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Establishing a Lessons Learned Program

Handbook 11-33
June 2011

Establishing a Lessons Learned Program

Table of Contents


For many years, the U.S. Army recognized the need to share information or lessons gained from training and actual combat operations. During World War II and the Korean War, the Army published "combat bulletins" in an attempt to share combat experiences with other Soldiers. During the Vietnam War, Army units published quarterly operational reports that made an effort to share lessons from combat operations. By doing this, units learned from the mistakes others made and were given an opportunity to avoid the same problems.

Although these procedures were successful, the Army did not have a formal or permanent program in place to collect, analyze, and share lessons in both peacetime and wartime. As a result, the Army established the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) in 1985. The Army had officially recognized the need to share lessons gained from training experiences and actual combat operations. Since the inception of CALL, the Army, as a learning organization, greatly evolved over time. CALL also evolved.

Now, military communities, civilian governmental agencies, and the corporate world recognize the importance of sharing knowledge and learning from past experiences. In many ways, the U.S Army led this effort by allowing commanders to make honest mistakes in training, talk about those mistakes openly, and share what was done to correct those mistakes with other units about to undergo the same training experience. This is an essential precondition for having an effective lessons learned (LL) program: the ability to self-analyze and self-criticize in an atmosphere where there is no blame. The results were instrumental in changing the Army and creating a learning environment that won the Cold War, ensured victory in Desert Storm, and continues to support our Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan today.

With that said, the intent of this handbook is not to explain how CALL does business. Rather, it takes a holistic look at what CALL does today and combines that with numerous, successful LL programs to lay a foundation for a "generic" LL capability that can be used as a "menu" of options to develop your own LL program. There are no hard-and-fast rules for how to set up an LL program. Typically, any LL effort will depend on what the organization is trying to achieve and its level of resourcing. Every organization must develop its own way of working with observations, insights, lessons, and best practices that suits the nature of the knowledge it requires and its organizational culture.

Our hope is this handbook will assist you in either refining your LL capability or establishing a new organizational goal toward LL. We wish you the best of luck in that endeavor.

Download CALL 11-33 Handbook [PDF]

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