Thursday, 25 August 2016

Knowledge Management training course, London, November

In about 3 months time I will be running an open-access three-day KM training course in London. The dates are November 21-23.

Please let me know if you are interested.

The agenda will be as follows:

Day 1

Introduction and objectives
Introduction to Knowledge Management
Group discussion and feedback on video
Introduction continued
Bird Island KM simulation
Knowledge Capture
Interviewing exercise

Day 2

Before AR
Knowledge packaging
Knowledge packaging exercise
Knowledge Access
KM planning exercise
Knowledge Retention Planning
Communities of Practice
Communities discussion
Knowledge transfer
KM Frameworks

Day 3

KM strategy and implementation part 1
Strategy exercise
KM strategy and implementation part 2
KM pilot project planning
KM culture
action planning

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Ask an expert, or ask a community?

There are two common approaches to answering requests for knowledge - asking an expert, or asking a community of practice. I prefer the latter, and here's why.

Image from an excellent blog by John Hand,
also discussing expertise location vs
knowledge networking
There are two major components to any Knowledge Management Framework, which we call Connect and Collect, and which deal with Conversation and Content. Connect involves connecting people who have a need for knowledge with others who have that knowledge, so they can discuss and converse, and so exchange knowledge which may not yet have been documented as content.

But which people do you connect?  Again there are two approaches - connecting people with experts, and connecting people with communities of practice.

The former is the focus of a growing discipline of expertise finding, with software that trawls social media (for example) to find the people who seem to say the smartest things, and so to divert questions to these assumed experts. The latter is the focus of traditional communities of practice, where questions are asked in open forum, to be answered by anyone with knowledge to offer.

Each of these systems has advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages and disadvantages of expert finder systems

In a situation where there is a small number of experts servicing a body of people with very limited knowledge (for example in a Customer Support system) it makes sense to connect the questioner with a single expert. They can give a quick and reliable answer, and there is no need to involve others in the conversation.

However this assumes that the knowledge can be answered reliably by a single person, that the system reliably identifies the experts from their published material, that the question can be accurately analysed, tagged and linked to a single expert, and that the expert does not become overloaded by questions.

There are some big issues in that last sentence. Identifying expertise from publications tends to recognise the prolific publishers and overlooks the more introverted experts. Also questions are rarely easily tagged, and often you need to "question the question" to find out what the real problem is.

Advantages and disadvantages of communities of practice

Communities of practice seem less efficient, in that a single question may go to many people, some of whom do not have the expertise to answer. Also the question may receive incorrect answers from people with limited knowledge.

In practice these disadvantages are also advantages. In a situation where knowledge is in fact scattered and diffuse, then only the network can provide the answer, as components of the answer may need to be supplied by different people. This will be the case where communities contain many experienced practitioners rather than a few,as in a technical area within a large multinational, or a sector network in a consulting firm.

In contexts like this, communities of practice may access "the long tail of knowledge" and pick up crucial piece of knowledge from unexpected places. See for example the story of the Polymath project, where crucial steps in knowledge were provided by non-experts.

Any non-experts who offer incorrect knowledge are usually rapidly corrected, which provides the spin-off benefit of removing wrong knowledge from the community.  The fact that others in the community can see the discussion taking place in open forum allows them either to contribute their knowledge, or (if they are a novice) to lurk, listen and learn. This apparent wastefulness - involving people who take no part in the conversation - in fact raises the knowledge of the whole organisation.

For these reasons, in settings other than Customer Support, I much prefer communities of practice to expert finder systems. The apparent messiness and inefficiencies of communities of practice are in fact their strength.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

How to explain the concept of a Knowledge Management Framework

We know that Knowledge Management requires a management framework, rather than a silver bullet technology. But how do we explain what a framework is?

We know that KM requires a framework of roles, processes, technologies and governance, but how do we explain this to our managers; especially the ones that think that buying new technology will solve the issue?

The best way to explain is to use an analogy.

The analogy I commonly use is to compare the Knowledge Management Framework with other management frameworks, showing that these are also an interconnecting framework of people, processes, technologies and governance, which cannot work if there are holes in the framework. One of the easiest to understand, because everyone has some involvement with it, is financial management. I know knowledge and money are not the same, but both require a company-wide management framework if they are to flow round the company in an effective and systematic way.

If you Google "Financial Management Framework", this will give you many examples, most of which contain common elements, and most of which contain a mix of people, process, and governance (strangely technology is often missing from these frameworks, presumably either because financial technology is pervasive and taken for granted, or because the framework should be technology-independent).

Let's look at some of those common elements, and then, lets ask what happens if some of these are missing.

Financial Management frameworks all contain defined roles and responsibilities, such as
  • Budget holders - the people accountable for money within projects and operations
  • Accountants and Cost engineers - the people doing the nuts and bolts of money-tracking
  • Central finance team - the people who shuffle money between the projects and operations
  • CFOs and Finance Directors - the people accountable for the financial management system itself
Financial Management frameworks all contain certain processes, such as
  • Financial planning and forecasting
  • Budgeting
  • Invoicing
  • Expenditure management
  • Cost tracking
  • Timewriting
  • Reporting
All Financial Management frameworks mention governance, which typically includes
  • Financial policies
  • Monitoring
  • Auditing
  • Training and support
If there were mention of technology, this would include
  • Technology for logging and tracking transactions, such as SAP
  • Technology for reporting of figures, such as Excel
  • Technology for counting, such as a calculator or cash register
All of these fit together into a financial management framework, and the complexity and completeness of that framework needs to fit the scale of the operation. The framework listed above has 18 elements; large companies can easily have more elements. My small company has fewer. The person pictured at the top if this blog has a very simple framework - one person, an abacus, a money pot, tickets and a stapler, and a few process to support these.

What would happen if there were holes in the Financial Management framework? 

Let's pick a few items from the framework listed above, remove them, and imagine what would happen.

  • If there were no budget holders there would be no attention paid to budget management within the projects and operations, because it's nobody's job.
  • If there was no process of financial reporting then financial management would fall apart, because the company would have no record of money gained or spent during operations.
  • If there was no consistent technology, there would be no way of comparing and compiling financial figures from across the organisation.
  • If there was no auditing, there would be no way of knowing if people were doing proper financial management, people would cut corners and fudge figures and pretty soon a consistent approach to financial management would disappear.
So there's our analogy. Financial management needs a minimum framework consistent with the scale of the business, and if there are holes in that framework, financial management becomes impossible.

It is the same for knowledge management

Knowledge management needs a minimum framework, and if there are holes in that framework, knowledge management becomes impossible. Here are some equivalents to the holes mentioned above

  • If were no people accountable for KM within projects and operations, then KM just would not get done. There would be no attention paid to knowledge management within the projects and operations, because it's nobody's job.
  • If there were no process of knowledge reporting (knowledge capture) - then knowledge management would fall apart, because the company would have no record of new knowledge gained  during operations.
  • If there were no consistent technology for knowledge management, knowledge management would be a mess, as there would be no way of comparing and compiling and communicating knowledge from across the organisation.
  • Imagine there was no equivalent of auditing there would be no way of knowing if people were doing proper knowledge management, people would cut corners and fudge figures and pretty soon a consistent approach to knowledge management would disappear.
So if your managers question the need for a KM Framework, and ask (for example) "do we really need defined roles for KM?", then ask them to imagine a financial management framework without defined roles.

The Financial Management framework is one of your best analogues to explain the Knowledge Management framework.

Contact Knoco for help in designing your Knowledge Management Framework

Monday, 22 August 2016

Knowledge Management at Transport for London

In this video, Liz Hobbes of Transport for London describes Knowledge Management at TfL, including an example of how lesson learning has already delivered measurable benefits.

Friday, 19 August 2016

How networking changes when companies grow

When companies are small, everyone knows everyone, and knowledge flows freely. As they grow, knowledge flow can no longer be taken for granted. 

In a small company, everyone knows everyone, and knowledge can be shared easily, between friends. The whole company is one single social network, and all knowledge sharing is informal, and based on relationships.

But companies grow, new people come in, new companies are acquired, and there comes a time when the existing personal networks are no longer sufficient for Knowledge Management. The personal networks which remain from the smaller company turn into "old boy networks" (see definition), a sort of social elite based on common history, and the new people can be excluded and cut off from these informal sources of knowledge.

We see this a lot when we are running our KM assessments.

  • "How do you find knowledge you need?" we ask.
  • "I just ask," they say. "Its easy, I just give the right person a call".
  • "And how do you know the right person?"
  • "We all know each other, we have worked together for a long time".
  • "And how do new people know who to call? Or your colleagues in company X, which you have just merged with? How do they find the right people?"
  • .................long silence..............

The problem with this situation is that the people who are making the decisions about KM are already part of the old-boy network. As far as they are concerned, there is no problem with knowledge-seeking or knowledge sharing - everybody they know already does it. They don't see the problems that the new staff, the young staff or the merged staff, are encountering when they try to find knowledge.

How networking needs to change 

Once the company grows beyond the point where informal networks still function (ie once it has hundreds of staff), then you need to take a disciplined approach to knowledge management.

When the company has outgrown the old-boys network, that's where a simple KM framework needs to step in and keep the knowledge flowing, even to the new staff.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Continental's corporate KM culture statement

Knowledge Management succeeds to the extent to which it is embedded in culture. It looks like Continental has succeeded.

Changing the corporate culture is not an easy thing, but one lever you can use is to make the expectation for KM very explicit. Continental Tyres have made their expectation so explicit as to include it in their corporate culture statement.

This statement reads as follows:

As a driver of innovation, Continental is on the leading edge of technology. This kind of top position can only have a sound basis if the people who stand behind this company have the opportunity to develop their ideas in an environment that inspires and motivates. An environment characterized by competence, cooperation and progress. Worldwide. We call this “corporate spirit”. Deciding factors for this corporate spirit are:
  • A culture of high performance This is what drives the actions of each individual and all teams worldwide. At Continental you can expect more, because everyone expects more from themselves.
  • Striving for the best Each individual on their own is responsible for not simply accepting second best
  • Cooperation and teamwork Flat hierarchic levels, open-mindedness and respect characterize our work as a part of a worldwide network.
  • Responsibility and management Executives should lead cooperatively and encourage individual responsibility. And everyone must be willing to be measured by his or her own actions.
  • Learning and knowledge management Our employees believe in the principles behind learning throughout their lifetime. We provide access to knowledge at every level of our company

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

How much can we trust our knowledge?

The brain is a funny thing, and sometimes we "know" things which aren't true.

In particular we can be "prompted" to see and hear things that are not there. Particularly when when data are messy and noisy, we can be influenced by mental framing to make those data fit what we expect to see or hear.

So "shared knowledge" can be completely false, but can reinforced because people expect it to be true, and so experience it. Sort of like the emperor's new clothes.

Watch the video below by Simon Singh, the science writer and ex-Guardian columnist, and be prepared to hear something which does not exist.

So what is the implication for Knowledge Management?  The implication is that you must test collective knowledge against reality.  Don't believe something, especially when the data are poor, noisy or ambiguous, just because other people tell you in advance what you will see. Keep your mind open until you have tested the knowledge against reality.

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