Monday, 29 May 2023

How to raise the profile of KM through stories; Knowvember at Fluor corp.

Fluor, the construction company, use the month of Knowvember" as an opportunity to publicise KM internally.

Fluor are an international engineering and construction company who have been applying a Knowledge management approach, based primarily on Communities of Practice, for well over 20 years. And with a long-running program such as this, it is easy for people to start to forget about KM, or take it for granted. Fluor have a powerful approach for keeping KM live in the corporate consciousness, described in a 2011 blog from Jeff Hester entitled "Successful KM storytelling".

Welcome to Knowvember.

Knowvember is an annual collection and celebration of KM success stories. It is a time when the Fluor offices sprout posters describing KM successes, chosen from submissions over the previous year. 

Each story has been collected - either informally and formally - from the various communities of practice and describes an example where knowledge was sought and shared, and where value was delivered to the organisation or to a client as a result. The stories come with pictures and quotes.

Then every year during the month of Knowvember the KM team reviews the stories shared over the past 12 months, and select a list of finalists. These are presented to a panel of C-level executives that select the winning stories. Jeff describes how "in 2010 we collected roughly 300 stories, culled this down to 20 finalists, from which the executives selected six winners. If your success story is selected as a winner, you get to select a local charitable organization to which a $500 donation is made in your name."

Although these stories are collected and publicised through the year, the annual one-month focus brings KM to the fore. As Jeff says

"During the final judging for the annual contest, the exposure these stories and the people involved get at a very high level of the organization serves two purposes: 
  • it provides recognition to folks who are often from far flung offices, and 
  • it reminds our executives of some very concrete ways KM strengthens and improves our company. 
And we’ve found that these stories provide the most tangible measure of the value of knowledge management — much more than the number of clicks and downloads".

Try a similar communication campaign at your organisation, focused on value stories. I could help keep alive and fresh the perception of KM as a value-delivery tool.

Monday, 22 May 2023

Why "learn before, during and after" is such a good KM model

"Learning before, during and after" is one of the oldest models in KM, and still one of the most useful.

Learning before, during and after was one of the early bywords for Knowledge Management at BP in the 90s - a simple and memorable mantra that project staff can grasp easily and quickly. It forms the basis for an operating philosophy for KM, and describes how Knowledge Management activities can be embedded  within the cycle of business activity.

The management of knowledge, like any management discipline, needs to be systematic rather than ad hoc, and needs to be tied into the business cycle. In any project-focused business, where business activities (projects) have a beginning and an end, knowledge can be addressed at three points.

  1. The project team can learn at the start of the project, so that the project begins from a state of complete knowledge (‘learning before’). This is where processes such as Knowledge handover and Peer Assist can be applied. 
  2. They can learn during the project, so that plans can be changed and adapted as new knowledge becomes available (‘learning during’), for example through the use of After Action Review.
  3. Finally, they can learn at the end of the project, so that knowledge is captured for future use (‘learning after’) and entered into the Lesson-Learned workflow.

These activities of "Learning before," "Learning during" and "Learning after" can become an expectation, or even a mandatory activity, for projects.  This model of ‘learn before, during and after’ was developed in BP during the 1990s, and was also developed independently in several other organizations. Shell refers to this as “Ask, Learn, Share”.

However, there is more to the model than the ‘learning before, during and after’ cycle. The knowledge generated from the project needs to be collated, synthesised, and stored as Knowledge Assets (guidance documents such as SoPs, or Wiki-based guidance) in order that knowledge deposited in the “knowledge bank” at the end of the project becomes more useful when accessed at the start of the next project. Communities of Practice need to be established to manage and share the tacit Knowledge Assets.

This five component framework (learning before, learning during, learning after, synthesis of knowledge into Knowledge Assets, and building Communities of Practice) is a robust model which creates value wherever it is applied.

Wednesday, 17 May 2023

5 ways in which KM can become embedded

There are 5 ways in which KM can be embedded in an organisation. Some of these are more common than others, and to fully embed KM into an organisational management system can take over a decade.

I often have people ask me what "embedding" Knowledge Management actually means, and how you do it.  Embedding Knowledge Management means making part of the normal work process, rather than an add-on. You do this in five ways, listed below in the order of most common application, as shown in the graph above. (This graph shows the percentage of the respondents who answered this question, who said they had embedded KM in each of the ways listed. The different coloured bars represent respondents from KM programs of different levels of maturity.) 

1. You change the technology suite so that Knowledge Management tools are available, and used, as part of the working toolkit, and linked into the existing work tools. While email remains the number one work tool for many people, then link your KM tools into this, rather than requiring people to acquire a new habit. New habits can develop later, when KM becomes part of natural behaviour.

2. You change the Organigram to include Knowledge Management roles and accountabilities. You introduce new roles where needed (lesson teams for example, leaders and coordinators for the big Communities of practice, Practice Owners and so on), and change some of the accountabilities of existing roles. The most senior experts, for example, need clear KM accountabilities, as described here. You need to change their job descriptions, so that they are held accountable for stewardship of the company knowledge. Then you measure and reward people against their performance in these roles, and against these accountabilities, just as you measure and reward them against any other component of their job.

3. You change the high level processes and activities, embedding Knowledge Management processes and activities into the work cycles (using the principles of Learning Before, During and After). Change the project requirements, to include mandatory processes for capture of knowledge at the end of the project or after key milestones, and mandatory processes for reviewing past knowledge at the start of the project. Change the rules for project sanction, so a project gets no money if it hasn't done any learning.

4. You change the behaviours through peer pressures and through management expectation.

5. You change the governance system to include KM. Write it into the policies. Write it into the way people are rewarded. Change the reporting requirements, the HR appraisal mechanism, change the incentive scheme to reward collaboration and discourage competition.  This is the least common embedding approach, but it needs to be done eventually.

These changes should embed KM as part of the way people work, and so make KM part of everyone's job.  Once this is the case, you can claim KM is embedded and fully mature, as shown below.
The degree of embedding KM into normal activity, vs KM maturity. Results from Knoco 2014 and 2017 surveys

However this takes time. The chart below shows how this level of embedding varies with the length of time organisations have been doing KM.  Even after 16 years working with KM, only half the organisations claim KM is fully integrated and routine, rather than a non-routine activity.

Tuesday, 9 May 2023

The "KM ROI" question - a problem, or an opportunity?

Your CEO comes to you and says "I like the idea of Knowledge Management, but you have to give me an ROI figure". Is this a problem, or an opportunity?

At first sight this is a problematic request, as the ROI for KM is notoriously difficult to predict. If your manager wants you to sell KM on a firm ROI prediction, you have some difficult thinking to do.

However there are five things that you can do to make this question into a real opportunity for your KM program. These are as follows:

1) You can speak to the CEO. Top Management are talking to you. You have access to them, and they are listening to you. A conversation with senior management has opened up. As a KM sales person, you need to make the most of this, and you need to determine the selling point for KM.  ROI will not be the selling point - most firms buy KM on emotion and not logic - but management may still want to hear a convincing ROI to justify the investment.
2) You have the opportunity to show them some success stories which demonstrate an attractive ROI. KM can deliver fantastic ROI - our October 2012 Newsletter gave many examples of KM ROI and how it can be measured, and this blog has published a regular series of quantified success stories, with over 140 examples to date. There is plenty of evidence you can show them from industrial organisations where KM has paid back its investment ten-fold or a hundred-fold, and plenty of success stories you can use as social proof.
3) You have the opportunity to make a deal with senior management. Ask them for permission and support to pilot knowledge management in one part of the organisation, and to measure the return. You promise them ROI from the pilot, and if this ROI is big enough, you ask them for their continued support in return.
4) You have the opportunity to offer to use KM to solve some of their real problems. Don't forget, KM works extremely well when applied at senior level - its not just for the frontline staff. Senior managers are knowledge workers too. If you can solve their problems through KM, they will become your greatest advocates.
 5) A big ROI gives you permission to ask for a big budget. Once your management realise how valuable KM can be, then they are more likely to make a sizeable investment. This could be the chance you were looking for to build a proper KM program with a good chance of success.

So look on this request as an opportunity to engage, and broker a deal, at the highest level.  Your aim should be to gain support for a business pilot, through which you can demonstrate ROI, and if that ROI is convincing enough, to gain further support for full KM roll-out.

The ROI conversation could be the best opportunity you are given to progress KM. 

Friday, 5 May 2023

Details of the Webinar next Wednesday on the BSI guide to Knowledge Management

You can find a link to the Webinar announcement here and a button to register for a place.

Date: 10 May 2023

Timing: 12.00 - 13.00 (BST)

This webinar will focus on the recently published BS 34401:2022 Knowledge management. Application of BS ISO 30401. Guide and Executive Briefing and explain how your business can use these documents to implement, review and improve a management system for KM (KMS).

Who should attend the Knowledge Management webinar?

All sizes and types of organization, including public and private sector bodies, non-governmental organizations, charities and other not for profit organizations.

What will participants gain?

  • Insights and guiding principles on what KM is, drawn from the principles of BS 34401
  • Knowledge of the key factors to consider when implementing a KMS
  • How to implement the standard including awareness of some common pitfalls
  • The chance to put your questions to experienced knowledge management professionals
  • A post-event copy of all presentations and a recording of the webinar for future reference



Welcome & Introduction

Helena Barrell, Standards Development Manager, BSI

Launch of BS 34401 and Executive Briefing

Helena Barrell, Standards Development Manager, BSI

What is Knowledge Management (and what is it not)?

Margaret Gair MA FCLIP, Head of Library & Information Services, Scottish Government

How to Implement the Standard, KM Enablers and Guiding Principles

Adrian Malone, Digital Engagement and Business Partnering Director, WSP UK

Challenges and Pitfalls

Adrian Malone, Digital Engagement and Business Partnering Director, WSP UK

Margaret Gair MA FCLIP, Head of Library & Information Services, Scottish Government


How to Access the Executive Briefing and Guide

Helena Barrell, Standards Development Manager, BSI

Summary & Close

Tuesday, 25 April 2023

What are the outputs of the Knowledge workstream?

Organisations that work with Knowledge need a Knowledge workstream as well as a Product/Project workstream. But what are the outputs of this Knowledge workstream?

I have blogged several times about the KM workstream you need in your organisation; the knowledge factory that runs alongside the product factory or the project factory.  But what are the outputs or  products of the knowledge factory?

The outputs of the product factory are clear - they are designed and manufactured products or services being sold to customers. The outputs of the project factory are also clear - the project deliverables which the internal or external client has ordered and paid for. 

We can look at the products of the KM workstream in a similar way. The clients and customers for the Knowledge outputs are knowledge workers in the organisation who need knowledge to do their work better; to deliver better projects and better products. It is they who define what knowledge is needed. Generally this knowledge comes in three forms, depending on the simplicity or maturity of the tasks being done. These forms can be documented, they can be delivered in training, or they can be delivered verbally as advice or coaching. 

  • Good practices and good options which lessons from one or two projects have shown to be a successful way to work. These might be examples of successful bids, plans, templates or designs, and they have been endorsed by the community of practice as "good examples" which might be copied in similar circumstances, but which are not yet robust enough to be recognised as "the best way". I am not including "good ideas" in this list, because untested ideas are not yet knowledge.
  • Best practices and best designs which lessons and experience have shown are currently the best way to work in a particular setting or context. These are advisory, they should be followed, and they have been endorsed by the community of practice as the current best approach.
  • Standard Practices which experience has shown to be the only way to work in a particular setting or context. These might be design standards, product standards, standard operating procedures, norms, standard templates, algorithms and so on. These are mandatory, they must be followed, and have been endorsed by senior technical management. Obviously standards only help with mature topics in a simple or complicated world, not a complex world. 
The three categories are "things you could do" in a particular context, "things you should do", and "things you must do". 

The project/product workstream also creates outputs which act as inputs to the knowledge workstream; these are the knowledge deliverables, the lessons which capture hindsight, and the useful items which can be stored as good practices and good options. The link between lessons and best practices is described in a separate blog post, and shows how the two workstreams operate together to gather and deliver knowledge to optimise results. The projects and products create the lessons, which enter the knowledge workstream and come out as one of the three forms listed above. 

Monday, 17 April 2023

How knowledge is born - Observations, Insights, Lessons

Knowledge is born in a three-stage process of reflection on experience; from observations, through insights, to lessons.

I think most people accept that knowledge is born through reflection on experience. The three-stage process in which this happens is the core of how the military approach learning from experience, for example as documented in  this presentation from the Australian Army (slide 12).

The three stages are the identification of  Observations, Insights and Lessons, collectively referred to as OILs. Here are the stages, using some of the Australian Army explanation, and some of my own.

  • Observations. Observations are what we capture from sources, whether they be people or things or data or information or events. Observations are "What actually happened" and are often compared to "What was supposed to happen" (the gap between "Supposed" and "Actual" is a gap of Surprise, which is the first sign that there is new knowledge to be found).  Observations are the basic building blocks for knowledge but they often offer very limited or biased perspective on their own. However storing observations is at least one step better that storing what was planned to happen (see here). For observations to be a valid first step they need to be the truth, the whole truth (which usually comes from multiple perspectives) and nothing but the truth (which usually requires some degree of validation against other observations and against hard data).
  • Insights. Insights are conclusions drawn from patterns we find looking at groups of observations, or from analysis of a single observation.  They identify WHY things happened the way they did, and insights come from identifying root causes. You may need to ask the 5 whys in order to get to the root cause.  Insights are a really good step towards knowledge due to their objectivity.  The Australian Army suggests that for the standard soldier, insights may be as good as lessons. 
  • Lessons.  These are the inferences from insights, and the recommendations for the future. Lessons are actionable knowledge which has been formulated as advice for others, and the creation of lessons from insights requires analysis and generalisation to make the insights specific and actionable . The Australian army defines lessons as "insights that have specific authorised actions attached.... directed to Army authorities to implement the stated action", and there is a close link between defining an actionable lesson, and assigning an action to that lesson. Note however that the lesson is not "Learned" until the action is taken, and sustainable change has been made. 

This progression, from Observation to Insight to Lesson represents the methodology of learning by reflection. The Retrospect meeting and the (smaller scale) After Action Review both provide a structured discussion format which moves increments of knowledge through the three stages..

In other organisations these three stages are separated. Perhaps observations are collected by (for example) users, a separate team of analysts use these observations to derive insights, and then an authoritative body adds the action and turns the insights into lessons. 

My personal preference is to address all three steps as close as possible to the activity which is being reviewed, using the same team who conducted the action to take Observations through to Lessons.

But however you divide the process, and whoever conducts the steps, these three stages of Observation, Insight and Lesson are fundamental to the process of learning from experience. 

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