Actionable

I spent last week at the 2011 International Conference on Software Quality in San Diego. On Wednesday, I hosted a session of lightning talks, where anyone in the audience can volunteer to “have the stage” for 5 minutes. Some people give presentations with slides, some give presentations without slides, others present ideas or comment on other conference sessions, and yet others lead a short discussion or ask the audience a question they would like to have answered. The best part about lightning talks – and what makes them so fun – is that when the timer (that everyone can see) reaches 0:00 the audience is required to loudly and aggressively clap the speaker off the stage! It’s a great way to get (usually) introverted scientists, engineers and techno-geeks actively involved in discussion.

One of the guys who presented a lightning talk (I unfortunately can’t remember his name) was an ISO 9000 auditor. He shared a little nugget with us that really stuck with me, and I’d like to share it with the rest of the world. His insight came from many of the quality systems he’s reviewed and audited, and he said he noticed this with some of the conference presentations as well. I paraphrase:

Lessons learned must be actionable. So many times I see people present their lessons learned, but they’re not doing anything as a result, or they haven’t figured out how to do something in response to the lesson – they’re not changing their processes, attitudes, or strategies in response to what they’ve uncovered. If it’s merely an insight, it’s just a lesson… if it’s an insight that results in changing or adapting behavior, then it’s a lesson learned!

It struck me that since lessons learned are such an important component of Baldrige assessments as well (via ADLI), organizations that are currently working on an application might also benefit from this perspective.

If anyone remembers this guy’s name, please post it. He was tall and had lots of fluffy white hair.

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