Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Seven things I learned in 2015

·        ‘Not invented here’ remains the default response of too many people in too many organisations to any initiative;
·        Leaders are more powerful than they themselves realise – not because of what they say but what they do, and how!
·        Initiatives survive and prosper when we first agree on the effect we wish to achieve, and then work backwards on how to do it;
·        Good knowledge management needs both the ‘push’ from those that have acquired knowledge and the ‘pull’ from those that need it;
·        ‘Lessons must be learned’ continues to be trotted out by the media, politicians, chief executives and football managers alike – almost all of whom do not know what it means or requires;
·        Brevity helps;
·        Time spent understanding the client’s needs and desires is seldom wasted.

What will 2016 bring??

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Rain, drain, bucket and mud, KM clear it up

I bent forward into the drain, my shovel digging into the thick, smelly mud which squelched as I lifted it clear into the bucket.  The bucket, now almost full, stood as testament to the power of knowledge management.  With my back aching, the weak autumn sun made my brow’s sheen of sweat gleam; my breath clouded forth in the cold morning air and I steadied myself for another lunge into the now nearly empty drain.  I smiled grimly to myself, thinking, “Even this is not a lesson learned.”

Twenty-four hours earlier, I had attended a family service at my village church. Before the service began, I had noticed the unsightly mud that storms in the week had washed down the hill – it had blocked the grills sitting on top of each drain and large puddles had spread out across the car park, pavement and the footpath that leads into the church.  Members of the congregation – many of them visiting for a baptism and forming negative first impressions – gingerly tiptoed their way past the worst of the mess but few could avoid entering church without their smart footwear being spattered with small flecks of mud.

I sit on the committee that oversees the running of the church, with specific responsibility for its grounds – this usually involves asking volunteers to help with weeding, mowing the lawns, lopping or pruning trees, sweeping leaves etc.  I had made a point of arriving at church 30 minutes early, so as to clear any likely mess but, on arrival, it was clear that I could only do so much in the time available and that I would have to come back another time, better prepared [1].  A lesson learned, some might have said…and they would have been wrong.

So the following morning, I headed off to church again, armed with a broom, a hose, a rake, a bucket and a shovel.  First thing I noticed was that the tap in the churchyard was not threaded and so I couldn’t attach my hose to it.  I had to pause, head off to a hardware store and buy the necessary hose attachment [2].  Some 2 hours later, after lots of hosing, sweeping and shovelling, the main walkway into the churchyard was clean and tidy and the 2 main drains were empty [3], their muddy, smelly contents emptied into a bucket and thrown on the churchyard compost heap.

I then noticed that each of the 2 drains had the entrance of an underground pipe running between them.  I hosed it down from each end and noticed that whilst the water clearly ran from one into the other, it appeared to do so in the wrong direction.  To be clear, the drain closest to the Church (Drain A) had a pipe running from it, no doubt into a sewer deep underground; but the other drain (Drain B), whilst obviously meant to overflow into Drain A, could not do so because of the angle of the pipe running between them.

It therefore appears that, after heavy rainfall, instead of excess water and mud flowing out into the sewers below, such flotsam flows back into Drain B, from which it cannot escape.  Therefore, I will have to raise this with the local water company for them to inspect the drains [4] and, if necessary, correct the flow of water between them [5].

Now, I hear you ask, what on earth does any of this have to do with lessons learned, or knowledge management?  This insight into the travails of a rural parish church is all very well but how is it relevant to me in my law firm, battalion, hospital, laboratory, police station, shop, airport, oil rig, aircraft carrier or trading desk?

As some readers may recall, lessons first need to be identified, then the recommended actions have to be implemented before any learning can be said to have taken place.  (Regular readers of this blog will recall the 10 stages in the life of a lesson.) We’ll now show how my actions relate to lesson learning and readers may spot where their own lesson learning processes (if they have them) fall short.

So, back to the drains outside my church.  I identified 5 actions that needed to be implemented in order for any lesson to be ‘learned’ from this ecclesiastical flooding saga: these are highlighted in bold.  Here they are again, re-written as thought part of a lesson:

  1. Cleaning up the drains area outside the church will take time and you will need the correct equipment.  Set aside at least 2 hours and bring the following: waterproof gloves; wellington boots; a large bucket; a wooden broom; a shovel; a rake; a hose (plus extensions, if necessary);
  2. Check the tap to which you will be attaching the hose and buy an attachment to fit it before you begin work;
  3. Use the rake and shovel to remove large clods of mud and leaves, then spray the cleared area with water, using the broom to clear away the surface water and remaining mud either into the bucket or into the drain if it is clear.  If the drains are full, remove and set aside the metal cover, then dig out the blocking mud and leaves into the bucket, before emptying it onto a compost heap or similar area away from the drains;
  4. If the drains remain blocked, contact the local water company and request them to inspect them;
  5. Pipes connecting drains must be angled correctly to ensure water flows between them and away into a sewer; drainage engineers should consult the local map of drains and sewers before installing a new connecting pipe.

You will note how the first 3 actions fall upon me; in an expanded form they could become part of a guidance document or knowledge asset, thereby embedding the knowledge gained from this experience.  Such a document should then be included along with any others relating to my role as overseer of the church grounds, so as to pass on this knowledge to a successor if/when I relinquish my role.

The final 2 actions are where this lesson needs to be ‘transferred’ or ‘elevated’ to an authority better equipped to deal with them.  Only when the connecting pipe has been angled correctly can this lesson be said to have been ‘learned’.

I hope I have shown that there is quite a bit to do when seeking to learn in a deliberate way and some might question the effort and time required. Then again, there are those that put up with living under a leaking roof, or sitting on a delayed train, or working on an unsafe oil rig, or indeed any of the many frustrations and frictions that persist from not managing knowledge properly.

For a conversation about knowledge management in general or learning lessons in particular, please get in touch or visit the Knoco website.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Who'd have though a bomber could be grounded by forgetting?

In stories about yesterday’s final flight of the Vulcan bomber, a small detail caught my eye. 

As reported in the Daily Telegraph, The Vulcan To The Sky Trust, which brought the 55-year-old aircraft back to flight eight years ago, has accepted advice from supporting companies that they no longer have the expertise to keep it airworthy as engineers retire from the industry.” 

Perhaps it is not surprising that there are few people employed nowadays with the right knowledge to keep a now obsolete aircraft flying.  What is surprising however, is that for younger aircraft still in service, there remains this issue of experienced engineers retiring and the risk associated with that.

I have written before about Knowledge Retention and Transfer programmes and how companies are using them to address this risk.  What I haven’t stressed before is that even this initiative is a ‘sticking plaster’ solution.

A longer-term, enduring approach is one that does not let engineers get anywhere near retirement age with all that valuable knowledge locked inside their heads.  That knowledge is not theirs alone since it has been created and accumulated on their employers’ time and with the help of their colleagues.  It should be treated as such.

This means recognising that knowledge is an asset and developing knowledge management frameworks to manage it accordingly.

Come visit the Knoco website to find out more.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

It’s always what we do that matters, not what we say (Part One)

We’re all individuals, keen to be treated as such but, put us in big groups and I’ll wager we’re most of us all the same. 
Why do I say this?
This weekend I was meeting a friend of a friend who had heard what I do for a living but wanted to know more; so I explained briefly what knowledge management is.  My new acquaintance asked me, “Do you enjoy what you do?” and I replied, “I love it.”  He asked me why and so I said, “Because what I do brings me directly into contact with the human condition.”
His frown showed I needed to explain what I meant and he seemed interested enough to hear my take on what.
“Because basically, no matter what we do for a living, where we live or how old we are…we’re pretty much all the same.  We want to be respected, to feel like we make a difference.  We want to be rewarded and we want security, as far as possible.  Most of us prefer to be popular than unpopular and we don’t like hurting other people, or even merely embarrassing them.  We want people to think well of us and most of us avoid conflict whenever possible.”
He nodded along and then said, “So?”  So I continued, “So, when faced with a situation that we fear will put these things at risk, we all do the same thing.  We minimise embarrassment for ourselves and others; we avoid awkwardness and far prefer choppy waters to be smoothed than stirred up even more.  We mostly tell people what we think they want to hear or, at the very least, will pull our punches so as not to make things any worse.  In short, we won’t tell anyone what we really think or how we really feel unless we feel 100% safe and secure and whoever feels like that at work?”
Again, he asked, “So?” “So…if we are ever going to improve anything, if we are ever going to learn from the past and make the future better, we need to know all that there is to know about whatever problem we face.  We need people to be honest, which means we need to let them feel it’s okay to be honest, which means they mustn’t fear demotion or the sack if they tell the truth, or even just embarrassment for offering a different point of view.  That takes time and effort and real, brace leadership from those at the top.  They need to show by what they do and say that they value integrity and honesty and moral courage because otherwise all they’ll get, indeed all that most organisations get is defensiveness, dishonesty and fear.”
I pulled out a pen and piece of paper and drew this picture of 2 stick-men with ‘speech bubbles’ representing their conversation and ‘thought clouds’ above each man’s head.  “Most problems in the world are down to poor communication, with people either unable, or downright refusing, to express what they think and feel. This is because they’re unsure what they think or feel or because they know all too well what they think or feel but are uncomfortable with sharing that with others.  Now, we tell each other the things in the speech bubbles and yet everything we do is shaped by what is in the thought clouds. Getting people to share those inner thoughts and feelings is at the heart of what knowledge management and organisational learning is all about.  It’s incredibly difficult and, quite frankly, a thankless task but, when it works, if only briefly, it’s very rewarding.”
He smiled and bought me a pint.
To be continued….

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

KM down on the farm - or, have tent and KM, will camp!

A few weeks ago I went camping in Dorset with my family and that of my brother. He and his wife have been camping a few times and have a lot of the necessary gear.  My wife and I have not, so we borrowed loads of bits and pieces from a friend – I wasn’t going to spend a small fortune on the latest tent technology only to be informed that we would not be camping again.

As things turned out, the week was a great success, despite the pouring rain for much of it.  Furthermore, the whole experience proved a useful vehicle for demonstrating the value of knowledge management.  A few examples:
Knowledge is most useful when recent and relevant – I served for over 10 years as an officer in the British Army and have spent more than my fair share of nights outdoors, under canvas, under trees and under nothing else but the stars.  Now, some of my experience was, and will always be, useful for a domestic camping trip but I will be the first to admit that my brother’s more recent and directly relevant experience was far more useful.  This should be borne in mind when planning a Peer Assist, for example.  Having him on hand when it came to erecting and collapsing our tent proved invaluable and, whilst both operations were time-consuming, they’d have taken far longer had I not had his knowledge on hand or, worse still, had I wanted to ‘do it all myself’;
  • Lessons are not learned until you change something – throughout the week, we all noticed things that either did not go as well as we had hoped (e.g. an inflatable mattress with even the slightest hole in it will leave you lying on the cold ground come morning) or far surpassed our expectations (e.g. portable ‘fire pits’ (i.e. the inner metal rim of a lorry wheel) are excellent and well worth the small charge to hire them).  When this happened, someone would invariably sing out, “Ha, a lesson learned!” only for me to boringly respond, “No, a lesson identified. It’ll only be learned if we change things next time round.”
  • Clothing and equipment lists can be valuable knowledge assets – this first time camping as a family was a bit of a leap in the dark as we weren’t 100% sure what we needed and ended up with far more stuff than necessary.  I need to create a list based on: what we used and was invaluable; what we had with us but never used and what we lacked but would really like to have with us next time around.  The problem is, I’ve not yet created this list and already my memory is fading, demonstrating my next point, namely:
  • Wait too long to capture knowledge and its gone – when we got back from our trip: tired, in need of a decent shower and still just about on speaking terms with one another, the last thing I wanted to do was sit down and write up the lessons of our trip.  But I should have done it there and then because with every passing day my recollections become less reliable and I run the risk of filling in the gaps with rubbish, as sometimes happens when project lessons capture sessions are held far too long after the project is finished.  Perhaps I’m being harsh, most projects don’t capture lessons at all so some late and inaccurate ones might be better than nothing.
So there we are: camping holidays – not for everyone but as a way of demonstrating how KM helps us save time, stay dry and have fun, they’re great.
Now, I wonder if I can book a beach holiday in the Caribbean on the company, just to compare and contrast….
For a conversation about KM, Peer Assists, lessons learned (or otherwise) and Knowledge Assets, do contact me direct or visit the Knoco website.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

A 'beloved' NHS wasting taxpayer's money, brilliant John Pilger, the bloody Khmer Rouge, tragic Cambodia and knowledge loss

The risk posed by an ageing workforce is a huge issue for many industries. As experienced staff retire, so critical knowledge will leave with them, which can leave the organisation highly exposed unless that knowledge can be retained and transferred to more junior, less experienced staff.
Where people leave to join competitors the impact is doubled, since you now not only lack key knowledge but your competitors have gained what you lack.
A Knowledge Retention and Transfer (KRT) Strategy is an effective KM approach to reducing this risk.

Few organisations employ KRT strategies. Perversely, most appear content to see knowledge walk out the door and accept that paying top dollar to regain what was once theirs is just what they have to do.

This article highlights a key symptom of this issue. A British National Health Service (NHS) Trust has let an employee with essential skills and knowledge leave and then had to hire them back because it lacked any sort of transition or handover plan to potential successors. Such a stark absence of effective KM should concern those of us that care about the management of knowledge as a key asset. Those of us that are British tax-payers should be irritated, to say the least.

In his astonishing 1979 documentary, ‘Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia’, the journalist John Pilger described how the Khmer Rouge killed most doctors, intellectuals and anyone with a degree, to facilitate their efforts to create an agrarian communist state. Deliberately depriving the country of its knowledge reduced challenge to its barbaric rulers, strengthening their grip on power.

In this chilling clip, Pilger narrates: “This was the national library - almost as a symbol, the KR converted it into a pig-sty and burned its books and archives. From Year Zero all past knowledge was illegal.”

Shocking, yes and brutal too, no doubt.

But is what the Khmer Rouge sought to achieve through deliberate policy really any different from what thousands of organisations do every year, albeit through neglect?

For help in working out your organisation’s critical knowledge areas, and then starting to protect them, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Monday, 3 August 2015

10 things you've been doing wrong

I came across this little video online today, explaining how most of us have been doing some everyday tasks all wrong - or, rather, simply haven't cottoned on to smarter ways of doing them.

I reckon this is because many of us like to come up with the ideas ourselves, and don't like being told how to do anything, by anyone. Such attitudes are commonplace, and are often one of the reasons why knowledge management (KM) takes a while to catch on.

Wanting to create our own solutions to problems is an essential part of what makes us human but we can all think of examples where this approach is inappropriate, perhaps even dangerous.

Fancy learning how to handle a weapon? Mate, here's a rifle...crack on.

What's that? You want to operate the drilling equipment on an oil rig? Sure, fill your boots, sport.

Good KM implementation requires patience, energy and judgement - knowing when and where it's right to be creative and to 'empower learning' and when we simply have to follow current best practice. There are times and places for innovation and neither the rifle range or operational rig are one of them.

For a conversation about how to get the balance right between innovation and best practice, visit the Knoco website.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

'Ello, 'ello, what's all this then? Rewarded for knowing, or for sharing also?

Today the UK’s College of Policing published a report following a review into leadership, with recommendations to improve performance across the police service.  Details are available on their website here.
Regular readers of the blog will recall our examination (here) of the Hillsborough Inquiry and the issues it raised about honesty, defensiveness and poor police leadership.  So it is great to see serious efforts to address some of these issues.

In the report, there are some ideas that will appeal to those keen to learn from other’s experiences and manage their knowledge more effectively.
One encouraging point, on how the review was conducted, is revealed thus, “The review recognised the importance of capturing the lessons of leadership development from the widest range of sectors outside policing.”  So far, so good – using lessons is almost always a good idea, and to seek them from ‘outsiders’ introduces new perspectives and guards against ‘group-think’, one of the dangers highlighted in Margaret Heffernan’s excellent book, ‘Wilful Blindness’, which I reviewed here.
Welcoming fresh inputs is further encouraged through the recommendation for “a structure where officers and staff can exit and re-enter the service, bringing with them their new skills and experience.”
The value of skills, experience and knowledge is recognised in further recommendations, such as:

·        “Existing police leaders should influence and drive the required culture of change by demonstrating their own commitment to personal development….;
·        Develop career opportunities which allow recognition and reward for advanced practitioners.
·        Offering staff and officers reward and recognition for advanced skills and knowledge. We recommend that the Home Office should consider what amendments to pay and conditions are required to allow professional expertise to be appropriately recognised and rewarded.”
Again, that’s all well and good but, without explicit encouragement and enforcement of knowledge-sharing and collaboration, there is a danger that these proposals will result merely in rewarding people for what they know, without further recognition for what they share.
Incentivising the accrual of knowledge without any balancing expectation that it be shared produces employees that are reluctant to help others, or will only do so when they can spare the time (i.e. rarely).
This is common across many organisations, where the unintended consequences of rewarding knowledge are disincentives to share, reluctance to be honest and open (especially about shortcomings) and expensive losses when those with the know-how depart, leaving the remainder struggling to fill that gap.
Far better for the recommendations to read thus (my edits in bold):

·        “Existing police leaders should influence and drive the required culture of change by demonstrating their own commitment to personal development, openness and collaboration.”
·        “Develop career opportunities which allow recognition and reward for advanced practitioners that gain new knowledge and actively seek to share it as they do so.”
·        “Offering staff and officers reward and recognition for advanced skills and knowledge. We recommend that the Home Office should consider what amendments to pay and conditions are required to allow the accumulation and sharing of professional expertise to be appropriately recognised and rewarded.”
Such recommendations, just by their wording, would send the signal that hard-won knowledge must be valued, shared and used by all.  Once implemented, they would be an important part in wider efforts to create and nurture a true learning culture.
Further material on leadership, culture, knowledge-transfer and retention is available at the Knoco website.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Collaboration in an idyllic, rural setting - how KM frees us up to do more with less

Regular readers of this blog will recall last year’s post about my local village fair.  Key people were away the night beforehand, meaning that those of us left behind had to struggle to work out how to put up the marquees - which poles went where and then into which holes etc.

The end result was that we spent far too long putting them up when we could have been enjoying a drink in the warm evening sunshine.

So how did we get on this year, I hear you ask?

True to my word, I used photos I had taken of the finished products to make rudimentary ‘Knowledge Assets’.  This meant we could quickly identify whether it was the ‘spines’ ‘ribs’ or ‘legs’ of the marquees which required the short, medium or long poles and so could lay everything out with minimal waste.

Moreover, 2 key people (whose absence last year had left us flailing around with little idea what we were doing) were instead available to advise on the best construction sequence to follow.  They could also point out little tips - like how many ties were needed for each length of pole – which helped reduce waste and ensured we were able to put up all the marquees, despite it appearing that we didn’t have enough equipment.

Their assistance was akin to that of a ‘Peer Assist’: an effective way of bringing new project teams up to speed with the tips, good practice and critical know-how that have been hard-won on previous projects.  Of course, what I now need to do is update the Knowledge Asset (i.e. in this instance, a diagram with guidance notes) with these experts' insights, thereby reducing our reliance on them next year and freeing them up for more valuable tasks.

The end result?

Faster, safer, more efficient marquee construction followed by greater, more prolonged and better-deserved beer consumption. 

By some.  Apparently….

Let us help you do more with less through KM tools such as these and more.  Contact me direct or via the Knoco website.



Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Hmm, now that IS interesting. Let’s keep that to ourselves.

I have written elsewhere about my admiration for the relative openness of the US military in its approach to lessons learned from operations and training.[1]  Where the British instinct has always been to keep things under wraps, the American bias is traditionally towards greater transparency.

Sadly, this article in the Marine Corps Times, reveals that things are changing.  Whereas I would love to report that the British Army has decided to publish more, unfortunately the US Marine Corps Centre for Lessons Learned (MCCLL) is going the other way.

Whilst the detailed contents of its lessons have always been classified, MCCLL used to publish an unclassified summary every month, which enabled some degree of civilian scrutiny, education, accountability and debate.  Academics, journalists, defence contractors or knowledge management (KM) consultants could keep up to debate on how the US Marine Corps was, or was not learning lessons.

Knowing how much to share and how much to keep hidden is a judgement call facing all organisations.  Making everything secret is self-defeating and prevents one’s own employees from benefiting from learning from other’s experiences.  However, sharing everything ‘warts and all’ is not without its adverse consequences either, not least for an organisation’s short-term reputation.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I err on the side of greater openness, which means more honesty, more self-criticism, more transparency and a willingness to entertain ideas and innovations from ‘outside the box’.  Whilst some lessons should be considered sensitive, and access to them limited, these should be the exception, not the norm.

Unfortunately, MCCLL decided that re-writing lessons to ‘de-classified’ status took too long.  Let’s hope that they change their mind soon.

To chat about lessons learned - military, commercial or indeed from anywhere - contact me direct or please visit the Knoco website.

[1] “Furthermore, the traditional British predilection for over-classifying official documentation impedes both the internal sharing of knowledge hard-won on operations and its critical analysis by outsiders who, however unwelcome, may nevertheless provide valuable insights.  To make the point, you can buy the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual from Amazon whereas tracking down its British equivalent requires agility, cunning and tenacity.  It’s not the enemy’s efforts that are most frustrated by such constraints.” ‘Learning Lessons – the British Army’s Experience’, Rupert Lescott, Page 11, downloaded from on 3 June 2015

Saturday, 9 May 2015

When will they ever learn? How KM can help our politicians....

Here in the UK, the dust is settling after the most surprising general election result for over 20 years.  All pollsters, commentators and the politicians themselves thought we were heading for a hung parliament.  But they were wrong.

The media had even set up studios opposite the Houses of Parliament that were thought necessary to cover the anticipated negotiations between parties that had not managed to win an overall majority.  The awnings and scaffolding are being taken down this weekend.

David Cameron, the Conservative Party has won a majority whilst the Scottish National Party (SNP) has taken all but 3 parliamentary seats in Scotland.  The Labour Party lost 10% of its Members of Parliament (MP), including several senior figures that had thought they would be Cabinet members by now.  The Liberal Democrats lost 47 MPs, retaining a paltry 8.  The UK Independence Party (UKIP), punished by the first-past-the-post electoral system, polled nearly 4 million votes yet now has only one MP – a perhaps unfair quirk of FPTP requiring concentration of votes more than numbers alone. (For example, the SNP polled a third of UKIP’s number of votes yet added 50 MPs to its numbers because of this clustering).

The obvious fall-out so far?
·        Ed Miliband has resigned as leader of The Labour Party;
·        Nick Clegg has resigned as leader of The Liberal Democrats;
·        Nigel Farage has resigned as leader of UKIP;
·        An independent inquiry will examine how the pre-election opinion polls got it so wrong.
Much of media discussion since the election has focused on these negative consequences (for those concerned, naturally) and speculation over what lessons can be learned.  Many presume that Labour and the Liberal Democrats in particular now have to examine what went wrong and try to put it right in time for the next election, scheduled for 2020.

This analysis is not wrong but it is unhelpful for those of us that use knowledge management (KM) in general and ‘lessons learned’ in particular to improve performance.  (A comprehensive look at lessons and what should be done with them to drive performance starts here.)

Why unhelpful?  Because it reinforces the idea that lessons are negative and that we only learn when we make mistakes.  We can and should learn when things go according to plan also.  Where outcomes exceed expectations there is surely an even greater need to learn why, to ensure that such success is repeated and not wasted?

It is not just the ‘losers’ that should try to identify lessons but the ‘winners’ as well.

So, whilst David Cameron is selecting his new Government, and Nicola Sturgeon (i.e. the leader of the SNP) plans how to use the enhanced influence her Westminster MPs will bring her, they should also set in train the processes by which we learn from recent events.

Team-based After Action Reviews should be held, as well as larger Retrospects.  Key individuals should be interviewed and the knowledge of highest value (i.e. how to campaign; how to record voting intentions; how to target key voters; how to win!), identified, captured, shared and any good practice replicated and embedded within party procedures.  Knowledge Assets and Learning Histories should be created or updated.  Party workers approaching retirement or those leaving for pastures new should contribute also.  There is much that can be done, although this may not seem necessary to some.  Indeed, whilst the ‘losers’ plainly see the need for change, those happy with the results might not. 

Moreover, there is the risk that obvious successes might obscure mistakes that have been made but which seem inconsequential in the warm glow of victory.  Failing to identify and address these now might mean victory is not repeated.

Real adaptive learning is hard enough in commercial organisations, with those implementing KM initiatives often needing to be ‘politically savvy’ and well-attuned to the dominant culture.  In the world of actual politics, red in tooth and claw, it might appear all but impossible.

Doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen but it does mean expert advice would be useful.

If any recently depressed or elated politician wants such advice, please contact Knoco for help!

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The 10 principles behind successful KM strategy implementation

I’ve just finished reading ‘Designing a Successful KM Strategy’ by Stephanie Barnes and Nick Milton.

I’ll review it in due course but for now, thought the 10 principles listed in Chapter 4 were worth listing here:

1.      KM implementation needs to be organisation-led; tied to organisation strategy and to specific organisation issues.
2.      KM needs to be delivered where the critical knowledge lies, and where the high value decisions are made.
3.      KM implementation needs to be treated as a behaviour change programme.
4.      The endgame will be to introduce a complete management framework for KM.
5.      The framework will need to be embedded into the organisation structures.
6.      The framework will need to include governance if it is to be sustainable.
7.      The framework is to be structured, rather than emergent.
8.      KM implementation should be a staged process, with regular decision points.
9.      KM implementation should contain a piloting stage.
10.   KM implementation should be run by an implementation team, reporting to a cross-organisational steering group.

I’ll look at these in more detail in my next post.

To discuss how to design and implement a KM strategy, please get in touch or visit the Knoco website.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Designing a Successful KM Strategy - Stephanie Barnes and Nick Milton

I just got my hands on a copy of this book by my colleagues, Stephanie Barnes and Nick Milton.

I'm whizzing through it (nearly done!) and hope to have a review up on this blog within the week.

The balance between researching an academic thesis and writing a 'Dummies' Guide' is a difficult one to strike. However, this book gets it just right in my view. I am impressed by how accessible it is, with valuable insights gained from many years of work at the KM coalface.

KM sometimes gets a bad name, not entirely unfairly. However, I particularly like the way this book explains why some KM interventions fail to generate their expected value and sets out how these shortcomings can be addressed.

The over-riding message I take away from this is that this isn't a game, and deserves time, effort and, crucially, judgement on where and how KM can help a business in its wider, commercial strategy.

More to follow when I'm done!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Are we building a farm or a zoo?

At the weekend my daughters (4 and 3) and I played with our trunk of Lego for an hour or so.

I happily followed their instructions – sometimes exacting, sometimes a little vague – and inwardly laughed when one said to the other, “Oh, are we building a zoo?  I thought we were building a farm.”

In fairness, the horse and chickens had appeared perfectly at home with the giraffe and elephant but, for my eldest, it just looked wrong and needed fixing.  Happily, on this occasion at least, the girls were able to settle their differences relatively peacefully. 

It’s not always like that, funnily enough.

This conversation reminded me of the numerous post-project lesson capture meetings I have run for clients and, in particular, the frequency with which ‘clarity of scope’ comes up as being at the heart of numerous over-runs and over-spends.

Frequent visitors to this blog will recall an earlier examination of differing interpretations of scope by clients and contractors here.

All too often, a client will presume that its contractor’s understanding of what it wants is the same as its own.  Just as all too often a contractor will rush to produce a proposal without ensuring that its assumptions are valid.  In both cases, time is considered a luxury and all involved, excited and enthused, just want to get on with ‘doing something’ and getting paid for it.

‘More haste, less speed’ is a well-worn phrase for a reason.  One project I worked on had an initial budget of $1bn.  The final spend was over $1.7bn.  Perhaps a bit more time discussing up-front might be an idea?

Consulting lessons from past projects at the bidding and planning stages can help the arrogant, ignorant and na├»ve from promising too much for too little.  Bringing people in from past projects as internal consultants, perhaps through Peer Assists, is also a good idea.

Hopefully, my daughters will come to learn that sitting down together and discussing what they want to do is time well spent.  Hopefully, companies with big projects to run will do so as well.

Friday, 20 February 2015

How do large companies manage knowledge? Put it in the small print!

Today I met with the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of a large telecommunications company (telco) here in the UK.
Whilst the details of our chat remain confidential, a brief over-view of some of the issues might resonate with others that are also having to manage knowledge and information in vast quantities whilst relying on large numbers of contractors and service providers.
Our conversation focused on the realities of managing knowledge in an organisation where the majority of the work is done by external suppliers.  At the company in question, 300 permanent headcount are managing, and supported by, over 50 suppliers, at a ratio of 1:8 (i.e. 8 outsourced people for every permanent one).
Issues include:
·        Lack of in-house knowledge, especially of a complex technical nature.  One pertinent example was that of a 10 year contract, currently in its eighth year, with a large IT firm.  The product at the heart of this contract has evolved so much that the client company now lacks sufficient knowledge to be able to use a different supplier.  However, having learned from this, the client now insists that contracts ensure that it retains ownership of any intellectual property (IP).  Also, it has stipulated that it retains responsibility for Enterprise Architecture governance (i.e. alignment of IT development with business strategic goals) as well as requiring its supplier to update the client’s own product artefacts (i.e. akin to knowledge assets).  Despite these measures, the CIO conceded that its own in-house knowledge base is insufficient, leaving it vulnerable to some of its suppliers.
·        The risk of knowledge loss has been met by requiring suppliers to ‘pair programmers’.  This is effectively an in-built redundancy which ensures continuity of effort in the event of sickness or unplanned departure.  This initiative has improved both speed of development and quality of product and these benefits have outweighed what initially appears to be a costly headcount.  A further measure designed to mitigate the risk of supplier dependence is that of retaining the right to interview and approve anyone provided by the supplier to work for the client.  As working relationships have strengthened and deepened, this right has been exercised only for key senior positions.
·        The lessons identified from the performance reviews of large contracts (i.e. of which the previous points are but two examples) inform the client’s supplier strategy, which is itself reviewed on an annual basis.  This ensures that learning from one contractual relationship can be carried over to others, where appropriate and practical to do so.
·        All projects are subject to Project Implementation Reviews (PIR), during which lessons are captured and documented.  Where necessary, actions are assigned to embed the learning, with the governance provided by the Project Management Office (PMO) ensuring that such retrospective learning happens consistently.
·        However, interestingly there appeared to be few examples of ‘learning before’ projects (i.e. whereby a new Project Manager actively uses historic lessons and experienced personnel to ensure the new project repeats previous good practice and does not repeat past mistakes).  Indeed, the preference for “starting with a clean sheet” appeared to be a cultural phenomenon but my host conceded that this ‘wheel re-invention’ must be costly, in terms of both time and money.
Overall, it was a useful insight into how this telco is using the contracts with its suppliers to manage its knowledge.  They're not doing everything right and there are some glaring gaps in its KM tool-set but at least they're trying - many organisations don't even bother.
I shall now follow up with some information about KM plans, Peer Assists and some thoughts on how to develop a learning culture.
For more information about these and other KM tools, please visit the Knoco website.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Communities of practice - nothing new, it would seem!

Frequent readers of this blog will be familiar with my take on military culture and KM.  Both the American and British Armies have invested resources into the knowledge management capabilities that can facilitate organisational learning.  However, military culture often prevents such investment achieving its intended value. 
This is because whilst ‘heroic leadership’ can often be useful, perhaps necessary, for getting scared and weary soldiers to engage in combat, it is too often very hard for such heroes to admit to their own mistakes, thereby sending out the example that euphemisms and cover-ups are okay.  The cumulative effect of this is an exaggeration of achievements and a wilful blindness when it comes to failure – neither of which help successors to learn.
One of the KM capabilities with which armies have been experimenting is the Community of Practice (CoP) – a forum within which functional colleagues can collaborate, seek mutual help as well as sharing ideas and lessons.  The British Army’s dabbling in CoPs has yet to bear the fruit for which many have hoped but these things take time and require support, not least from above.
Interestingly, this article by Dr Robert Foley of Kings College London, shows how the Prussian Army was using Communities of Practice over 200 years ago.  For me, a pertinent quote is, “While the membership was obviously as self-selecting group — only those with the interest and the aptitude applied and were accepted — being part of this society also clearly helped create important professional networks that aided the careers of its members.” 
People need to see that participating in CoPs is worthwhile and, when they do so, they will join up.  That means it’s up to other members to spread the word and to use clear examples of where pulling on the brainpower and know-how of several hundred colleagues helped them get results far beyond what they would have achieved on their own.
For information about Knoco’s CoP services, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.