Friday, 31 July 2015

KM quote day 5

We are shifting to a kowledge-based economy. Expect turbulence, surprises, chance. Thats what revolution brings.

Alvin Toffler

Thursday, 30 July 2015

KM quote day 4

Human beings have an infinite ability to create knowledge. Add the convenient fact that unlike conventional assets, knowledge grows when it is shared, and you have the most powerful features which will change how we manage in the Knowledge Era

Karl Eric Sveiby

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

KM quote of the day 3

“Sharing knowledge occurs when people are genuinely interested in helping one another develop new capacities for action; it is about creating learning processes.” 

 Peter Senge

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

KM quote of the day 2

“Knowledge management will never work until corporations realize it’s not about how you capture knowledge but how you create and leverage it.” 

 Etienne Wenger

Monday, 27 July 2015

KM quote of the day

“Knowledge management is something many companies are sure they need, if only they knew what it was.”

–Mary Lisbeth D’Amico

(I am in China this week and with limited access to the Internet, so I have a series of KM quotes for you rather than a set of thought pieces)

Friday, 24 July 2015

Revolutionising the performance of the knowledge worker.

Peter Drucker famously said that ‘‘to make knowledge work productive will be the great management task of this (20th) century, just as to make manual work productive was the great management task of the last century". To find out how we might do this, let's look at how the productivity of manual work was revolutionised.

The 50-fold productivity increase in manual work productivity that Drucker mentioned came through a number of factors

  1. The division of manual work into tasks, as in an assembly line process, and the recognition that the manual worker did not need to make everything. They would have their task, work on their component, and others would make the rest. As Wikipedia says, referring to Adam Smith's famous example of the pin factory - "Previously, in a society where production was dominated by handcrafted goods, one man would perform all the activities required during the production process, while Smith described how the work was divided into a set of simple tasks, which would be performed by specialized workers. The result of labor division in Smith’s example resulted in productivity increasing so that the same number of workers made 240 times as many pins as they had been producing before the introduction of labor division."

  2. The elimination of waste effort, so that the work is done the simplest way, the easiest way, the way that puts the least physical and mental strain on the operator, and the way that requires the least time. 

  3. Automation, so that machines can take much of the burden of labour that the human used to provide, and 

  4. A supply chain for component parts, so that the worker, when they need a part, find it immediately to hand and do not need to go out and find it, or buy it, or make it. 

So how can we make similar productivity improvements for the knowledge worker?

We can do improve the productivity of knowledge work in much the same way. 

  1. Much as a manual worker no longer needs to do everything or make everything, a knowledge worker no longer needs to know everything. Some knowledge they keep in their heads, the remainder is made available to them through the knowledge management framework. So a knowledge worker, facing an unfamiliar task, no longer has to think "how should I address this task" and find out by trial and (costly) error, but can ask "how do others address this task" (or, even better, "what have we found is the most effective way to address this task").  In the assembly line, the manual effort is shared between many to make every product. In knowledge management, the learning and experience is shared between many to make every decision.

  2. The elimination of waste learning effort. It should be very easy for the knowledge worker to find the knowledge they need. They should not have to search a repository of jumbled documents, or trawl through a crowded twitter stream, or ask their manager, who asks his manager, who asks her manager ..... The intellectual work of sifting and synthesising knowledge should already have been done. 

  3. This includes the automation of much of the knowledge-finding, through powerful search and indexing, through provision of one knowledge base and not many, and through the ability to ask a network rather than asking individuals. 

  4. Finally knowledge management should provide the supply chain for the knowledge worker, and should be a lean and efficient system for delivering valuable actionable knowledge to the point and time of need. When the knowledge worker needs an answer or a process to follow,  they should find it immediately to hand and not need to go out and search laboriously for it, or make it up, or learn it the hard way.

It is through effective KM approaches such as this that we can approach Drucker's vision of increasing the productivity of the knowledge worker fifty-fold.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

When is an AAR not an AAR?

After Action review is a mainstay process in Knowledge Management, but it is also a tool that has caused much confusion. Here's why.

After Action review is a Knowledge Management process for discussing what has been learned from team or group activity.  Through facilitated dialogue, team members become aware of what they personally have learned, make sense of it collectively as a team, and draw out conclusions, lessons and action points to improve future performance.

AAR was developed in the Military in the 70s and 80s, applied in industry in the early 90s, and is well documented described in articles such as this one.  Everyone knows about it, and everyone knows that it is based on five questions -

  1. "What was supposed to happen'?" 
  2. "What actually happened?"
  3. "Why was there a difference?"
  4. "What have we learned?"
  5. "What will we do about it?"

I have visited many many organisations who have these five questions printed into little booklets for team use.

However, the term "After Action Review" is actually used in the military in two contexts;

  • There are the Informal After Action reviews, which use the 5 questions, and which review an event or a training day and involve a few people - say 5 to 20
  • Then there are the formal After Action reviews which are normally conducted at company level and above. An example is the 3-day conference on Bosnia-Herzegovina, the report from which you can find here, or the photo above. The formal AAR involves dozens of people, can last days, and is a very structured process.

The key point is you cannot run a big, formal review of something as complex as the Bosnia-Herzegovina by asking 5 questions. You need an altogether more comprehensive structure

The confusion therefore comes when an organisation adopts the principle of "learning from activity", reads about After Action reviews, picks up the "5 question" technique from the literature, and then tries to apply it to major projects.

This just doesn't work.

In Knoco, we try to clarify the situation by giving the two scales of review two different names - a practice common in the Oil and Gas sector.

We use the term After Action Review (AAR) for a short focused meeting, conducted by the team, for the team, lasting half an hour or an hour. These short AARs allow to you capture useful operational knowledge which is of immediate short term benefit, and which can be ploughed back into the next shift, or the next day's operation. This allows you to make course corrections during activity based on what you learn, address and optimise the way you work as a team, and begin to build your collective operational knowledge.  They involve the 5 questions listed above. 
We use the term Retrospect to describe a face-to-face meetings to review a project. The duration varies depending on number of people and the duration and complexity of the project. They can last from half a day to many days (one major multi-billion-dollar project we supported involved a total of 20 days of Retrospects).  The Retrospect contains a more comprehensive review of the project activity, work streams and outcomes, and the identification and prioritisation of learning points. The review of each individual learning points involves something similar to the 5 questions, but there may be 20 or more learning points discussed within a single retrospect.

By giving the two scales of event two different names, we hope to avoid the confusion that comes from applying processes which are inappropriate to the scale of the event.

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