Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Two great videos on After Action review

Two useful introductory videos describing military use of the After Action review process; one of the core Knowledge Management processes.

The first lasts a minute and a half, and is a high level introduction.

The second lasts 13 minutes and is a detailed overview of how the Army Informal AARs work.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The first thing a new KM team needs to learn

The most valuable skill for the Knowledge Management professional is the skill of facilitation. This is one of the first things a new KM team must learn.

This is because knowledge is most easily transferred through conversation - either face to face or electronically mediated - and the quality of these conversations directly affects the quality and quantity of knowledge transfer.

You can’t just assume that any conversation results in a high quality exchange of knowledge, as there are often many barriers - barriers of hierarchy, of shyness, of lack of trust or openness or honesty, of taking shortcuts, or cross-talking, or asserting without listening. Good quality facilitation can help remove these barriers. In fact, as my post on "a group is its own worst enemy" shows; unfacilitated groups will often introduce facilitation or moderation just as a way to keep discussion fruitful.

The need for facilitation applies to KM processes such as After Action review, Lessons capture, Peer Assist and so on, as well as online discussions within Communities of Practice.

The role of facilitation

Effectively identifying and exchanging knowledge in a conversation or meeting requires
  • High quality interactions between people 
  • Open behaviours – listening, exploring, not criticising 
  • Good listening 
  • Dialogue, not discussion, assertion or argument 
  • Balanced input from many people - not a few people talking, and the others listening
  • Following a process - exchanging views, divergence, convergence
The role of facilitation is to make it easier for a group to effectively deliver these high quality interactions. The role is one of assistance and guidance, not control. The facilitator looks after the process and behaviours of the conversation while the group looks after the content of the conversation.

Facilitation is not

  • Teaching  - you are not teaching the group about meeting process, you are helping them to deliver results from a process or conversation 
  • Coaching - you do not coach them towards the right answer – you don’t know the right answer – they do! 
  •  Reviewing and assessing - you will not tell them at the end whether they conducted the meeting correctly or incorrectly – you make sure they do it effectively.
  • Team leadership - the team leader is always interested in the outcome, and cannot facilitate effectively. The facilitator is almost never the team leader.

Tasks of KM facilitation

Some of the KM processes require more active facilitation than others. Facilitating a Peer Assist, for example, is relatively light-touch, while facilitating a Retrospect requires much greater involvement from the facilitator. Some of the tasks in the latter case include
  • Asking the questions. An After Action review or Retrospect is all about questions - What happened? Why did it happen? How do we repeat or avoid this in future? These are open questions, and the facilitator's role is to make sure each one is asked, and each one is fully answered.
  • Ensuring equal input. "Susie, you have been quiet so far - what are your views on this?". "Mickey, thank you for that, now let's hear what some of the others think"
  • Identifying themes or common threads in a discussion “Many of us have identified planning as a problem in this project – I wonder if we need to have a short discussion on planning“ 
  • Clarifying confusing statements , or ask for more detail on lessons “Mr Lao, you said that it was important to plan properly – can you tell us what proper planning would look like?” 
  • Summarizing and organizing the ideas “If I can just summarize our discussion, we would suggest that in future, projects approach planning by ……….” 
  • Testing for agreement “Is that a fair summary of the discussion? What do you think?”

Gaining facilitation skills

There are many organisations (for example the International Association of Facilitators) that provide general training in meeting facilitation, and one of the first things a new KM team should do is attend such a course. 

They then need specialist training or coaching in KM facilitation, to perfect the specific skills of knowledge capture, of facilitating online communities of practice. The US Army, for example, provides extensive AAR training, and you can find many of their videos online.

Find yourself a good KM training company to give your team the core skills they need. Contact us if you need help.

This video is an interesting introduction to some of the internal Knowledge Management being applied
within Mercer; a multi-national HR organisation.

Kathy and Jen talk about their solution portfolio/solution communities of practice supporting the sales teams (using social tools),  and the Mercer Link Champion adoption program which creates local ambassadors. 


Monday, 21 July 2014

Example Knowledge Management role description

The Job by MichiganFirstCU on Flickr

Here is another example Knowledge Management role description

This is part of a series - we already have role descriptions from
Here is one more to add to the collection - a Sample Job Description & Specification From CILIP - which I would suggest serves to illustrate some of the role confusion that exists around KM.

CILIP is the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, and the role description below seems to extend beyond that of a Knowledge Manager, into that of an Information Manager and even Data Manager.

It is important to either keep these roles separate, or make clear that this is a combined Knowledge, Information and Data manager role.

I have therefore marked in bold all elements of the job description that we in Knoco believe is core to KM. Anything not boldened is Information Management, everything in italics is Data Management. See the original link for further material on Qualifications and Experiences.

Knowledge Manager Job Description 

Job Purpose
  • To take the lead in implementing the organisation’s Knowledge Management Strategy within the employed structure. 
  • To advise the CEO and the Directors on knowledge management and information systems 
  • To oversee the management of information within the organisation 
  • To ensure that the information needs of the organisation are met in a timely, effective and efficient manner. 

Key Roles
  • To lead, plan and support the implementation of the Knowledge Management Strategy. This will involve working closely with CEO and Directors to agree planning priorities and work plans
  • Managing the relationship with third party software providers of the website, extranet, membership database and online survey tool. 
  • Providing leadership for knowledge management and information to all employees 
  • To provide a strategic view on the further development of knowledge management systems and practices in order to support the work and development of the organisation into the future. 
  • To ensure that all systems supporting Knowledge Management work in an integrated fashion and are appropriately supported and developed to guarantee a high and continuing level of efficiency benefit to the organisation. 
  • To take the lead in encouraging employees to share knowledge, ensuring they are aware of the knowledge management resources available to support their work, are appropriately trained and are using the systems efficiently and productively. 
  • To take the lead on all database issues and development, in collaboration with the IT manager and membership services team, including: 
    • managing all interfaces to the database. 
    • a rolling programme of development to take advantage of new features available or to meet changing organisational requirements Sample Job Description & Specification Thanks to the organisations that have agreed to the use of their work. All rights reserved. 
    • managing software updates, 
    • co-ordinating the end of subscription year rollover process, 
    • managing user access, and data cleansing 
    • To ensure that the maximum amount of useful information is extracted from the organisation’s data systems through use of reporting tools, and acting as a single point of contact for all data requests. 
  • Monitor and share data illustrating the organisation’s progress in achieving its strategic objectives 
  • To manage, maintain and develop the extranet system, so that information and data is accessible to employees. 
  • To take the technical lead in relation to the organisation’s websites including project managing development work and correcting broken links. 
  • To undertake research on behalf of the organisation and disseminate the results to relevant parties 
  • To act as the organisation’s data protection officer by managing 
    • The organisation’s data protection policies, 
    • The organisation’s registration with the Information Commissioner, 
    • Data processor agreements with suppliers, 
    • Refresher and induction training for staff, 
    • The organisation’s response to data protection breaches, 
    • Ad hoc requests for data sharing advice, and data protection audits. 
  • To manage the organisation’s online survey tool, acting as a single point of contact for any issues, training users as required and assisting with survey design and the statistical analysis of results · 
  • To maintain effective surveillance of key websites and other sources of information to ensure that relevant material is extracted and disseminated in a succinct form to the CEO, Directors, Officers, Council and Board of Trustees. 

Friday, 18 July 2014

KM should focus on know-how

The Knowledge Management arena is a very confused place to be, and different people, different countries and different industries see Knowledge Management in a very different light.

Some people see Knowledge Management as a way to rebadge content management, and the management of documents.

Some see Knowledge Management as a new word for the Management of Information; for example you will see many companies whose definition of Knowledge Management is "getting the right information to the right people at the right time" - a definition already applied to Information Management.

Others (ourselves included) see Knowledge Management as something more - related to sharing of experiences and insights that give others a greater level of understanding in order that they can act more effectively and efficiently.

Part of the confusion between Knowledge Management and Information Management is almost certainly the lack, in the English language, of any distinction between Know-How, and Know-What. English is unusual in using the same word ("knowledge") for both of these forms of knowing. Other languages differentiate them - Savoir and Connaitre in French, Kennen and Wissen in Germany, Kunne and Vite in Norwegian. In the English language, however, Knowledge is a word that is lost in translation.

Two types of "knowledge"

The two types of Knowledge are very different, and have huge implications in KM terms. Know-what is about knowing facts, Know-how is about understanding actions and processes - understanding what to do with the facts.

Know-what is Information. Know-How often (or usually) isn't.

Most of the information in your organisation is "Know-what" - knowing what was done by someone at some time, or what numbers of X were sold, or what the population of Y was, or what someone wrote in an email.  The know-what is valuable, and good information management will make sure that the right information reaches the right people, but information without knowledge makes you better informed but none the wiser.

Knowledge management has always delivered its real value when applied to "Know-How" - to improving the competence of the organisation by giving people access to the know-how they need to make the correct decisions. If they know how to act, they will act correctly. Know-how management focuses on the exchange and re-use of experiences, guidance and insights; through communities of practice, lesson learning, the development of "best practice" knowledge assets, collective sense-making, and innovation, as well as the development of a culture of learning and sharing.

Through providing people with knowledge (know-how), we allow them to understand information (know-what) and make it actionable.

To derive maximum value from your Knowledge Management program, focus on Know-how.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Two alternatives for Knowledge Management Implementation

I was reflecting yesterday, at a workshop with a client, that there are two alternative directions you can take with your Knowledge Management implementation.

The first, which is a common but often unsuccessful approach, is to implement KM through completing and rolling out a Knowledge Management framework.

Here an organisation defines what framework elements Knowledge Management requires, develops these elements, and makes the framework available for the organisation to use. Perhaps they roll out a portal, or lesson-learning, or Yammer for example.

This can sometimes be a successful approach, depending on whether or not they are rolling out a complete framework. When they introduce only a few elements of the framework, this approach can be a disaster, as in the common but discredited "technology roll-out" strategy, which involves bringing in a new technology but without the associated KM processes, KM roles and KM governance. Without these other elements, technology fails to deliver value.

The second implementation approach, which is rarer but much more successful, is to implement KM through addressing a series of business problems.

I discussed the way Mars applied this approach, implementing KM at a rate of two business issues a year. In this approach, you look at specific business problems, and introduce the elements of the KM framework which will solve those problems.

Perhaps you have a business challenge which lots of people are addressing in parallel around the world, in which case a Community of Practice will be the solution. Perhaps you are starting a series of new projects and want to capitalise on the knowledge form each one, in which case a Lesson-learning approach will be the solution. Perhaps you want to standardise on a common "current best" approach, in which case you create and maintain a knowledge asset. Over time you build on these solutions, and within a few years your KM framework is complete.

The reason why the second approach is more successful, is that through this approach, KM rapidly develops a reputation as a successful problem-solving tool. Every implementation step is a solved problem. You quickly get buy-in both from the knowledge workers and from the management.

If you are in the early stages of KM implementation, wondering which approach to take, try the second - it is more likely to succeed in the long run. Contact us if you need more details.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Unlearning curve

We all know the concept of the learning curve – how an individual, team or organisation can improve performance over time through an accumulation of knowledge. 

You see this effect all over – in high jumps, frog rodeos, nuclear power plant construction and oilwell drilling – the more time you spend, the more you learn, and the better your performance.

Knowledge management helps the learning curve in two ways – its helps a single team learn more quickly and climb the learning curve faster, and it helps knowledge to be passed between people teams, so that the learning curve can extend beyond the activities of any one individual or project.

But what about the converse? What about the unlearning curve?

With individuals, if we don’t practice something, we forget. We get worse over time, not better.

As our memory fades, then we move from unconscious competence to unconscious incompetence, and we often get a shock when we try to reproduce previous skills and find that we have forgotten what we used to know.

Organisations have forgetting curves as well. What teams used to be able to do easily, now becomes impossible.

There are some very prominent examples of this; NASA “forgetting” how to design a Saturn Rocket, NNSA forgetting how to make a crucial component of Nuclear Warheads, Arup forgetting about the resonant periodicity of footbridges.

How do you avoid this kind of unlearning?

The answer seems to be to embed knowledge into designs, processes and procedures rather than relying on human memory, and to keep not only the design documents and procedural documents themselves, but also the thinking behind them.

There comes a time when knowledge needs to be written down, and written down carefully, before the unlearning curve kicks in.

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