Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Get together with fellow KMers now and then - it's inspiring!


For a few days last week, I swapped Wiltshire’s winding lanes for San Francisco’s frantic streets.  I’d been invited to speak at KA Connect – a Knowledge Management (KM) conference for the AEC industry (i.e. Architecture, Engineering and Construction).  More about my involvement in a future blog post….

The conference was attended by a little over 220 people, drawn from the 3 sectors, and focused on 2 key themes:

·        Critical knowledge – i.e. how to define, capture and manage it;

·        KM strategy – i.e. how to use KM to support a firm’s commercial strategy.

In the parlance of the moment, I took a number of ‘take-aways’ from the event, some of which I’ll explore in future posts but, to summarise here:

·        After so many years of battling the yet-to-be-convinced, getting together with other people that ‘get it’ is good for one’s KM mental health!

·        Twitter enables speakers’ insights to reach the wider world within seconds which, for most people reading this blog, will always be remarkable;

·        Larry Prusak remains the Godfather of KM, and deservedly so;

·        As with military operations, so with life – prior planning prevents piss-poor performance….

More to come….

For a conversation about how managing your knowledge can help improve performance, please contactme direct, or via the Knoco website.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Ignorance can sometimes help innovation....

A great little story in the news today with a couple of insights for those of us interested in knowledge management (KM).

This Telegraph news article here tells how a 16-year old schoolboy on work experience helped address the problems encountered when a heart by-pass surgery patient's records are unavailable and there is no way of knowing what work has been done before.

Observing his father (a cardiologist) dealing with a patient in this situation, he asked whether there was some way of writing a code inside the patient, so that future surgeons would have the information they needed straight away, enabling further surgery to take place without undue delay.

This innocent question sparked an idea, which resulted in his father developing a system

Two observations:
  • The schoolboy was not part of the surgical team and had no direct or relevant experience that might have been helpful in this situation.  However, this 'ignorance' was to his advantage, as it meant he approached the problem with a fresh outlook.  In many day-to-day activities at work, there are times when a new perspective can help a team tackle a problem or improve performance and KM activities like a Peer Assist can help bring different perspectives to a team and new insights to a problem.
  • Thankfully, the surgical team did not suffer from the 'not invented here' syndrome, whereby people resist external initiatives or suggestions simply because they came from an outsider.  This is sadly the default workplace condition and all too often leads to 'groupthink', preventing or inhibiting innovation.  Teams that have developed a learning culture are more likely to be receptive to new ideas.
For a chat about bringing new perspectives to your team, innovation or knowledge management in general, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

These things don't happen on their own, you know....

At university, I read Politics and Philosophy, which included a module called, 'Space, Time and Infinity'.  It was awesome.  I loved irritating my housemates by pretending not to understand vague terms such as 'this morning' or 'tomorrow night'...

Various theories have been put forward to show that time is a real phenomenon, as opposed to a construction of human thinking to help us make greater sense of the world and our place in it.

One of these is the 'entropic theory of time', which I shall simplify, if only to spare my blushes and retain your attention.

Entropy means 'disorder'.  Most things in our world, free from outside interference, will become disordered, thereby showing greater entropy.  It is this direction, from order to disorder, that shows the passage (and direction) of time.  Think of the untended, increasingly weedy garden, the neglected, muddy car or indeed any room in the house recently visited by small children....

So far, so what?

Much of human existence has required our 'interference' in things, to create and sustain the things that enable us to live the lives we enjoy today.  The food we eat, the clothes we wear and the transport we take have all been developed through our deliberately choosing to do things and to continue doing those things.  Some discoveries have been accidental (e.g. some vaccines, hot air balloons, Post-it notes etc.) but our exploitation of them has only been possible through our continued, deliberate efforts.

As it is with human history, so it is with knowledge management (KM).

Without KM, organisations remain in states of entropy, to greater or lesser degrees:
  • New ideas don't take hold and spread without the energy with which (or the channels along which) to move them - which means innovations remain isolated;
  • Lessons don't get identified and DEFINITELY don't get learned, without people making the necessary effort - which means the same mistakes get made, over and over again;
  • Best practices don't get developed, let alone embedded, without a system of creation, review and update - which means performance is inconsistent and the quality varied;
  • Knowledge doesn't stick around when people leave without a system of retention and transfer - which means those left behind have to start from scratch, all over again.
Without a deliberate KM approach, far too many organisations resemble the unkempt garden, the dirty car or the sofa with crayon scrawled all over it:  mistakes are repeated, over and over again; business continues to be lost from failed bids; time is wasted tracking down the guy that did this thing before.

So, KM is not 'natural' and will not happen by itself.  It requires a deliberate decision from senior management to investigate, design, test and implement a KM approach.

We don't have inviting gardens by accident; we don't have clean cars by accident and we don't have tidy houses by accident (nor, for that matter, presentable children) - so why on earth would we expect our knowledge to be managed by accident?

If you'd like a conversation about deliberately choosing to manage your organisation's knowledge, contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The last 10 problems that clients have asked us to solve....

At Knoco, we get queries of all sorts, with clients seeking our help in providing knowledge management (KM) solutions to a wide range of problems. 

I thought readers of this blog might be interested in a quick run-down of what these problems are, and how we have helped (or might yet do so).

So, in reverse order, they are:
  • A global consultancy, introducing a technology platform to a Chinese client, want us to provide the KM roles, processes and governance to maximise the benefits available;
  • A global law firm seeks our help in getting teams from different geographical and functional areas to talk to one another; we'll be running a short workshop for them, which will include the Bird Island game;
  • A Chinese manufacturing firm has numerous problems of quality, cost over-runs and also its staff take a long time to become competent and generate value; we're currently helping them to develop a KM business case, to justify the investment needed for the project that will help address these issues;
  • A UK-based defence consultancy is looking to introduce KM but is concerned about employee engagement; we'll be running a workshop (again, with Bird Island) to show the value of KM and help them begin their journey;
  • A Middle Eastern utilities organisation has introduced KM but its take-up is patchy, with isolated examples of good practice; they've asked us to conduct a KM assessment and draft an implementation plan;
  • A global jewellery firm wants to introduce KM but doesn't know how or where to start; we've been asked to design and implement a KM pilot project for them;
  • Another global consultancy has many employees spread far and wide, all of whom seek the advice and support of one or two 'grey beard' experts, which continually diverts these high-value staff members from 'big picture' issues; they've asked us to design and plan a KM pilot project for them;
  • A UK regulator has isolated experts, pockets of good practice and virtually no learning from experience; we've designed a KM framework for them, edited their KM strategy and are about to start KM training;
  • A UK consultancy to the healthcare sector has a low 'bid win rate' and fails either to identify or learn lessons from its bids; we've been asked to look at ways of using KM elements to help it win more business, and learn from each new engagement;
  • A global consultancy to the oil/gas sector is introducing KM; we've conducted a KM assessment, designed a framework and trained their 'KM champions'; we've now been asked to provide ongoing support over the next 12 month.
If any of these sound familiar, or you have a different problem, and think we might be able to help, please contact me direct, or via the Knoco website.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

How to identify, select and plan a KM pilot project

I've blogged before about using 'pilot projects' to introduce knowledge management (KM) into an organisation.  That post (here) explained their use in terms of building support for KM and thereby slowly changing the culture. 


Purpose
KM pilot project seeks to introduce and combine a number of KM elements to address a specific business problem.  This has two key benefits:
  • It enables the wider KM implementation effort to trial, test and adjust KM framework elements before rolling them out to the entire organisation, thereby minimising disruption and cost;
  • It alleviates problems and wins further investment from senior management, as well as creating 'good news' stories with which KM can be sold to the wider organisation as part of a communications plan.
Let's now look at how we might identify, select and plan such a project.  Since we at Knoco currently have 4 clients at various stages of this process, I thought this would be worth exploring....

Identification
First off, run a workshop at which current business issues can be discussed and a shortlist of viable pilots selected.  The following steps might come in handy:
  • Send out calling notice across the organisation, inviting functional leads and/or senior managers to present and discuss their current 'pain points' - a rough agenda at this stage;
  • Book venue, facilitator, workshop 'stuff' (i.e. flipcharts, post-its, pens etc.);
  • Send out confirmatory notice, with a finalised agenda;
  • Suggested workshop agenda:
    • Introductions - of one another
    • Introduction to knowledge management (KM) - to create a common understanding
    • KM tools, processes, approaches - to show what KM elements involve and achieve
    • KM case-studies - to demonstrate how KM alleviates problems and creates value
    • Presentations - each team or department describes their current issues 
    • Discussion - combinations of KM elements are suggested for each problem, for example:
Selection
Having identified a number of areas where KM might help, a system of voting and selection is needed to enable a KM pilot project to be planned.  This can happen at the above workshop or afterwards, based on written-up notes etc.  Methods may vary, but a number of criteria should be considered to enable each potential pilot to be judged fairly.  The following are suggestions only - there will be others:
  • Business impact
    • Is knowledge a key factor in delivering business performance?
    • Will the impact of the knowledge be demonstrated in a short enough time?
  • Business advocacy
    • Is there a local business sponsor?
    • Will there be a local person accountable for the delivery of the KM project?
  • Transferability and reach
    • Do cross-business customers exist for the knowledge gained from the project?
    • Will the knowledge and learnings from the project have strategic potential for growth?
  • Feasibility
    • Can we make time/space for people to work on the project?
    • Do we have enough skilled KM resources available?
Each potential pilot project can be awarded scores against each of these criteria, with the highest 3 shortlisted for further scope definition and a GO/NO GO decision from senior management.

Planning
Having selected a KM pilot project, we must now plan it.  This will require a number of in-depth conversations with key stakeholders, to understand fully the current business context and then formalise a planned response.

The output from these inter-actions will be terms of reference document and implementation plan, covering:
  • Context - why is this happening?
  • Scope - what is included?  What is not?
  • Stakeholders - who's involved?
  • Governance - who's in charge?
  • Approach - how do we do this?
  • Resources - who can help?
  • Costs - how much?
  • Schedule - when and in what order?
  • Deliverables - what will we have to show for our efforts?
  • Benefits - how much value will we create?
  • Metrics - how do we measure success?
The costs and benefits can be presented in a business case, which is a discrete activity in its own right and which I will examine in greater depth in another post.

For a conversation about knowledge management pilot projects, or about anything to do with KM, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Anonymity vs. Attribution


In an earlier post, we looked at the importance of accountability to good knowledge management (KM).  Accountability underpins the effective management of anything at all – money, people, safety and definitely knowledge.
I’m now going to examine two related opposing concepts and how they can affect KM – namely, anonymity and attribution.

I’ll first look at each concept in turn, pointing out its effects and how those can be both positive or negative, depending on the context.
Then, I’ll look at how good KM is helped or hindered by them, with some suggestions on when one should be preferred over the other.

Anonymity

A piece of work is anonymous when its author’s identity remains unknown to us, the readers.  This has two important effects:

1.       The author can write whatever they like, released from the consequences that might otherwise result from that such freedom might have if we knew their identify;

2.       We, the readers, are forced to judge the piece of work based on its content alone, and not the identity or background of its author.

We can consider either of these effects positively or negatively, depending on the situation:

1.       Consequences

a.       Positive – a ‘whistle-blower’ is able to raise concerns about wrongdoing or crimes, protected from possible coercion from those involved;

b.       Negative – social media ‘trolls’ can abuse or threaten people online, or can spread lies or other misinformation, without consequences;

2.       Content alone; no context

a.       Positive – biases, prejudices or other ‘mental models’ cannot act as filters, which open us up to reading content we might otherwise miss;

b.       Negative – we have no way of knowing whether the writer is experienced or qualified, let alone credible and may simply be wasting our time.

Attribution

A piece of work is attributed when its author’s identity is known to us, the readers.  This also has two important effects which are of course the ‘flip side’ of those relating to anonymity, above:

1.       The author is no longer free to write whatever they like, for they remain tied to the consequences that might flow from our knowing their identify;

2.       We, the readers, can now judge the piece of work in context, not solely on its content but also by taking into account the identity or background of its author.

Again, these effects can be positive or negative, depending on the situation:

1.       Consequences

a.       Positive – attributed works are generally more likely to be considered, responsible and thoughtful, since favourable reception enhances the author’s reputation;

b.       Negative – there is a risk of euphemism, obfuscation or even dishonesty, as people seek to protect themselves from negative reactions were ‘the truth’ to come out;

2.       Context applied

a.       Positive – contextual consideration helps us to understand and judge a work; focusing on those from people with credibility and expertise; as well as enabling us to follow up with the author, asking questions or offering further insight;

b.       Negative – ‘group-think’ may occur, as fewer sources are considered, thereby increasing the risk of missing a perspective that might be valid but never gets heard.

How do these affect KM?

I’ll now run through a list of KM interventions or tools, highlighting the use they make of anonymity or attribution:

·        KM Assessments – at Knoco, our assessment and benchmarking service involves interviewing people drawn from across the client organisation, to understand how they work with knowledge and identify areas for improvement.  The output, either a written report or slides, or both, contains anonymised quotes from these interviews help to bring the report to life and show what things are really like.  For example, whilst the report might state refer to ‘silos’ and ‘inter-departmental relationships’, a killer quote really makes the point far more vividly, thus: “Tribalism is a problem here still; everyone knows this but it's not acceptable to say so publically; it's an undiscussable. It persists because top management do nothing to address it.”  Here, anonymity gives senior management an insight that normal, open reporting channels would not permit.

·        Knowledge-harvesting Interviews – these are a very effective way of getting knowledge out of people’s heads and into a form that can reach far more of their colleagues than would be possible face-to-face.  We would almost always recommend that the output be attributable, so that readers can follow up with the interviewee if they have questions or comments.  Also, it means that the output is more credible because the readers know who it came from – usually an acknowledged expert in a particular field, hence the interview.  When attributed interview transcripts are typed up and distributed or posted online, the interviewee should always have the right to review and edit the output for the simple reason that others will not engage if they hear that they might be misquoted or have their words used against them in some way.

·        Knowledge Assets – these are often created with reference to many different interviews and other KM capture activities and, as with interview transcripts, should generally be attributed, for the same reasons.  Providing the contributors’ name and contact details enables users to get in touch and offer further insights or feedback – something that is not possible if the content is all anonymous.  Also, anonymous content, unless it has gone through an established and credible validation process, will always lack the credibility of its attributed counterpart.  People need to know where the guidance and advice is coming from, otherwise they will be reluctant to use it.

o   Case-study – Some years ago, working as an analyst for the British Army’s newly-formed Lessons Exploitation Centre, I helped to produce a series of ‘Good Practice Guides’, full of anonymous insights and advice gleaned from Post-Operational Reports and Interviews.  It took time for us to earn a reputation as a credible source of knowledge and, with hindsight, I think we should have retained the source and author of each ‘nugget’, in order to show its provenance and enabled readers to follow up.

o   By contrast, a Battlegroup from my Regiment (The Rifles) produced a very helpful and credible post-tour handbook, full of insights, advice, tactics and case-studies – each of which was fully-sourced and attributed, enabling readers to judge the validity for themselves.

·        Lessons – At Knoco we help organisations capture lessons at the end of projects through the Retrospect process – a facilitated discussion between project team members, to identify learning points and make recommendations for the future.  Facilitation is needed to help participants examine events in a structured way, and this outsider, with no direct knowledge of the project, can ensure that lessons are written for the benefit of future users as opposed to recording events merely for posterity.  Lessons will be written up so as to balance the candour needed for effective reflection whilst protecting participants from direct quotation.  Like with interviews, draft lessons are returned to a project team member for review and editing, to ensure accuracy whilst reassuring future participants.

·        Knowledge Exchanges – these events bring people together to focus upon and discuss one particular topic, to facilitate the creation or update of a Knowledge Asset (see above), or to enable direct transfer between those with knowledge to those in need of it.  As with any KM activity, Terms of Reference help to ensure that all participants understand the event’s purpose and approach.  Notably, some events may use what are termed here in the UK as ‘Chatham House rules’, which means that formal capture and publication of any content may be allowed, but only without attribution.  The aim of such an approach is to enable speakers to do so more freely than they otherwise might, if they thought their every word would appear in print in due course.

·        Discussion forums – available across the internet as well as within medium or large organisations, these enable users to raise questions or start a discussion on a particular topic.  Most internet forums enable users to use an anonymous ‘handle’, thereby leading to honesty that may be painful, the ‘trolling abuse’ mentioned above, as well as running the risk that contributions are either unhelpful or even mendacious.  Some forums nowadays enable users to score both individual users and their contributions based on how ‘useful’ they have been.  Over time, this enables users to acquire ‘credibility’, thereby addressing, albeit partially, the issue of whether users should trust advice from an anonymous source.  Internal forums usually retain users’ identity, to enable subsequent follow-up and offline discussion, as well as ensuring that debate remains, for the whole part, civilised.

o   Case-study – Mumsnet is a well-known parenting forum where users can seek help or ask for insights on virtually any topic, albeit with a domestic bias.  99.9% of users have anonymous handles and debate is forthright.  Interestingly, users can and do change their name at any point and many do so, temporarily, in order to offer contributions that they feel unable to make from behind their (still anonymous) online persona.  Proof perhaps that sometimes we don’t like having to remain accountable for things we say, even amongst people whom we have never met.

A final observation – I used to work as a trained Samaritans volunteer, something I’ve mentioned before with relation to KM, here.
There are a number of factors that combine to enable Samaritans to do their job, which is to provide emotional support to people in crisis, including those that may be feeling suicidal.  However, the most important one, in my view, is the fact that callers and visitors to Samaritans centres can be 100% anonymous if they wish, and can share as much or as little about their lives as they wish.

This freedom means there is no comeback.  Which means they can be 100% honest – something they can’t be with their husbands, wives, partners, friends or colleagues.  It’s very hard to let those to whom we are closest see us at our most vulnerable but, somewhat paradoxically, it’s far easier to do so with complete strangers, to whom we shall probably never speak again.

I hope I have shown that neither anonymity nor attribution are always appropriate.  What matters is the outcome that we as KMers are trying to achieve – if we need warts and all honesty to understand truly what happened, then anonymity will help but we run the risk the output may not be wholly credible. 

Conversely, if we want to enable feedback and continued engagement with credible sources, attribution will be needed, with the understanding that there may not be full transparency, at least not until trust has been established.

For a conversation about anonymity and attribution and how they affect KM, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Talk about knowledge as an asset and other things will follow....

For those of us working in the field of knowledge management (KM), there are many challenges, such as:
  • Senior management don't yet see the value in KM;
  • KM is recognised as being a 'good idea' but there are other priorities right now;
  • Most people don't have the time for KM;
  • There is no budget dedicated to KM;
  • There is nobody for whom KM is a full-time job;
  • KM is seen as a 'technology thing'.
In truth, these 6 challenges are all versions of the same problem - that knowledge is not yet recognised as an asset it itself, to be created, acquired, reviewed, updated, organised, structured, accessed, valued and managed just as we manage everything else.

When people finally see and talk about knowledge as an asset in itself, other things necessarily flow from this recognition.  People get appointed to look after it; processes are developed to use it efficiently; technology is procured to enable it to be shared widely and governance is established to ensure that it supports the organisation's overall strategy.

So, what can we do to help people move from seeing knowledge as 'useful' to 'critical'?

One idea is to listen out for the way people talk about knowledge, without realising that's what they're doing.  And when certain phrases come up, time and again, why not respond like this?
  • "That's a really good idea!"  
    • "Yes, it is - so who's responsible for writing it down and implementing it?"
  • "I'm sure we've been here before..."
    • "Yes, we have - so where are past examples organised and stored?"
  • "Do it how you want - start with a clean sheet of paper."
    • "Really?  Isn't that a waste of time? Haven't we got best practice on this?"
  • "You're on your own on this one, I'm afraid."
    • "Actually, I'm going to speak to the guys who have done this before."
  • "Let's move on - look to the future."
    • "You know what?  Let's discuss what happened here first, and learn from it."
And, for each of these responses, if people look at you like you have three heads, why not start a conversation about knowledge as a thing in itself worth valuing.  If people see that it's knowledge that enables us to make good decisions then maybe they can see that it needs to be looked after and used properly or, 'managed' if you will....

For more advice on how to get people to manage knowledge in your organisation, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Let's chat....I'll show you mine if you show me yours....

In a recent blog post, I mentioned my current interest in discussing knowledge management (KM) ideas and experiences with people from different organisations.

I wrote about what I called 'world class KM', based on a conversation I had with a former military colleague, who now works for a consultancy firm.  Whilst what he described was indeed impressive, even he conceded that there areas where they could improve, and we shared ideas on how that might happen.

I'd very much like to have further such conversations with anyone, either someone with a tale to tell or keen to hear how others 'do KM', or both.  As knowledge management consultants, we at Knoco have been fortunate to see, hear and experience KM across every sector, so we have a lot that we can share.  And I have now seen and worked on KM in technology firms, manufacturing firms, aerospace firms, rail companies, engineering companies, oil and gas companies, project management companies, the financial sector, the not-for-profit sector, the healthcare sector, regulatory bodies, pharmaceutical companies, political parties, the Civil Service and the Armed Forces.

This is not a sales pitch.  I'm not seeking payment for anything.  All I'd like is a mutually beneficial chat with people who have KM stories to tell, and who would like to hear some in return.  There might be a nagging problem that you'd like some informal advice on, or maybe you want to run an idea past someone who is outside your organisation, beholden to no-one and can therefore give you some truly honest feedback before you raise the suggestion internally. 

We can do this face-to-face, online or over the phone - whichever works best.

If this appeals, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Friday, 27 January 2017

The Story of Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. 
There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it.
It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

The issue at the heart of this well-known tale is 'accountability', or rather, the lack of it.

Regular readers of this blog will know that the 4 key enablers of knowledge management (KM) are:
  • People with specified roles and accountabilities
  • Processes to enable consistency and quality
  • Technology to store and share huge amounts of 'stuff'
  • Governance to encourage, require and support people to manage their knowledge
All of these are essential if we're going to define, implement and maintain a knowledge management framework.
However, over recent month I've been coming to the conclusion that the first one is perhaps the most important.

When I explain what we mean by the 'people' part of a KM framework, I usually say that it means that people have specific KM accountabilities, and that they acknowledge those accountabilities.  In other words, it's not enough for something to be written on a job specification (although that would be a start, admittedly).  No, the accountabilities are not just written down but accepted by someone as part of their role in the organisation.

To be 100% clear, with proper accountability it's not enough for 'the Boss' to say "that is your job" but employees need to respond with "Yes, that is my job and we have a shared understanding as to what that entails."

If effective governance is missing, KM will always be patchy, with isolated pockets of good practice surrounded by the bulk of the organisation all but actively mismanaging its knowledge.

If technology is absent, KM takes longer and can only ever reach people who share the same office or, at a stretch, the same building.

If processes are not in place, KM will be random, prone to error and quick to lose credibility.

But it is the absence of proper accountability that will prevent KM ever taking off at all.  People will always think that KM sounds like a 'good idea' or 'common sense' but will always assume that someone else is doing it, like the four fools in the story above.

For a conversation about creating or updating the KM accountabilities in your organisation, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

What does world-class KM look like?


Since we can always continue to learn from one another I am currently seeking conversations with anyone who would be happy to share how their organisation ‘does’ knowledge management (KM).  In return, I'm willing to offer reciprocal insights into some of the best KM practices we at Knoco have encountered in recent years.

In this spirit of mutual support, I recently caught up with a former Army colleague who now works for a consulting firm and, over a very enjoyable breakfast, he gave an overview of what excellent KM looks and sounds like.
He gave me permission to share his account on the condition of anonymity, so what follows is a simplified version.
He identified 6 distinct features that combine to enable world-class KM, namely:

·        A shared understanding that ‘knowledge’, for the purposes of KM, means ‘know-how’, NOT merely information;

·        A sophisticated knowledge base, wherein users can search for knowledge relating to the current project on which they are working. All content is tagged and can be ‘marked’ by other users according to its helpfulness;

·        An internal ‘people-finder’ tool, where personal profiles include past experience and the knowledge topics in which each person might be considered an expert;

·        A discrete and defined cohort of staff whose job it is to capture, organise, review and update all the firm’s knowledge – if you need to know how to do something in the field of construction in South America, and are unable to find it, they will do it for you;

·        A clear system of accountability, whereby all knowledge products need to be reviewed, approved and given a ‘stamp of approval’ by the firm’s relevant experts in the field;

·        A culture where there is no internal competition, little evidence of hierarchy and a system of compensation under which people are rewarded developing others and for creating and sharing knowledge – silos, tribalism, politicking and the ‘knowledge is power’ concept are simply forbidden.
My former colleague then shared a brief anecdote about his first day in the job: he had been added to a team working on a client project and was expected to brief the client the following day.  Using many of the features described above he produced and presented 15 slides and the client agreed the proposed project the following day.

This wasn’t a KM assessment interview but old habits die hard....as he spoke, in my head I was assigning scores (out of 5) to the various components of our KM framework model: 5, 5, 4.5, 5, 5….etc!

It was a real privilege to talk with someone from a company that not only ‘gets it’ with KM but is so clearly an example of how it’s done.

For a conversation about how your organisation manages its knowledge, and then perhaps how it might do it better, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

San Francisco, here we come...Bird Island at KA Connect 2017!

The KA Connect Conference provides a forum for the AEC industry (i.e. architecture, engineering and construction) to discuss knowledge management (KM) and is held in San Francisco annually.

I'm delighted to have been invited to speak there this coming May, when I'll be running Knoco's Bird Island game, which powerfully demonstrates the link between knowledge and performance.

The Bird Island game requires teams to build towers using a standard set of equipment, and invites participants to compare their towers' respective heights before, and then after, their introduction to 3 key KM tools:
  • After Action Reviews - teams discuss how they did and where they can improve
  • Peer Assists - each team offers up one member to offer and receive knowledge from others
  • Knowledge Assets - everyone is shown the latest 'best practice' design and how it's done
The exercise relies on participants' initial lack of knowledge so, without giving anything away, the increase in height achieved for the 2nd tower build usually ranges between 100 and 250%!

The full list of KA Connect speakers, headed up by the famous Larry Prusak, formerly of IBM, McKinsey and NASA, is available here, with the full programme here.

If you'd like us to run the Bird Island workshop for you and your colleagues, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Let's learn from good and bad alike....

Here in the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) is apparently struggling to cope with the demands of a growing, ageing population in mid-winter.  I'm not going to get into the politics of this issue, funnily enough but a radio discussion on the topic yesterday raised knowledge management (KM), albeit unwittingly.

On BBC Radio 4's 'The World at One', the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Damian Green MP said, "Absolutely we've got to learn the lessons of what is going wrong and make sure it goes right, as it does in the majority of hospitals."  You can hear the relevant bit here, after 14 minutes.

Whilst I was pleased to hear lesson learning mentioned as a possible response to the current 'crisis', I was disappointed to hear further reinforcement of the widely-held view that 'lesson learning' is something we do when things go wrong.

[Let's not dwell for too long on the fact that lessons first need to be identified and are only 'learned' when we have made the recommended changes to policies, processes, procedures etc.  Most readers of this blog will be sufficiently familiar with this distinction - if not, this post here will explain more.]

Lessons can and should be identified from positive and negative experiences alike.  Indeed, when we run lessons capture meetings (or Retrospects) for clients, we ask them to consider what issues had the greatest impact on the project, for good or bad.  Then, we need to consider, for negative issues, which are most likely to recur next time unless we do something different.  And for positive ones, we need to consider what we need to do to ensure that the positive outcome can be repeated - indeed, can be guaranteed for the future.

Most of the feedback from Retrospect participants, who've not taken part before, is positive.  People have often told me how 'relieved' they were that it didn't descend into finger-poking and blaming.  Well, without a trained facilitator, keeping the focus on learning, such things can happen, alas. 

Indeed, I recall one meeting that was rescheduled twice, and eventually cancelled because 3 people turned up, out of an invited 12.  My main point of contact, when discussing the 'no-shows' over coffee later on, said, "You know, it was a real shame people didn't come along, because this was the project we really need to learn from." 

I replied, "That's not a 'shame' - it's cause and effect.  People have chosen not to come because they are worried that this would have been a 'blame game' exercise."

If you use lesson learning in your organisation, ensure that you capture the good practice as well as identifying where things didn't meet expectations - otherwise, people will continue to think that lessons = bad, and won't want to take part.

For more advice on Retrospects, lesson learning or KM in general, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Growing up - maturity, credibility, attribution and far knowledge transfer

My last post introduced the concepts of 'near' and 'far' knowledge transfer.  To recap:
  • Near transfer - this is used for relatively simple knowledge transferred between teams doing the same tasks in the same context (i.e. same region, market or, in the military, operational theatre).  It covers things like procedures, processes, tips, hints and 'how to' guides.  Think of a recipe book, as examined in this post here.
  • Far transfer - this relates to more subtle knowledge and/or where it is transferred between teams doing the same tasks but working in different contexts (i.e. new markets).  Consequently, this includes stories, 'rules of thumb', examples, case-studies etc.
[A reminder, these concepts were first introduced by Nancy Dixon, in her influential book 'Common Knowledge'.]

When you are looking at knowledge transfer as part of your Knowledge Management framework, it’s important to think carefully about the context in which the knowledge will be re-used. Near transfer and far transfer are 2 ends of a spectrum, and you will find that your knowledge needs to be packaged differently depending on where you are on that spectrum. It’s therefore important for you to understand the difference between the two.
Much of this blog's content to date has explained, and described examples of, 'near transfer' so I'm now going to look at 'far transfer' in greater detail, and will explore the pros and cons of anonymity and attribution in due course.

A learning loop
Since 'near transfer' deals with knowledge that can be replicated within the same context, its relevance and validity can be established more quickly than 'far transfer' equivalents.  Indeed, it gains credibility quickly because of the speed both of its application and the comparison of performance across a number of iterations - in other words, 'shorter learning loops'.



Consequently, it 'matures' quickly also, which means it is likely to move from advice or guidance (i.e. "you may wish to consider this method") to obligation (i.e. "you shall use this method and this alone").

By contrast, 'far transfer' involves taking knowledge from one context and making it available for re-use in another, wherever this is helpful.  The activities from which this knowledge has been captured are likely to be less frequent than their 'near transfer' equivalents which means relevance and validity cannot be established as quickly. This is because fewer iterations mean fewer performance comparisons which mean fewer opportunities to learn - or, 'longer learning loops'.  Therefore, it 'matures' slowly, which means it is likely to remain advice or guidance for longer, perhaps forever.

Some examples of both kinds of activity, at different stages of their own timeline, and the form their respective knowledge assets might take, are shown below:
  • 'Near transfer'
    • Drilling oil wells - regulations, procedures, manuals
    • Handling a weapon - weapon drills training, manuals
    • Baking a cake - recipes
    • Compiling a weekly financial report - procedures, 'how-to' guides
    • Building a house - regulations, plans, procedures
  • 'Far transfer'
    • Exploring for oil in a new region - business intelligence, advisory procedures
    • Conducting a military patrol - tactical aide-memoire (TAM), historic patrol reports
    • Launching a new cake product - advice, case-studies, market research
    • Setting up a new hedge fund - peer advice, market research
    • Marketing a new housing development - precedents, market research
Performing an activity in a new context brings many variables into play, the effects of which may be difficult to predict - another reason for 'far transfer' knowledge being closer to the 'advice' end of the spectrum than the 'obligation'.

Therefore, those in need of 'far transfer' knowledge have to read around a topic, drawing advice and ideas from different sources and contexts, in order to form a broad understanding of the activity in general, before seeking to perform it in a specific context.

Furthermore, the lack of certainty of the validity of a particular piece of knowledge in a new context creates 2 conditions that do not apply so readily to 'near transfer', namely:
  • The source or synthesis of the 'far transfer' knowledge needs to be credible - i.e. a known expert has been consulted or, where multiple sources are used, a robust and trusted assurance method exists to control quality;
  • Users of 'far transfer' knowledge may wish to follow-up with those whose knowledge is being used, in order to:
    • Ask questions
    • Seek advice on a particular issue
    • Suggest updates or edits
    • Provide feedback on the validity of the knowledge in the new context
Therefore, 'far transfer' knowledge that is attributable is more credible and helpful than that which is anonymous.  Indeed, attribution is almost always preferable to anonymity but there are some isolated instances where anonymity is appropriate, and I'll examine these in a future post.

Of course, knowledge assets are just one of the many KM tools or activities that can be used when starting out on a new(-ish) venture:
  • KM plans help identify what knowledge will be needed, where it currently resides and who will be accountable for finding it and bringing it into the project;
  • Peer Assists can help a project at any stage, involving the facilitated transfer of knowledge from an experienced project team to another one facing a particular issue;
  • Knowledge exchanges bring together people with many experiences of a particular topic and enable both knowledge transfer at the event, as well as the subsequent creation or update of knowledge assets relating to the topic;
For a conversation about knowledge maturity, credibility or indeed anything else KM-related, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Near and far knowledge transfer - it's all about context

Some weeks ago, I was invited to the offices of a potential client and 'pitched' to the senior leadership team.  I explained knowledge management (KM), its benefits and how it might help them in their work.

Before I had finished, the CEO questioned the relevance of KM to their line of work since, in his view, much of it was 'bespoke' and not easy to replicate.  Indeed, when faced with a new problem, selecting options for a client required judgement and experience that couldn't simply be 'captured' and 're-packaged'.

In response, I mentioned high-level enduring principles and concepts and then, on the train home, thought of dozens of things that I wished I had said as well.

Of course, I could have referred to Nancy Dixon's concepts of 'near' and 'far' knowledge transfer thus:
  • Near transfer - this is used for relatively simple knowledge transferred between teams doing the same tasks in the same context (i.e. same region, market or, in the military, operational theatre).  It covers things like procedures, processes, tips, hints and 'how to' guides.  Think of a recipe book, as examined in this post here.
  • Far transfer - this relates to more subtle knowledge and/or where it is transferred between teams doing the same (or similar) tasks but working in different contexts (i.e. new markets).  Consequently, this includes stories, 'rules of thumb', examples, case-studies etc.
Crucially, whilst all knowledge transfer needs to be credible, in far transfer the need is greater, in order for teams to have faith in applying the guidance in their own context.  This means the advice, lessons or overarching principles need to be attributed to established and respected experts, or to have come from a well-known and authoritative synthesis process (Note: Wikipedia's initial USP was that anyone could update it; well-known errors and/or malicious edits ensued, so assurance processes were introduced to aid quality control).

This attribution also enables the readers of a 'far transfer' knowledge asset (a project team, for example) to follow up with the author(s) with queries or suggested edits.  Alternatively, it might enable the initiation of another KM process, such as a Peer Assist, to address a specific problem that the project team is facing where direct input from a team that has faced similar challenges in the past would help.

Far transfer and the specific issue of anonymity vs. attribution will be examined in future posts.

For a chat about knowledge transfer, near or far, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Negotiating with a 4-year old (or, how knowledge assets can help us all)

Everyday knowledge assets

Regular readers of this blog will know that a 'knowledge asset' is a term used by those of us working in knowledge management (KM) to describe a tool containing key knowledge on a critical topic.  We create such assets using knowledge capture processes (i.e. Interviews, Retrospects etc.) and then display and structure the knowledge in as 'user-friendly' a way as possible.

The aim of a knowledge asset is not to create a record for posterity or for knowledge-holders to 'dump' everything they know into one place.  Rather, it is aimed at the 'knowledge customer' - i.e. the person who needs certain knowledge in a format that will help them when they need it.

The following are examples of everyday knowledge assets:
  • 'How to' guides
  • Assembly instructions for newly-purchased tools, toys, equipment etc.
  • Recipes
  • Etc.
We can all think of examples of when we have used such resources and found them to be unhelpful.  Often this is because they:
  • Lack sufficient detail
  • Contain only text where images would help, especially on key processes
  • Use terms that don't make sense to us, the user
In short, these issues all have the same root cause - namely, that the guidance material has not been produced with the end-user in mind.  Or at least, has not been proof-read by someone that knows nothing about the topic.  This 'ignorance' is helpful because it reveals any hidden assumptions on the part of either the person with the knowledge or the person creating the asset (they are often not the same person - did you think Gordon Ramsay wrote his own recipes?!).

You will recall that I described the main beneficiary of a knowledge asset as "the person who needs certain knowledge in a format that will help them when they need it".  This is a broad definition and rightly so - knowledge assets can be vast, complex, structured works that take a project team from a bare piece of land to a complete and full-functioning new airport, or they can simply save someone a bit of time and a bit of stress - it depends on the need, the value, and the resources and time available.

Below is a simple example of how a knowledge asset can be used to save a bit of time and quite a lot of stress....

'Pictures paint a thousand words'

Picture the scene - a family getting ready for a day out, to meet far-off relatives:

Mother: "Come and sit down and let me do your hair!  How shall we do it today?  Shall we do the fish-tail plait?"
Daughter (aged 4): "What's that?  Doesn't sound very nice..."
Mother: "It's lovely.  You like it.  It's where the plait has two sides to it that meet in the middle....come and sit down, we haven't got much time!"
Daughter: "What does it look like?"
Mother: "I've just told you.  Sit down!"
Daughter: "Show me...."
Mother: "I can't show you!  I can only do it and then show you in the mirror.  Sit down!"

And so on for far longer than one would want, with everyone getting frustrated....

It was at this point that I had a brainwave (he adds, modestly).  Once my wife had finally negotiated the finishing of
said fish-tail plait, I took a photo of it for future reference.  Since then, each variation of hairstyle (i.e. plaits, pony-tails, bunches etc.) has been photographed such that now, it takes only a few seconds for Mother and Daughter to agree on the style of the day, without the noise and commotion and disagreement that we all suffered before we used this very simple knowledge asset.

Of course, for the analogy to work 100%, we would need to add guidance notes, diagrams, FAQs, videos etc. all of which would help others perform this 'essential task'.

Now, remove hairdressing scenario with a four-year old daughter and replace with any high-pressure situation where details need to be communicated to a workforce lacking fluent English - diagrams, photos and other imagery can help convey methods, finished products and variants thereof.  It's not hard to see how a little bit of effort up-front can make things so much easier further down the line.

For a chat about how knowledge assets can help save you time, money and reduce stress, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.