Friday, 30 January 2015

Whose knowledge is it anyway?

Who owns the knowledge in your head; you, or the company you work for?


Instinctively most of us assume that we own the knowledge in our heads. It's our head, so it's our knowledge. However there are arguments to the contrary.

Firstly, Knowledge Management teaches us that knowledge is a collective property.  Knowledge is distributed. What is in your head is only opinion, until it is validated through combination with the knowledge of others. In an organisational sense, knowledge is owned by the communities of practice.

Secondly the organisation has invested a lot of money in developing your knowledge. Through training, through on-the-job coaching, and through the provision of knowledge management frameworks, the organisation has supported and sponsored you in developing the knowledge in your head. They have a stake in it.

Thirdly you will have been working with confidential material for many years. Some of the codified, documented knowledge in your organisation will be confidential. Some will be secret. The same is true of some of the tacit knowledge, some of which you have have in your head. You cannot leave a company and immediately start to share confidential material just because you remember it. You cannot legally give away trade secrets, proprietary methodologies or confidential approaches.

Fourthly when a consultant works with a company, they sign clear agreements which define, as closely as possible what existing knowledge belongs to whom, and what must happen to new knowledge created during the consultancy. Generally the new knowledge remains with the company, not the consultant, and the consultant keeps what he/she brought to the party, and anything that was in the public domain.

There is some knowledge that you can take away, however.

The first is the knowledge that has become embedded and encoded in your muscle memory. Imagine you are a sports star and you transfer clubs. You are not allowed to give to the new club the details of your previous club's playbook, but you can take your skills with you, even though your previous club invested in your skills development.

Secondly you can take away your judgement. Judgement, aka wisdom, represents how you act on the knowledge you receive, and this is so innate to the way you operate, than it cannot be taken away.

Thirdly you take away your experience. This is the aggregate of all the work you have ever done, and represents the heuristics you apply to future work.

So who owns the knowledge?


I would suggest that the best approach for anyone working in an organisation is to treat the knowledge as something shared within the organisation, something that you do not own, but can contribute to and draw from.

Certainly do not hoard your knowledge - your hoard is trivially small compared the the sum total knowledge of the network. Share what you know openly, and openly benefit from the knowledge of others. Then when you move on, leave the details and the confidential material behind.








Thursday, 29 January 2015

Product Life-cycle Knowledge Management

Product life-cycle management (PLCM) is a well-established discipline. To support this, we are going to need Product life-cycle knowledge management. 


In industry, product lifecycle management is the process of managing the entire lifecycle of a product from inception, through engineering design and manufacture, to service and disposal of manufactured products.  Industry has already made big strides with using shared data systems to support the lifecycle of a product. Similar strides can be made in using Knowledge Management approaches.

PLCKM differs from standard practice-based KM.

  • Instead of Communities of Practice, we need to look at Communities of Product (or Product line, or product family). The Community members will cover the lifecycle of the product; from development through manufacturing through sales to service and maintenance,and back to redevelopment. 
  • Instead of Best Practice, we look at Best Design
  • Knowledge is passed along the value chain; downstream from development to manufacturing, from sales to service, and back upstream from service to development.
  • The key knowledge is mostly "Why" knowledge - why the product was designed the way it was, why design changes were made, why the marketing has taken the chosen approach, why failures happen in service, and so on. 
  • The taxonomy will not be a practice-based taxonomy, but will align with the product tree
  • Some of the KM processes will be different as well. Specifically the A3 report will replace the After Action Review.
For those of us who are working in a product-based organisation and who are looking to introduce KM into a PLCM structure, we need to be thinking in terms of Product Lifecycle Knowledge Management. 

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The wobbliest legs on the KM table

One of my most popular blog posts of 2014 was a post entitled "the 4 legs on the Knowledge Management table". Here I talked about the four enabling elements of the Knowledge Management Framework (and indeed of any management framework) - roles, processes, technology and governance - and suggested that these 4 should be treated with equal attention if your KM program is to be successful.

AS I say here;


  • If there are no roles and accountabilities, then Knowledge Management is nobody's job (or else, it's "everyone's job" which soon becomes "no-one's job") 
  • If there are no processes for KM, then nobody knows what to do, or how to do it. 
  • If there is no Technology for KM, then nobody has the tools, and KM can never extend beyond the immediate and local 
  • If there is no Governance, then nobody sees the point. KM remains an optional activity, and nobody has time for optional activity.

Over the years, we have seen that two of these "table legs" get far less attention than the other two, and that this is often a contributing factor to the challenges that KM programs face. I thought I would test this view by looking at the relevant "Google ranking" of these four elements, as a proxy measure of where the attention typically lies. The results are shown in the list below and the picture above, and you can test this for yourselves as well.

  • A search for "knowledge management process" gave 330,000 results
  • A search for "knowledge management technology" gave 264,000 results
  • A search for "knowledge management roles" gave 68,000 results
  • A search for "knowledge management governance" gave 34,700 results

If these are the 4 legs on the KM table, then in general, the longest leg is 10 times longer than the shortest leg.

That is one wobbly table!

Almost all the attention seems to be going on processes and technologies, and very little on roles and on governance. 

Knowledge Managers of the world - if your KM programs are going to be in balance, you need to address all 4 legs of the table, and the evidence is that this is not happening right now. Your processes and technologies may well be fine - you need to bring your roles and governance up to the same level.


Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Wolf of Knowledge Management Street - "sell me this pen"

The knowledge manager, seeking to lead the change to a Knowledge Management culture in their own organisation, needs to be a bit of a salesman/saleswoman.  And as a sales person, you need to learn how to sell. 


As a KM sales rep, you are asking people to pay attention to something (knowledge) which previously has been ignored. You are asking them to reprioritise, you are "selling" the need to do something different.

How then can we sell? What are the selling skills that a Knowledge manager needs?

The classic film "the Wolf of Wall Street" is all about selling. It tells the story of an unscrupulous stockbroker who makes a fortune in New York through a combination of outrageous selling techniques and fraud. One of the themes of the film is "sell me this pen".

In one scene the stockbroker is testing the selling skills of his team. "Sell me this pen" he says, handing them an ordinary ball-point.

One by one they make the same mistake. "This is a great pen" they say; "easy to use, convenient, cheap ....".   "I don't want it" he replies.

Eventually one of his friends gives the right answer. "Write your name down for me" he says. And of course, the stockbroker needs a pen to do this, and he has just given his pen away!  He needs to do something (write his name) but can't. The pen seller can satisfy the need, remove the "pain point".

What the friend had done, was to create the need for a pen. If someone does not think they need a pen, they are not in the market to buy one, no matter how much you talk it up. The same is true for Knowledge Management - if the person talking to you does not think they need Knowledge Management, they won't buy it, no mater how much you talk it up.

Taking it further


The "sell me this pen" question used to come up in interviews for sales staff in the 80s and 90s, and there are some sophisticated ways to answer this question. The text below comes from the Senator Club and is is a suggested "best way" to answer the question. This involves finding out how the customer uses the product, establishing the importance of the product, selling something wider than the product (such as status, or reassurance), and then asking for the buy.

CEO: Do me a favor, sell me this pen.
Salesperson: When was the last time you used a pen?
CEO: This morning.
Salesperson:  Do you remember what kind of pen that was?
CEO: No.
Salesperson:  Do you remember why you were using it to write?
CEO: Signing a few new customer contracts.
Salesperson: Well I’d say that’s the best use for a pen (we have a subtle laugh). Wouldn’t you say signing those new customer contracts is an important event for the business? (nods head) Then shouldn’t it be treated like one? 
What I mean by that is, here you are signing new customer contracts, an important and memorable event. All while using a very unmemorable pen. We grew up, our entire lives, using cheap BIC pens because they get the job done for grocery lists and directions. But we never gave it much thought to learn what’s best for more important events.  
This is the pen for more important events. This is the tool you use to get deals done. Think of it as a symbol for taking your company to the next level. Because when you begin using the right tool, you are in a more productive state of mind, and you begin to sign more new customer contracts.  
Actually. You know what? Just this week I shipped ten new boxes of these pens to Donald Trump's office. Unfortunately, this is my last pen today (reach across to hand pen back to CEO). So, I suggest you get this one.  
Try it out. If you’re not happy with it, I will personally come back next week to pick it up. And it won’t cost you a dime. What do you say? 

The Knowledge Management equivalent


So let's try the same conversation in KM terms, again finding out how the customers organisation uses the product (or uses Knowledge, in this case), establishing the importance of the knowledge, selling something wider than KM (such as success or reassurance), and then asking for the buy.

CEO: Sell knowledge management to me
Salesperson: When do your people use knowledge?
CEO: Every day, when making decisions.
Salesperson:  Tell me about some of the important decisions, where knowledge is critical
CEO: Umm, maybe the bidding process. We need to know how to craft a bid, how to price it, and how to set the margin so that we win the work and also bring is a good income stream.
Salesperson:  I can see that knowledge would be absolutely vital. If we had a situation where every bid team has complete access to the knowledge they needed, how much more business do you think we could win?
CEO: I don't know, but the next two bids are billion-dollar bids which are crucial to the company future.
Salesperson:  And how certain are you that your bidding group are currently handling this vital billion-dollar knowledge in a rigorous, systematic managed way?
CEO: To be honest, I could not tell you.
Salesperson: That bidding knowledge is potentially a billion dollar asset. If the bid teams have the knowledge, we win those bids. If they don't, we lose. And if something is as valuable as that, then as CEO you deserve to be reassured that this asset is being managed, because the future of the company may depend on it.  
There are things we can do to manage that knowledge better, and to make it available to key staff such as the bid teams, who make the decisions on which the future of the company depends. This is what we call Knowledge Management, and it is used by many of the Fortune 500s who need that reassurance that their critical knowledge is well managed. 
I am not asking you to buy Knowledge Management, I am asking you to try it out; perhaps in the bidding area, or perhaps another part of the business where knowledge is critical to success. If you’re not happy with it, then we progress no further. If it works, and helps deliver value, then we take it further. What do you say?

If you are a knowledge manager responsible for KM implementation, then learn how to sell. See if you can become the Wolf of KM Street!  Don't start by extolling the virtues of KM; start by finding how much your customer values knowledge, and then sell into that need.

Contact us if you need any help.

Monday, 26 January 2015

No-blame processes in KM

We hear a lot about the importance of a "no-blame culture" in Lesson-learning, but a no-blame culture won't work unless you have no-blame processes as well. 


Learning lessons in an organisation requires a culture of openness, so that people are willing to explore honestly and openly what happened, and what might be learned.  This is particularly important when learning from projects or incidents where things have gone wrong and where mistakes have been made.  If people feel they are likely to blamed for the mistakes, and that their career or reputation might suffer as a result, they are unlikely to discuss the issue openly.

When we discuss the topic of lesson-learning with clients, we often hear the concern that lesson-learning meetings could be seen as "witch-hunts" - in other words, a search for someone to blame. To reassure them, we talk them through the lesson-learning process we use; the Retrospect.

The Retrospect is an externally-facilitated team meeting, held after the end of a project or project stage, where the team identifies and analyses learning points through discussion and dialogue, in order to derive lessons and actions for the future. The facilitator leads an inclusive discussion to identify

  • What went well and what did not go to plan in the project
  • Why the successful elements succeeded, and why the failures and mistakes happened (looking for root cause)
  • How future projects can repeat the success and avoid the failure. 

The key questions are therefore What, Why and How; very open questions which allow full exploration of the lessons learned.

Note that there is no Who question. We do not really care who was the hero or who was the villain. This is a no-blame process, as well as a no-praise process. We are searching neither for Witches or for Knights; only for the truth.

An open, no-blame culture requires open no-blame processes such as the Retrospect.

Contact us for more details

Friday, 23 January 2015

KM processes and KM products - a video

Chase Palmeri of IFAD explains how, in the development community, it is the KM processes that add value, but management are more interested in the Knowledge Products.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Does social media stifle knowledge sharing?

Does social media drive a "spiral of silence" which can stifle proper debate?  It can, according to this link shared by David Gurteen, which itself points to this survey from Pew Research.


I think everyone would agree that for knowledge to be shared effectively in organisations, people need to feel free to enter online debates and feel free to disagree with the opinions of others. Knowledge often comes through comparing and challenging conflicting "truths" in order that new truths and new knowledge can be born.

However the nature of online social media is such that we often create our own silos, and when addressing potentially contentious topics, are unwilling to discuss ideas which the rest of the group does not share (a structure called "polarised crowds" by this article, which I also explore in this blog post on groupthink in social media).

The Pew Research survey explored the willingness to debate online by choosing a contentious topic (in this case the topic of government surveillance) and exploring how openly people would be willing to discuss this in various settings.

As shown below, social media are at the bottom of the list, and people are nearly 4 times less willing to share their thoughts openly online than they are round the dinner table.


The study suggests that

..social media did not provide new forums for those who might otherwise remain silent to express their opinions and debate issues. Further, if people thought their friends and followers in social media disagreed with them, they were less likely to say they would state their views ..

For those of us seeking to foster knowledge sharing within an organisation, this is very important research. If we do not address this tendency, our in-house social media will either create a new set of silos - silos divided by opinions rather than by geography or by organisational hierarchy (the "polarised crowds" mentioned above) - or people with contrary opinions will just drop out of the conversation.

I have seen this happen in the work setting, as in the example below.

A new community of practice for project managers was launched in an organisation. Over a couple of months, activity started to pick up nicely in the community forum, with many people asking questions and receiving answers. However when we followed up with the originators of the questions, we found an interesting pattern had developed. The first answer to the question set the tone, and from that point the only people contributing to the thread were those who agreed with the first answer. Anyone who disagreed found a private offline way to contact the questioner, such as a phone call or a personal email.

We were able over time to resolve this behaviour through strong facilitation, and the community now works well in publicly exploring multiple views on all topics.

The lessons to the Knowledge Manager are clear

 To start with, we cannot afford plural communities of practice covering the same topic. There needs to be one community covering each main work topic, not two or more polarised ones.

Then within each topic, disagreement needs to be sought and explored, in service of finding the truth. This is part of the role of the community facilitator - the role of allowing a diversity of opinion, and promoting and facilitating the dialogue that allows this diversity to be explored and resolved.

Finally, for the really contentious topics, you need a face to face discussion, such as a Knowledge Exchange.

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