Lessons Learned process case study: An unintended enabler of upstream and downstream knowledge management capabilities at the European Space Agency


  • Andrew Herd European Space Agency
  • Francesca Piretti European Space Agency




lessons learned, space agency


The paper presents a case study of the European Space Agency which has been coordinating internal knowledge management activities at the corporate level of the Agency for just over 6 years. In this time, previous, current, and future knowledge management activities have been respectively collected, supported, and planned with the immediate intent of addressing potential knowledge loss due to an on-going retirement wave – which will last until 2030. One of the ranges of knowledge management techniques applied is the lessons learned process, with associated means and tools being realised for the capture and exchange of experience.

Through the focus on using the validated and evaluated lessons to achieve systematic learning, the lessons learned process has achieved learning at the point of use, rather than mostly keeping the learning within the established Lessons Learned tool, which has also had (unintentionally) caused an enabling effect for other organisational capabilities relating to not only knowledge but also information and data management.

The Agency has then made a relatively rapid transition to adopting a systematic approach to Lessons Learned – by both creating the need for (pre-requisite) upstream and “downstream” capabilities. The downstream benefits (learning flowing out of the experience capture) has been achieved by identifying the process, product and people involved in the desired learning outcome, and assuring the learning is placed at this point. In taking the approach of broadening the reach of a traditional lessons learned process (mostly with the aim of more effectively addressing user needs), the establishment of lessons learned capabilities has also enabled the needed upstream development activities for the deployment of lessons learned itself. Aspects such as a solid IT infrastructure (common platform), a robust set of classification terms (taxonomy), and the existence of users with a clear identity (communities of practice).

The paper will present the current (but rapidly progressing) status of lessons learned at ESA, and the upstream and downstream effects from the perspective of lessons learned as part of an overall organisational strategy to create a culture and climate of openness and sharing (knowledge management) and digitalisation (information and data management).