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.