Wednesday, 22 October 2014

KM's biggest barriers and enablers - new evidence

This blog, like many others, has provided guidance in the past about the biggest barriers to Knowledge Management (here for example, and here),  and the most powerful enablers

Barriers to the carpark of the Estonia Opera House

Now our global Knowledge Management Survey provides some more data to illuminate the issue.

As part of the survey (answered by nearly 400 KM professionals), we asked respondents to rank a number of barriers in order of the impact they had had on their KM program, ranking them from 1 to 8.

The resulting figures are shown in the table below, with high numbers being high ranking.


Average ranking

Lack of prioritisation and support from leadership6.0
Cultural issues5.8
Lack of KM roles and accountabilities4.9
Lack of KM incentives4.7
Lack of a defined KM approach4.6
Incentives for the wrong behaviours (inability to time-write KM, rewards for internal competition etc)4.2
Lack of support from departments such as IT, HR etc4.1
Insufficient technology3.8

They were then asked to prioritise the main enablers for KM which had proved powerful, ranking them from 1 to 9. The resulting figures are shown in the table below (high numbers being high ranking).


Average ranking

Support from senior management7.8
Evidence of value from KM6.8
Championship and support from KM team/champions6.5
Effective KM processes5.9
Personal benefit for staff from KM5.5
Easy to use technology5
A supportive company culture4.7
Clear KM accountabilities and roles3.7
Incentive systems for KM3

So what does this tell us?

  • The number one barrier/enabler is support from senior management. Without this, you will struggle. With this, you will succeed. This blog contains much advice about gaining senior management support (see here for example), and if you need more help, we will be happy to advise. Get this support, all else will be much easier.
  • Although culture, roles and incentives are seen as major barriers, they are at the bottom of the enablers table. These are perhaps not the barriers that they might seem to be, even though they are a key part of your Knowledge Management Framework. 
  • The second and fifth biggest enabler is Value. Evidence of value from KM is crucial (and incidentally is also crucial in delivering support from senior management). Your KM Proof of Concept projects, and your two pronged strategy delivering long term value and quick wins, are both vital here. This also needs to address value to the individual knowledge worker as well as value to the organisation - a principle pointed out in this study from Siemens
  • Technology is seldom a barrier, nor is it near the top of the enabler list. Anyone thinking that the solution to effective KM is technology alone, is ignoring the lessons from the past 2 decades of successful KM.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Why knowledge transfer through discussion is 14 times more effective than writing

Knowledge can be transferred in two ways - by Connecting people so that they can discuss, and Collecting knowledge in written (explicit) form so others can find and read it (see blog posts on Connect and Collect). 

Connecting people is far less efficient than Collecting while being far more effective - but how much more effective?

We can never be sure about the effectiveness of knowledge transfer without some good empirical studies, but there are 2 pointers towards the relative effectiveness of these two methods. These pointers are as follows;

The often repeated (and sometimes challenged) quote that “We Learn . .
  • 10% of what we read 
  • 20% of what we hear 
  • 30% of what we see 
  • 50% of what we see and hear 
  • 70% of what we discuss 
  • 80% of what we experience 
  • 95% of what we teach others.”

David Snowden's principle that

  • We always know more than we can say, and 
  • We will always say more than we can write down

Let's make two assumptions here, firstly that the percentages in the first list are correct, and secondly that we equate the "more than" in Snowden's principle to "twice as much as" (OK, this is entirely arbitrary, but I want to see what the consequences are).

With these assumptions, the effectiveness of the Connect route is as follows
  • I know (100%)
  • I say (50%) 
  • You learn through discussion (50% x 70% = 35%)
The effectiveness of transmission of knowledge through Connecting is therefore 35%.

The effectiveness of the Collect route is as follows
  • I know (100%)
  • I write (50% x 50% = 25%)
  • You learn through reading (25% x 10% = 2.5%)
The effectiveness of transmission of knowledge through Connecting is therefore 2.5%.

Therefore transferring knowledge through Collecting is 14 times less effective than transferring knowledge through Connecting people.

If we change the proportions in Snowden's principle then we change this conclusion. If for example 
we always know 3 times more than we can say, and we will always say 3 times more than we can write down, Collecting becomes 21 times less effective, and so on.

I know all these figures are arbitrary and inexact, but what we are looking at here is some sort of estimate of relative efficiencies.

Note that this does not mean that Collecting knowledge has no place in Knowledge Management - quite the opposite. Despite being very ineffective, it is very efficient. Knowledge has only to be documented once, to be re-used one thousand times. Efficiency can trump effectiveness. However we can conclude the following
  • Because of these relative efficiencies, Knowledge should shared in explicit form (the Collect route) only when it is relatively simple and when it can be codified with minimum loss of context. 
  • Where knowledge is more complex or more contextual, it should be shared through discussion (the Connect route) - for example through conversational processes such as Peer Assist
  • Where efficiency is more important than effectiveness (i.e. broadcasting relatively straightforward knowledge to a large number of users), the Collect route is ideal.
  • The Collect route is also necessary when a Learner (a recipient for the knowledge) cannot be immediately identified, so no Connection is possible (see "speaking to the unknown user").
  • Even then, it is worth "keeping the names with the knowledge" so that readers who need to know more detail can call the originator of the knowledge and have a discussion. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Charts and Pilots - the two types of Knowledge

If you are a competent ship's master, what types of knowledge do you need to be able to navigate on a new voyage to an unknown port?  You need two types - explicit and tacit, charts and pilots.

The charts, and the associated tide tables and weather forecasts are the explicit knowledge, or could even be classed as Information. They record the unchanging features of coastlines, currents, buoys and lighthouses. With a good set of charts, any competent mariner can navigate any sea anywhere in the world, provided they have their own set of tacit knowledge - how to read a chart, how to determine position, how to plot a course allowing for wind and tide.

But when it comes to entering the narrow congested waters of an unfamiliar foreign port, the ship master's tacit knowledge is not enough, even bolstered by the explicit knowledge in the charts and manuals. Here you need a Pilot.

The economic and environmental risk from today's large cargo ships makes the role of the pilot essential. Pilots possess detailed knowledge of local waterways, and most ports have compulsory pilotage for bog ships. Pilotage is one of the oldest professions, as old as sea travel, and it is one of the most important in maritime safety. The complexities and risks of close navigation make pilotage essential.

Pilotage is an example of deep tacit knowledge which cannot safely be codified, and the master and pilot work together, combining their knowledge of the ship and knowledge of the harbour, to finally berth the ship and end the voyage.

Similarly your knowledge workers need access to two types of knowledge. They need the documented guidance of the "broad areas" of their work, so they can be guided through most of the job. Then they need access (through communities of practice, or subject matter experts) to the deep knowledge of the most risky or complex tasks that can never be made explicit.

Once again, this takes us back to the dual nature of KM - Connect and Collect, Tacit and Explicit. These both need to be components of your Knowledge Management Framework,so that you can take your knowledge workers to the mouth of the harbour, and then to safe anchorage.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Breakthrough KM proof of concept - a case study

The story here is taken from the book "Performance through Learning", and tells of a crucial "proof of concept" exercise at De Beers, the global diamond company, which was instrumental in demonstrating the value of Knowledge Management to senior management, and gaining their support and buy-in.

One of the earliest stages of the De Beers Knowledge Management strategy would be to try some simple KM processes on some of the key activities or projects within the organization; to see if they worked, to see if they generated value, to come up with some early wins, and to create some success stories which could be used for marketing. 
Ian (Ian Corbett, the De Beers Knowledge Management lead) had already identified one or two possibilities, and more had come up during the (strategy) workshop. There was one very interesting and challenging possibility though, which would be a real test of the power of Knowledge Management; the !Gariep project. 
 !Gariep had been a blue-sky technology project for De Beers Marine. The De Beers Marine team had planned to build a piece of mining technology beyond anything that currently existed. The project had been an ambitious challenge, and many many learnings had been generated; so many learnings that the organisation had been unsure how to harvest them for reuse. Some of the key players were still in the organisation, others had left. 
Ian saw the possibility of using the Retrospect process as a powerful and non-confrontational way of harnessing some of that knowledge. 
 The !Gariep retrospect took place over two days in Cape Town, involving 25 members of the project team, with up to four years history with the project. We divided the project into four stages, and spent half a day on each stage. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that we invited too many managers and not enough "workers" to the retrospect, because many of the most valuable insights came from some of the more junior members of the project team. 
 However some very interesting and powerful lessons were captured, and we took the opportunity to record some video advice from the participants, as well as some feedback on the retrospect process itself. Although the lessons from !Gariep were extremely valuable, and have already been carried forward to future projects to great effect, those video clips were an even more powerful demonstration of the value of Knowledge Management. 
 Shortly after the retrospect had been completed, Ian attended a meeting of the senior management team of the De Beers group to talk to them about KM. He had recorded one of the engineers at the retrospect, a young credible and eloquent contributor with some excellent knowledge and advice to offer, and he embedded the video in his presentations. 
This was the turning point for some of the senior managers; it transformed the whole presentation and got them on the edge of their seats. It was a real-life, highly relevant demonstration of what KM within the De Beers context, and from a complex and high-profile project as well. And then, when the senior managers asked "and how did the participants feel about the Retrospect process?" Ian was able to show them a second video clip of enthusiastic feedback.

Turning the "proof of concept" in to high level support

Ian later reported the following;

"The embedded video is the best way to market how powerful this approach is. I recorded one of the engineers talking. He is young, credible and eloquent, and I put his video in a presentation for the senior management team. I gave the talks, and I showed Steve, and it transformed the presentation and got people on the edge of their seat. This was the turning point for the Director of operations, who became the high-level sponsor for Knowledge Management in De Beers”

This approach for engaging key leaders can be replicated by any courageous knowledge manager.

  • Find a big business issues
  • Apply Knowledge Management as a "proof of concept" exercise to solve, address, or learn from that issue
  • Ask the people involved in the KM exercise to tell the story, in their own words, on video
  • Use that video to engage your senior managers

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Knowledge Management Starter offerings

Sometimes you just don't have the budget for a big Knowledge management program, but you would like to get started somewhere.  Or perhaps you have a little left in the KM budget before the end of the year, and would like to spend it on something that moves you forward.

With this in mind, we have developed a set of "starter offers" at Knoco - limited-scale interventions that can provide a good step forward for a small company, for a division or department within a large company, or for a Knowledge Manager with a small pot of cash to use up.

Many of these are versions of more in-depth services, but give you the option to "try before you buy" or to get some external objective expert input while your budget is still limited.

The offers are as follows;

Using data collected through a detailed survey of your staff, and telephone conversations with your knowledge management team, we assess the current state of knowledge management within your organisation, identify all the missing elements of the knowledge management framework, and suggest a list of actions for closing the gaps. (For a full KM Assessment, see here)
Using data collected through a one-day workshop, we assess the current state of knowledge management within your organisation, identify all the missing elements of the knowledge management framework, and suggest a list of actions for closing the gaps. (For a full KM Assessment, see here)
Using data collected through a survey of your management staff, and telephone conversations with your knowledge management team, we propose a Knowledge Management Strategy for your organisation, aligned with the corporate strategy and the business drivers, including an assessment of critical knowledge areas, potential pilot projects, key stakeholders and major risks. (For a full KM Strategy service, see here)
Through a one-day workshop, we work with you to create a Knowledge Management Strategy for your organisation, aligned with the corporate strategy and the business drivers, including an assessment of critical knowledge areas, potential pilot projects, key stakeholders and major risks. (For a full KM Strategy service, see here)
Using data collected through a survey, we rank your knowledge topics according to their Management needs, identifying and prioritising those topics in most need of knowledge management, knowledge retention, knowledge acquisition and knowledge transfer. (For a full Knowledge Audit service, see here)
Using data collected through a survey, we identify your cultural strengths and weaknesses in terms of organisational learning, and highlight the cultural areas where you most need improvement.
In a one-day or half-day workshop led by one of our directors, we introduce to you the topic of knowledge management, demonstrate how it works in organisations like yours, identify the value it can deliver for you, and take the first steps towards developing a knowledge management strategy and action plan.
In a short, targeted piece of work, we demonstrate the power of Knowledge Management in action, to you and to your management.  This could be through launch of a community of practice, a retention interview with a departing expert, a peer assist to bring knowledge into a project, a lessons capture exercise to document hard-won learning, or many other options.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

KM within ISO 9001

Thanks to Philippe Herrou for bringing this up - clause 7.1.5 in the 2015 revision of ISO 9001, the world's leading quality management standard, addresses the importance of Knowledge in supporting quality. 

 The clause reads as follows
7.1.5 Knowledge The organization shall determine the knowledge necessary for the operation of the quality management system and its processes and to assure conformity of goods and services and customer satisfaction. This knowledge shall be maintained, protected and made available as necessary. Where addressing changing needs and trends the organization shall take into account its current knowledge base and determine how to acquire or access the necessary additional knowledge.
This clause would suggest that, to meet the new version of the standard, an organisation should have

  1. A definition of the critical organisational knowledge (knowledge about operation, process, goods and services)
  2. A system for maintaining, protecting and accessing that knowledge
  3. A system for acquiring or accessing (and potentially for creating) any new knowledge, as things change
There no doubt will be many different ways in which organisations meet these requirements, and there will of course be the perennial argument "does this apply to tacit knowledge, or just to documents".

However we would suggest that this requirement is met as follows

  1. As part of a Knowledge Management Strategy, you define your critical knowledge needs
  2. You create a Knowledge Management Framework for your organisation, that ensures knowledge is created, discussed, captured, synthesised, and re-used. This framework contains the four critical enablers; Roles, Processes, Technologies, Governance. The contents, scale and complexity of this framework will vary enormously - from very simple (in the case of a small company) to sophisticated and complex for major multinationals.
  3. You run a scan or audit of your critical knowledge topics, to ensure each of these is in an acceptably managed state

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