Do you think that you can snap your fingers whenever you need some vital information? 

Do you think that your LinkedIn connections or your Facebook or Twitter friends will come running to your aid whenever you need help?

If it was late at night, and you were sitting in front of your laptop, in a foreign country, several thousand miles from most of your network, with a useless cell phone because you provider had no network, and you needed help, what would you do?

When this happened to me just a few weeks ago, I was thrilled by the responsiveness of my network, and I just had to share this fantastic networking experience with my readers.

Most of you know that I was in Panama recently facilitating two three-day courses on Project Lessons Learned for the Panama Canal Authority’s Construction Division. 

At the end of the second day of the second session, the division’s manager requested that, the next day, I speak to the class about some specific project lessons learned success factors and barriers experienced by other organizations.  He also wanted to know how these success factors and barriers fit into a cohesive project lessons learned system.  He requested this information because he wanted to impress upon the class that Project (and Contract) Lessons Learned would (and should) be an ongoing part of their daily activity.

I left the building that day worried because, while I had many examples, anecdotes, and ideas about project lessons learned success factors and barriers, I was not aware of any single document or study that would address his request.  Since I unfortunately hadn’t anticipated his request, after dinner that evening, I sat myself down in front of my laptop, and began to brainstorm about who in my network might be able to efficiently guide me in the right direction–time was of the essence since I had to be back in the classroom about eight hours later!

During my brainstorming, I remembered that Michael Guidry’s Northwest Arkansas PMI Chapter recently featured Deborah Grassi, a Senior Manager in SAP Change, Training, and Communication at WalMart.  Deborah spoke about lessons learned from a significant WalMart project.  So, I dashed off a quick email to Michael explaining my conundrum.

I sent another quick email to Dan Ranta, a Director of Knowledge Sharing with whom I had worked at ConocoPhillips. 

I also wrote to Wayne Thompson, my frequent collaborator on podcasts for his popular blog “Project Management War Stories.” 

I also recalled that Lisa Austin , a manager of Knowledge Management at Williams Midstream, had recently spoken to the PMI Tulsa Chapter about Knowledge Management at Williams.  While I had unfortunately missed her presentation, I thought contacting her was worth a shot since she and I are connected on LinkedIn.  Lisa quickly replied that, if I had not already seen the website and blog on Knowledge Management in the United Kingdom operated by Nick Milton, Director of Knoco, Ltd., I should check it out. 

Nick Milton was formerly a knowledge management executive with BP.  Now, is a knowledge management consultant who consults with corporations worldwide on knowledge management issues.

I quickly accessed Nick’s website, and found a section on Lessons Learned that included a survey that he had conducted in 2009 of companies in many different industries.  The survey discussed these companies’ varying Lessons Learned practices, which factors had been barriers in establishing Lessons Learned, and which factors had led to success in Lessons Learned and lasting change within the organization.

BINGO!!!

I immediately messaged Nick on LinkedIn and introduced myself.  I explained that we had common interests in Project Lessons Learned, that I was in the midst of teaching a course on the subject, that I had been referred to his website, and that I was very impressed by survey.  I requested that we connect on LinkedIn.  Almost immediately, Nick approved by connection request and explained that he was with a client in China, but that he would love to talk about our common interests in Project Lessons Learned. 

Nick and I emailed a few more times that evening, and Nick was kind enough to permit me to present his survey and discuss its findings with the course participants.

The survey had 74 responses from individuals in such varied industries as oil and gas, engineering and construction, consulting, mining, industrial products and services, etc.  It mainly focused on project groups, and it covered success factors, barriers, key systems components, and other enabling factors. 

As I read through the survey, I was pleased that it supported many of my recommendations, including the use of the After Action Review (AAR) as the preferred basis for a project lessons learned framework, as well as the inclusion of Risk Management when identifying candidates for lessons learned.

The next day, I distributed the survey to the course participants, and we discussed its findings within the context of the Construction Division’s business and project/contract environment. 

Throughout the day, similarly helpful information flooded in from my network.  In fact, nearly one hundred percent of the people that I contacted responded with useful information.

I learned two valuable lessons from this experience: (1) when training, listen—and be responsive to—your audience, as it often provides valuable insight as to how you can develop and improve your materials; and (2) believe in the power of your network!

Remember–the responsiveness of your network is entirely up to you.

As Robert Cialdini has stated in his work on INFLUENCE,  RECIPROCITY is a powerful motivator.   Always do what you can for others before asking a significant favor in return. 

Your network will only be as responsive to you, as you have been in fulfilling its needs.

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