Monday, 25 May 2015

Drucker on Knowledge and Data

Photo from Wikimedia

“Now that knowledge is taking the place of capital as the driving force in organizations worldwide, it is all too easy to confuse data with knowledge and information technology with information.”

 – Peter F. Drucker

Friday, 22 May 2015

Why the boffins can be the wrong knowledge providers

It is tempting to make the "boffins" (the deepest subject matter experts) a key part of the Knowledge Management chain. Sometimes this has to be approached with caution. 

We can view Knowledge Management as the mechanism or system by which we provide knowledge to the customer-facing or revenue-generating knowledge user (the vision of BP's CEO when he said that "anyone in the organization who is not directly accountable for making a profit should be involved in creating and distributing knowledge that the company can use to make a profit").

Often you find the deep technical experts are given a role in this "knowledge supply chain"; perhaps the knowledge owner role, collating and providing specialist knowledge for the front line knowledge workers.

I heard a story last week that suggested this may need to be done with caution.

In this particular organisation, they have a specialist unit providing advice in response to front line requests. However the feedback from the front line is that this advice is almost useless. Instead of simple practical advice, they get a long academic treatise saying "on the one hand this, but on the other hand that, and if we consider the work of professor X  ....". This treatise has been written by a "boffin" - an old slang term for a nerd, geek or egghead - someone who has a deep knowledge of their topic and a huge interest and affection for their topic, but does not always translate it into the simpler needs of the front line worker.  The front line worker therefore often ignores the advice, because it doesn't help them make their decision or take their action.

The knowledge supply chain has, ultimately, to inform the front line worker, in terms they can understand, of what their best courses of action may be. Knowledge has to be practical and actionable and usable, rather than theoretical and abstract.

When you design your Knowledge Management Framework, you need to ensure that the knowledge providers and knowledge owners are well versed in the context in which the knowledge will be used, so that they can translate it into pragmatic and actionable terms.

It is fantastic when the knowledge owner has a deep understanding of, and love for, their topic, but in the knowledge supply chain the knowledge product they create has to be fit for use by their customer, the knowledge worker. 

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The lean km supply chain

If we see KM as a supply chain, supplying knowledge to the knowledge worker in order that they can make the right business decision, then we can apply concepts such as lean to optimise that supply chain.

One of the principles of a lean supply chain is that every step is driven by Pull. Nothing moves along a step in the supply chain unless it is pulled by the need from the next step. This ensures that supply is always "just in time" and that there is no wasteful build-up of unwanted inventory.

Let's see how Pull can drive the steps in the Knowledge supply chain.

Knowledge transfer through conversation and discussion
Pull-based discussion includes online discussion driven by questions, and face to face discussion in Peer Assists. The questions of the knowledge workers are answered from the experience of their peers/

Knowledge documentation
Rather than wait for project teams and work groups to volunteer knowledge, the knowledge owners conduct interviews and hold facilitated retrospects to draw out their tacit knowledge. They focus particularly on knowledge of high importance to the organisation.

Synthesis of knowledge into a knowledge store or knowledge base
The knowledge owners and subject matter experts seek for new knowledge to incorporate into the knowledge base and to synthesise with existing knowledge. They may look in the community discussions and the lessons learned system for new knowledge, or may convene community meetings to discover and incorporate existing good practice. 

Review of documented knowledge
The knowledge workers use search to access relevant documented knowledge, or use a system where knowledge is presented automatically at each stage in a work process.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The dangers of knowledge oversupply

In a market where supply grossly exceeds demand, prices fall, and value is destroyed. This is an unhealthy market, and these conditions can apply to knowledge as well as to commodities.

A commodity where supply far exceeds demand is a devalued commodity. Maybe supply will stimulate some demand, but most of the time you just create an oversaturated market, and you end up dumping surplus stock at rock bottom prices.

We saw this in the European Union, where farmers were paid to produce more wine and butter than the market needed. To keep prices stable the EU had to stockpile the produce, these stockpiles being referred to as "butter mountains" and "wine lakes". This was not a sustainable solution.

On the other hand, what happens when demand exceeds supply? Prices rise, and the value of the commodity increases. A commodity where demand exceeds supply is a valued commodity. Almost always demand will create supply, and you will end up with a vibrant marketplace.

These situations apply to knowledge as well as commercial commodities. 

An oversupply of knowledge (full databases not being used, loads of stuff filed and not read, loads of blogs with no readers, "knowledge lakes" and "knowledge mountains") devalues knowledge. Its seen as "a waste of time to capture all this stuff". "Why bother? Nobody reads it". Knowledge sharing, without knowledge reuse, quickly becomes a low-value activity.

An overdemand for knowledge (lots of questions on community forums, lots of people searching for answers, lots of expert opinions being sought) may cause frustration if the sought knowledge is NOT found, but certainly raises the value of the knowledge which is unearthed. Initially the bulk of knowledge which is found is tacit (people find knowledge through asking people), but this level of demand will cause increasingly more knowledge to be documented. Once the expert has been asked the same question frequently enough, he/she starts an FAQ, and the supply of explicit knowledge starts to grow as well.

If you are creating a knowledge marketplace in your organisation where knowledge can be exchanged and re-used, beware of the Knowledge Oversupply trap.

It may be tempting to focus on knowledge capture and on knowledge sharing, and on creating knowledge bases with lots of content.  However unless there is an equal focus on knowledge seeking and knowledge re-use, you may just be dumping an oversupply onto an uninterested market, resulting in devaluation of the commodity.

Make sure supply is balanced with demand, and a call for "knowledge sharing" balanced with a call for "knowledge seeking".

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Pull or Push in CoPs, which works better?

Which works better in driving Community of Practice interaction - Pull or Push?

Community of practice interaction can be driven by pull or push - pull meaning interactions driven by knowledge seeking and by questions, push meaning interactions driven by publishing knowledge and posting articles and notifications.

Data from our 2014 global survey of knowledge management allows us to compare these two drivers, and to see which works better.

Those respondents who answered the section on communities of practice gave us two figures - a subjective assessment of community effectiveness (marked from 1 to 5), and an estimate of the percentage of community interactions driven by pull.

These two numbers are compared in the figure here.

The blue line shows the average community effectiveness for various ratios of pull to push. Effectiveness is lowest when pull is lowest (0% to 10%) and highest when pull represents between 51% and 70% of the interactions.

This effect is even more marked in larger CoPs of 1000 or more members (orange line), where satisfaction is highest when the pull ratio is greatest. In fact, only the large pull-driven communities of practice received an average "5 out of 5" effectiveness rating in the survey.

The conclusion is that your communities of practice should be driven more by pull than by push if they are to maximise effectiveness, especially the larger ones.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Steven Denning's KM principles

In this article from Forbes Magazine in 2012, Steven Denning, once head of KM at the World Bank, and one of the wiser writers on Knowledge Management, describes his ten principles for Knowledge Management.

These are as follows

  1. The amount of money that could be spent on accumulating knowledge is infinite: Knowledge is in principle limitless. 
  2. However Knowledge has no value per se: Knowledge acquires value from use. 
  3. Spending on knowledge has negative value if organization doesn’t use it. 
  4. Institutional knowledge may serve as blinders to effective action (he cites this example where gaining more documented knowledge sometimes hindered performance). 
  5. The most valuable knowledge increasingly lies outside the organization. 
  6. Knowledge can require deep expertise to access it: 
  7. The deep expertise needed to access knowledge can be lost: 
  8. The value of knowledge lies in improved outcomes for external customers or stakeholders. 
  9. What constitutes an improved outcome depends on the organization’s strategy.
  10. Outcomes need to be measured against the organizational strategy.

These principles are admirably focused on knowledge use, and the outcomes of knowledge use. This should be the focus for all KM programs. 

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