Learning history

A Learning History is the knowledge from a project or other piece of work, compiled through individual interviews with the people involved. A Learning History would be used when the team is too big or too busy to schedule a group knowledge capture session. The Learning History approach is time-efficient for the interviewees, who spend an hour being interviewed, rather than half a day in a Retrospect. It is less efficient for the interviewers, who instead of capturing knowledge from, say, a dozen people in a single afternoon must schedule 12 individual interviews, probably strung out over the course of a week or more. A Learning History involves a single interviewer, or a small team, holding free-flowing interviews with key team members, and then producing an analysis and synthesis of the results

You will probably want to include participants from all levels in the project and all phases. This may be everyone who participated, if the team is small enough. In a larger team you may not have time to include everybody, and will need to interview a representative sample. Make sure you interview the project leader, the core team, internal customers (if appropriate) and representatives from various business entities (departments, refinery units, businesses; whatever makes sense for the story). Interviewing can be done by telephone if face to face is impossible.

You need a quiet location where you will not be disturbed. An empty meeting room, or a quiet room in the interviewees home, would be ideal. You cannot conduct an interview in an open plan area. Make sure that the door is closed, that no telephone calls will be put through, and that any noisy fans or air-conditioning units are switched off. If you are making a video of the interview, make sure the lighting is okay. The interview process is as that outlined in the Knowledge Retention section.

The best way to transfer knowledge during the interview process is in the words of the people involved. There is no real substitute for audio recording. Make sure you have a back-up however - either speed-written notes or an alternative form of recording such as video, or even both. Always ask permission before audio-recording.

The distillation and analysis step consists of extracting the core material from the interviews, and presenting it as guidelines for the future. You need to sort out

This analysis step can time-consuming and tiring, but there is no short cut. It may take a full day or two to do the analysis, and a further day of cutting and pasting to sort all the material. Select the key quotes from the interview material - the ones that "tell the story" or "give the advice". It can be valuable to have two people do this in parallel. Edit the quotes for grammar, removing the 'Um's and 'Er's and 'Actually's which are acceptable in speech but do not translate to the written word. Validate these quotes with the interviewees, by sending them back to them with a suitable covering letter.

Sort the quotes into themes. With a single transcript, you can sort the quotes online by cutting and pasting. Start the analysis by identifying the obvious key elements and sub themes. This can add structure to any remaining interviews. Group the quotes by "message" within the themes. Often several of the quotes will give the same "message". Selecting the messages is another key step, and you need to strike a balance between selecting too many (and ending up with trivia) and selecting too few (and missing value).

Rephrase the messages as advice for the "knowledge customer", or as questions in a checklist. Some people seem to respond better to a set of questions than they do to a set of rules and procedures. Others will prefer to work to a rule book. Tailor the approach to the prevailing culture.

The outcome of the Learning History is a knowledge asset that includes guidelines for the future (expressed in the words of the interviewees), a history from the project to illustrate the guidelines, the names of people involved for future reference, and the key artifacts. A good format for the learning history is Left Column/Right column. The advice or guidance is in the left hand column, and each piece of advice is illustrated with relevant quotes in the right hand column.

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