Can a Just Culture be applied to the project management lessons learned process?

Reason (1997, p. 195) defines a just culture as‘…an atmosphere of trust in which people are encouraged, even rewarded, for providing essential safety-related information – but in which they are also clear about where the line must be drawn between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.’ The other important elements of a safety culture are to have a strong reporting, flexible and learning culture (Reason 1997). Reason (1997) further states that the learning culture is the easiest to engineer however is the most difficult to make work. Pettersson and Nyce (2011) state that just culture is where individuals in an organisation want to be open about failures and mistakes. Lucier (2003) argues that if you can encourage team members to document their mistakes with no fear of further action, you will be able to establish a useful knowledge system.

The ‘Swiss Cheese’ model of defences. Source: Reason (1997)

Reason (1997, 2000) also reports on implementing defences in depth (swiss cheese model) where one identifies that projects have errors (holes) in them and one construct layers of defences to catch them. The Global Aviation Information Network describes a just culture within the aviation industry as a system that has accessible memory and underpins a learning culture (Stastny & Garin 2004). Stastny and Garin discuss the benefits and obstacles in implementing a just culture and there appears to be a lot of similarities with project management lessons learned process.

What are your thoughts on how ‘just culture’ can be applied to the project management lessons learned process?


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PMLLblog summary of Lessons Learned Culture

Culture plays a significant part in knowledge management, organisational learning and in the effectiveness of learning mechanisms (Duhon & Elias 2008) and is central to the change management process (Firestone & McElroy 2003; Maqsood 2006). Dvir and Shenhar (2011, p. 20) state that ‘Great projects create a revolutionary project culture. The execution of great projects often requires a different project culture, which can spread to an entire organization.’ Williams (2007, 2008), Hislop (2005) and Maqsood (2006) all suggest that it is critical to understand the culture of an organisation before implementing or using a knowledge lessons learned method as surveys consistently reveal that the main obstacles to success are organisational people (social and culture) factors (Ajmal, Helo & Kekäle 2010; Ajmal, Kekäle & Takala 2009; Ajmal & Koskinen 2008).

Hislop (2005) reports on what motivates employees to share their knowledge and expertise. Firestone and McElroy (2003) state that it is important to understand the following types of culture barriers: topical, historical, behavioural (socialisation), normative, functional, mental, structural and symbolic. Ajmal and Koskinen (2008) define project culture as a harmony between organisational and professional culture. They also identify four core cultures of control, competence, collaboration and cultivation. O’Dell et al. (2000) and Duhon and Elias (2008) discuss the impediments to sharing knowledge; don’t have time; not invented here; divisional stove pipe; geographical scatter; people afraid that sharing will make them less valuable; unwillingness to share; poor leadership and legal constraints.

What are your thoughts on the culture around Lessons Learned?

Have I missed something?


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