What is your key competency?

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6 steps to getting Lessons *Learned*

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

  1. Get your learning process right – Don’t just focus on the *end* of a project, matter or process
    1. 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.
    2. 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?
    3. 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?
  2. Get your culture right – a culture which avoids blame and focuses on learning is key – keep working on this.
    1. 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.
    2. 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?
    3. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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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The 3 minute KM plan

I still follow The Thesis Whisperer blog from my days doing my MBA and recently they hosted a guest blog from Mary Woessner who described her involvement in the “three minute thesis” competition (3MT). In the 3MT competition, PhD candidates must give a presentation overview of their PhD thesis to external judges who score it on comprehension, content, engagement and communication. Perhaps sounds easy, but actually extremely difficult.

It sounded like Mary found the process of taking stopwatchpart in the competition extremely helpful in teaching her how to share her research with a general audience in a manner that was both factual and engaging.


This got me thinking.


How often do you need to share your KM plans with those who don’t yet “get KM”?

The theory behind successful KM can seem (is) quite complex, but we all need to describe workable solutions within our organisations to non-experts.

It isn’t the same thing as the 3MT, but we do need to distil complex theory into workable solutions and then persuade non-experts that they are the right solution based on the right theory and data.

Do you think you could present your KM plans or strategy in three minutes and be persuasive, engaging and comprehensive?

Even if you never actually make that presentation, I think the activity would be a fantastic learning opportunity.

If you give it a try, let me know in the comments how you get on.vision eye


If you are struggling, maybe this download on creating your Knowledge Vision may help.


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And if you are looking for KM training within your firm, I run open training sessions in London and also in-house sessions (standard or bespoke), as well as annual subscriptions to UK regional learning groups.

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Together we are an ocean

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A new session on innovation

After our successful session in Birmingham, I have persuaded Dr Sheffield to run another innovation workshop in Bristol after the summer.

Come along if you are interested in

  • how to encourage innovative thought (in yourself, in your teams, in your firm)
  • how to create balanced teams that not only create innovative ideas, but can also evaluate them and deliver business benefits
  • how not to stifle existing innovative thinkers, but support and encourage them

If you are an existing annual subscriber to KN-UK Bristol, this is included in your membership. If you aren’t, but would like to come along anyway, you can buy tickets via Eventbrite. There are limited numbers (KN-UK events are always small, friendly and interactive), so if this is of interest, book asap.

For those of you who can’t get to Bristol, keep an eye on the blog (you can follow it using the top right button) or sign up for the busy person’s monthly summary, and read about the session afterwards.

And if you have any great experiences to share about innovation in your firm, I’d love to hear it in the comments below.

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Heads of Knowledge Q&A (7) Richard Gaston

For our next Head of Knowledge interview, we meet Richard Gaston who is Head of Knowledge and Research at Addleshaw Goddard LLP.


1) How did you end up as Head of Knowledge?  Was there a key factor / turning point in your ending up in this role?

I joined Addleshaw Goddard with a background in business information, research and richardgastonanalysis, and came to help build out this capability in what was then the Information Services team.  I was subsequently fortunate to be given, and to be able to find, a number of opportunities to expand the scope of my role.  In early 2016 I presented a paper written with the help of our PSL team to our Exec – we sought (and were given) Exec sponsorship for KM, as well as recognition that effective KM was essential for successful delivery of the Firm’s strategy.

2) What job did you envision having when you were young?

A marine archaeologist!  I was inspired by watching Blue Peter and seeing the dives on, and recovery of, the Mary Rose.

3) If you could have any job in the world, with no limitations (salary, location, hours etc)  what would you do?

I still have a lingering hankering to be an academic – if I could combine that with 6 months of the year spent in Florence, and 6 months of the year in the UK…that might be my ideal job.

4) Describe your organisation in three words

Collaborative.  Innovative.  Growing.

5) What is the hardest thing about your role?

Raising and maintaining the profile of our KM work alongside the many competing priorities facing our fee-earning and business services colleagues.

6) What is the best thing about your role?

People!  I have a great team, and the opportunity to work with lots of people in lots of different roles across the business, as well as with our clients.

7)  What is the biggest change that you’ve witnessed during your career in Knowledge?

As with almost every other profession, the impact of technology.  I started my career learning how to search print indices, and run command-line searches on elementary online databases.  Technology has revolutionised our ability to manage and find accurate information.

8) What three things are you focusing on for the next three years?

Development of our KM people.  Document automation.  Search.

9) What do you think is the most exciting new development coming in Knowledge work / KM?

Developing technologies mean a greater focus and more time available to spend on what I think are the more important (and human) factors in KM – developing knowledge-sharing cultures and KM people, adding value and insight to the information we manage.

10) What advice do you have for aspiring Heads of Knowledge

Be opportunistic.  Volunteer for projects (even the apparently boring ones) – this helps to build trust and credibility with senior people and will open doors to more interesting work in future.

Be pragmatic.  You probably have the tools and resources to solve many of your organisations KM challenges already (without buying lots of new technology) you just have to think laterally about how to apply what you have to the problems you face.


Thanks Richard, great to hear your story, and great advice – be pragmatic and opportunistic and think laterally.

If you’ve enjoyed this series of interviews, don’t forget to share the post using the buttons below.

And if you would like to read the next in our series of Heads of Knowledge interviews, don’t forget to follow the blog using the button at the top right, or sign up for the busy person’s monthly summary here.

Are you a Head of Knowledge? Can you share your story? Or perhaps you could nominate your boss? Get in touch! Contact details here, or write me a comment below.

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