Tuesday, 30 September 2014

How to be creative

PBS video on the creative process, especially during collaboration.

 I like the quote "Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work"


(Thanks to the Farnham Street blog)

Monday, 29 September 2014

Knowledge as an asset

ISO 55000 defines Asset management as the "coordinated activity of an organisation to realize value from assets". In turn, Assets are defined as follows: "An asset is an item, thing or entity that has potential or actual value to an organisation".

Knowledge is one of those items.

Asset management, in historical terms, originally focused on physical assets. Land was recognised as an asset, and land management was introduced, through practices such as rotation of crops, drainage, and letting land lie fallow in order to recover.  Then money was recognised as an asset and managed as such, then people, then plant and machinery, and so on.

More recently, attention has moved to the intangible assets. Customers, and the relationship with customers, are seen as an asset, managed through CRM. Brand is seen as an asset; hence Brand Management. Reputation is seen as an asset, as are intellectual property, information, data, and an organisation's safety record. The value of all of these is realised through independent management disciplines.

Knowledge is one of the last unmanaged assets for many organisations.

Knowledge is an intangible asset, but one that is worth a huge amount to many organisations; for a large multinational the unrealised value of knowledge may run into billions of dollars. Knowledge Management represents an approach to realising the value of that huge asset.

Knowledge Management as Asset Management

So if we see knowledge management is seen as asset management, what conclusions do we draw? How can Knowledge Management learn from other areas of Asset Management?

Asset Management involves the balancing of costs, opportunities and risks against the desired performance of assets, to achieve the organizational objectives. So one of the early steps in Knowledge Management is to look at the current performance of Knowledge versus the desired performance. This requires running a Knowledge Management assessment and a Knowledge scan across your organisation as an initial survey. Much as an initial step towards managing a physical or financial asset is to survey the current state, so your first step in KM is to see what you already have, and find out how well it is operating.

Asset management enables an organisation to examine the need for, and performance of, assets and asset systems at different levels.What is important is not the asset itself, but the business need for the asset. Knowledge Management, just like any other asset management discipline, needs to focus on the business-critical knowledge. Your knowledge management strategy should start with the business strategy, and the business drivers that KM needs to support.

Asset management enables the application of analytical approaches towards managing an asset over the different stages of its life cycle. The Australian Government recognises four stages in asset life cycle management, which can be applied to knowledge as follows (and as shown in the picture below);

  • Planning: determination of asset requirements. In KM terms, this is dealt with in the KM strategy, and includes a review of knowledge needs across the organisation.
  • Acquisition: procurement of assets to meet an identified service need. In KM terms this represents Knowledge Acquisition; from in-sourcing of knowledge, creation of new knowledge through innovation processes, and acquisition of knowledge from first-time activity.
  • Operation and maintenance: management and use of an asset to deliver services, including maintenance. In KM terms, this represents management of the knowledge you already have, including the creation of communities of practice and knowledge bases, the assignment of practice owners, and the creation of what we call "knowledge assets". It also involves attention to the risks that face the asset, such as the loss of knowledgeable staff.
  • Disposal: treatment of an asset that has either reached the end of its useful life, is considered surplus, or is under-performing. In KM terms, this represent a core activity in the management of knowledge assets, namely the removal of the old knowledge, the out-of-date knowledge, and the just plain wrong knowledge. 
When you begin to treat your knowledge as an asset, there is much you can learn from the well-studied world of asset management, and much value you can add to the organisation from the largely untapped asset that is organisational Knowledge.  

Friday, 26 September 2014

KM - interviewing the winners

I spent this week working with a project, collecting "lessons learned" in a series of Retrospect meetings. This was a project that had succeeded extremely well, and was a model for others to learn from - and it proved rather difficult at first to find the learnings.

Part of the process of extracting lessons is root cause analysis - finding out WHY something went well or WHY something was troublesome. Usually the answer comes down either to process or to structure - something was done wrong, or something was missing in the structure of the project (a role missing, for example, or work-streams combined when they should be separate). Your Knowledge Management tool here is "the 5 whys"; a familiar tool first introduced by Toyota, which you apply throughout the Retrospect.

In the case of this successful project, the Whys all seemed to come to the same answer - "We just followed the established process".

I could have stopped there, in which case the conclusion would have been "for excellent results, follow the established process".

That did not seem enough, however. There are plenty of other projects which set out to follow the process, yet fail. Something different was going on here.

So I added another question to the list - "What did you have here, which other projects do not have? What was going on here that was different?"

This was a very interesting question, and led us into different territory. Instead of concentrating on structure and process, we began to explore other areas - areas about trust, about relationships, about rigour and control.

I found myself reflecting last night, as I flew back to the UK, that perhaps the difference between the winners and those in second and third place lies not in structure nor in process, but in far more intangible areas, and that when collecting lessons from winners we need to look more at the softer aspects.

That's where you may need to modify your questioning a little, and start searching to understand that "little bit extra" that makes a winner.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Great KM strategy, shame about the KM team

One of the most frustrating situations you can face as a consultant, is working with an internal KM team that does not have the capacity to deliver. You want to help them, you want them to succeed, they are focused on the right things, but they are just the wrong people.

So who are the right people? I am talking here primarily about the team that implements Knowledge Management - that introduces the framework of roles, technologies, processes and governance, and that leads the change to a new way of working.

The team leader, first and foremost, needs to be a change agent. They need to be a visionary leader, capable of working at the highest levels in the organisation as well as the lowest. They need to be an organisational insider; this is a role that cannot be outsourced, as they need to "speak the language", know the politics, and have the credibility. They need to know enough about KM to translate it into business and customer terminology, but able to back it up with sound KM theory.

The skills of the KM team need to be varied. KM covers the area of overlap between IT, HR (or Learning and Development) and Organizational Practice, and so the team needs a blend of people who can cover these areas. Some of the following skills should be on the team.

Facilitation/influencing skills. The knowledge management implementation team has a hard job ahead of them, changing the culture of the organisation, and the soft skills are absolutely core. They will be working very closely with people, often sceptical people, and they need very good influencing and facilitation skills. Secure facilitation training for the team members as soon as you can.

Coaching and training skills. If the aim of the team is to introduce new behaviours and practices to the organisation, they will need people skilled in training, coaching and mentoring. Look for people with skills as change agents and business coaches. One or more people with a training background should be on the team.

Writing skills. The processes of knowledge capture and packaging are in some ways very akin to journalism. Interviewing, group interviewing (e.g. Retrospects), analysis, summary, write-up, presentation, are all part of the stock-in-trade of journalists. Make sure there is at least one person on the team with journalistic or writing skills, and preferably more than one.

Marketing and communication skills. The early stages of implementing knowledge management are all about raising awareness, and "selling" the idea. The team needs at least one person who is skilled at presenting and marketing. This person will also be kept busy raising the profile of the company's KM and Best Practice activities at external conferences.

Technology skills. The team needs at least one person who is aware of the details of the current in-house technology, the potential of technology as an enabler for knowledge management, and who can help define the most appropriate technologies to introduce to the organisation.

This is what John Keeble, the CKO of Enterprise Oil, said about the make-up of a KM team
"If you look at the team more widely, rather than just the person leading it, far and away the most important things are the interpersonal skills, and we have said whoever we are recruiting anyone for the team, that's the most important thing. We can teach them the knowledge management skills, they bring their own network with them, but they have got to have the interpersonal skills, because so much of this is about persuasion. You cannot coerce people into sharing their knowledge, you have to be able to entice and cajole and persuade them to do it"
The organizational backgrounds of the core team need to be varied. The team will be attempting to change behaviour, and embed knowledge management into the business process, across a large part of the organisation (or indeed the whole organisation). Ideally the team should contain people with good and credible backgrounds in each major organisational subdivision. This is really to establish as much credibility as possible. When members of the team are working with business projects, they want to be seen as "part of the business", not "specialists from head office who know nothing about this sector of the business". They have to be able to "talk the language" of the business - they need to be able to communicate in technical language and business language. They act as Best Practice champions within their area of business, and when the working team is over, may take a leading Knowledge Management role in their subsidiary.

The members of the team will also need to be passionate about the topic. The team members must be seen to be personally committed to best practice and knowledge management if they are to retain credibility. They need training in the skills and theories of Knowledge Management and Best Practice transfer, and need access to books, conferences and forums on the topic They must be enthusiastic about applying knowledge management tools and techniques in their own business, and to their own work, in service of improving their own performance.

Finding such people is not easy, but changing the culture of an organisation is not easy either. With the wrong people on the team, you don't get the right result, even with the best consultants in the world to support you.

However with the right team, the right leader, and the right approach, absolutely anything can be done, and Knowledge Management implementation will be assured.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

3 Knowledge Management links with other disciplines

Knowledge Management, if applied within an organisational oricess such as a project management structure, needs to be closely linked with the other disciplines within the project. three of the key interactions are described here

Performance management 

The knowledge/performance loop in the picture shows the close link between Knowledge and Performance, and it is fairly obvious from this link that Knowledge Management and Performance Management are also strongly linked. The management systems can be linked in the following ways;

  • The frequency of lessons capture should be linked with the frequency of performance measurement. Knowledge Capture exercises such as Retrospects and After Action Reviews  are based on an analysis of “what actually happened” compared to “what was expected to happen”, i.e. on an analysis of actual performance versus target performance. Therefore every time performance is measured, and compared with target performance, there is an opportunity to capture lessons. So for example, if performance is reported at monthly project meetings, then an After Action Review can be built into the meeting to capture the lessons that arise.
  • Under-performance should be seen as a learning opportunity. For example in one company, when any Major project over-runs its budget sufficiently to require sanction of additional funds, a special learning exercise is commissioned by the Head of Projects, in order to draw out the learning for future projects.  

Risk management 

 Knowledge Management and Risk management are also closely linked. Both are disciplines for managing the intangible factors the affect the operation of a project. Both need to be managed through the life of a project. Risk Management and Knowledge management also interact in the following ways.

  • The project team may need to learn what the risks are which the project is facing. Other projects may be able to identify risks of which the project team was otherwise unaware. An analysis of lessons from past projects can also identify the common risks that need to be managed. 
  • Acquisition of knowledge is a way to reduce risk, or to manage risk. Risks can be mitigated if you know what to do. Risks can also be avoided, if you know how to avoid them. Many of the areas of project risk identified in the risk management exercise, are areas where knowledge needs to be acquired, and should therefore appear in the Knowledge Management Plan. There should be significant correlation and coordination between the risk management plan and the Knowledge Management plan. 
  • There will probably be significant overlap between the Knowledge Management Plan and the risk register. It might even be worth considering combining the two registers. 

SSHE management 

 Safety, Security, Health and the Environment are key areas of focus for many project operations. Good performance in these areas is not only a social duty; it also is a component of maintaining your License to Operate. However these may be very difficult areas to manage, particularly when working with a number of sub-contractors with varying interpretation of SSHE expectations, or in developing countries where SSHE performance has not been an area of focus, or where security may be an issue. Knowledge Management interacts with SSHE management in two main ways.

  • Knowledge management can be a way of ensuring the project learns about the SSHE risks, and how to avoid them. In areas where this is an issue, SSHE should be identified as a key knowledge area in the project Knowledge Management Plan. The person accountable for this area of knowledge can then look for past projects with valuable experience, can set up processes to bring this knowledge into the project, and can join any SSHE communities of practice which can provide useful guidance. This level of pro-active Knowledge Management is crucial, if the project hopes to minimize or avoid accidents, illnesses, security breaches or environmental breaches. 
  • Knowledge Management can help the project (and the organization) to learn from any incidents that might occur during project planning and execution. A learning system from incidents needs to be set up, involving Root Cause Analysis, the derivation of Lessons (for sharing) and Actions (for addressing any identified issues), for tracking the Actions and for sharing the lessons.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Knowledge Economies and Knowledge Management

It seems every country around the world wants to be a Knowledge Economy. Yet none of them seem to want to invest in Knowledge Management. Duh?

A knowledge economy is one where  knowledge resources such as know-how and expertise are as critical as other economic resources. It is seen as an alternative to a manufacturing economy, or an industrial economy. A British definition is that a Knowledge Economy is "where distinctive know-how is vital to competitive services and products".

Many countries are struggling with what this means. The UK Government sees the knowledge economy as closely tied to higher education. They measure the economy partly by measuring high-tech industries and university places, and support it partly by funding higher education, partly in using local or regional government to set up "knowledge cities" or "knowledge centres" (local sites for housing start-ups), and partly through what they call "Knowledge Transfer" but which really is the encouragement of commercialisation of University research.

However there is a big issue which these governments have not yet grasped.

A key concept of the knowledge economy is that knowledge can be treated as both a business product, and a productive asset. For a knowledge economy to work, this productive asset needs to be treated carefully, nurtured and grown. In other words the Knowledge needs to be Managed.

Yet few if any governments seem to have grasped this fact, despite encouragement from bodies such as the World Bank (see item 5 here). They seem not to realise that is an economy is to be based on an asset, then the role of the government is to ensure that asset is well managed.

There is definitely a role for Knowledge Management in the knowledge economy, and one which government can and should promote. At Knoco, we see this as having three components.

  1. The first is the most important. Any government seeking to develop a knowledge economy needs to support business in knowledge management. They need to provide a definition of what good knowledge management means, and need to provide education for companies on “learning how to learn”. In future, if the Knowledge Economy is to develop, companies need to be helped to become learning organisations. They need to learn how to learn at a pragmatic level, and this needs support from the government.
  2. Secondly there needs to be a focus on critical knowledge topics, and development of topic-specific knowledge clusters and knowledge cities rather than just “high tech” clusters. This is already happening; for example the biosciences cluster around Cambridge England.
  3. A Government-facilitated regional approach to deliberate, strategic and facilitated networking. we know that networks are where knowledge is shared and built, and the government should encourage people out from their four walls and into face-to-face networking space, through workshops, symposia, thinktanks, World cafes and so on - anything that is not "death by PowerPoint, nor limited to 140 characters.
As I said above, if you want a knowledge economy - an economy based on the asset of knowledge - then you need to ensure that asset is properly managed, and provide the understanding and the expectation that means that companies can do effective KM.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Knowledge Management for start-ups

If a start-up is successful, it needs to think about Knowledge Management from the beginning - not because KM is important at the beginning, but because without KM it could really struggle to scale up.

At the beginning of it's life, a start-up company is built on the insight, creativity, hard work and determination of a small number of people.

The knowledge of the product they create, the market they serve and the business model that fuels their dream is held tacitly and collectively; forged in coffee-fuelled conversations and only ever sketched on napkins.

The start-up becomes successful - more staff join the company and join in the conversations, and the vision and working approach is still shared and held tacitly. All is working well. Knowledge flows informally, tacitly and richly.

Then staff numbers hit the Dunbar limit; 150 people. This number is "a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships" - a limit to the number of people you can know well, and therefore share closely and tacitly with. Beyond this point, informal Knowledge Management begins to fail.  Sales staff go slightly off message, support staff no longer intuitively "get" the product design rationale, and the boss is increasingly called in to fix things.

The start-up opens it's first branch office overseas, and things take a sharper downward turn. People in different countries receive different levels of service, the success in one country is not replicated in another, clients begin to grumble, employees being to "not know the answers", and the boss is continually on a plane "fighting fires". Knowledge Management is now overdue. It can be brought in to stop the rot, but should have been introduced earlier.

What does start-up KM look like? 

Start-up KM should start simply, and grow with the organisation, but should start on day one. the founders of the company should be performing their After Action Reviews, and documenting their lessons from the earliest stage. They should be discussing, agreeing and noting down their knowledge and experience on

  • How the product works
  • Why its designed the way it is
  • How to market and sell
  • Who to sell and market to
  • What the customers want
  • How to explain and demonstrate the virtues of the product
  • How to support the product
  • What the customer FAQs are, and how best to answer these
  • How the company works
  • Why the company works that way
  • What the company believes in
And so on. 

Initially this can be documented on a wiki (for ease of editing), with all conversations happening in the coffee shop.  the documentation can be in the form of lessons, of "best" artefacts (best sales presentation, best answer to customer etc)

As the company grows, especially as it grows beyond the Dunbar limit, the wiki will need to be supported by online discussion - Yammer perhaps, or Jive, or the Agora Knowledge Hub.  Many of the working methods will need to be proceduralised into "current best marketing approach, current best sales presentation, current best demonstration, top 10 tips for sales, standard customer FAQ" and so on. You even appoint someone to keep an eye on Knowledge Management within the You now have all the elements of a Knowledge Management Framework - Connect and Collect, Roles, processes, technologies and governance.

Then once you hit the big time and your company is definitely on the way to the top, you need to bring in a full scale Knowledge Management Framework, with process owners, lesson-learning, collaboration and communities of practice, and dedicated software for community interaction and for lesson management.

The point is that Knowledge Management should begin at the beginning of the start-up and then scale up as the company scales up. Otherwise - look out for problems as you pass the Dunbar limit.

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