Monday, 30 January 2023

3 problems with the simple "capture-led cycle" model for KM

There is a common diagram in use in the KM profession, which has at least 3 major flaws, so apply it with caution.

I am going to be contentious again in this (reprised) post, and draw attention to the failings of a very common KM model. I do this because I think we can do better, and because this model draws us into narrowed ways of thought that can cause us to miss opportunities.

This is a very common sort of picture in the KM world - a one-way learning loop with "knowledge capture" or "knowledge collection" as step 1 or step 2.  Here is a version I drew just for this blog post, but you can find many other examples.

Simple and seductive as this model is, there are three main flaws which you need to be aware of if the model is not to lead you astray.

Firstly, knowledge doesn't have to be captured, to be managed. 

Your cycle does not need to start with capture. Indeed, capture is not always possible. As Stephen Denning pointed out, there is some knowledge that can be collected or captured (he calls it precision knowledge) and some that cannot (he calls it intuitive knowledge). He concludes that "It is only in the area of precision knowledge that a knowledge collection (captured knowledge) will offer a clear guide to action".

Can you manage knowledge if it is not captured? Sure you can - you manage it through conversation - through arranging the right conversations between the right people;
  • conversation within the team, for example through after action reviews
  • conversation from on team to another, for example through peer assist or knowledge handover
  • conversation within a community of practice, for example through knowledge exchange
  • conversation from one person to another, through mentoring, coaching, knowledge interviewing
Now, in each case, there may be a case for capturing the knowledge as well, if there are other people who also need to learn, but the point is that capture is only an option, and that the capture is not the point - the point is transfer, and that person to person transfer through dialogue will be richer than capture, and will include the intuitive as well as the precision knowledge. 

Secondly the model is a one-way push model, with no room for Pull. 

The cycle starts with a piece of knowledge which needs to be captured. There is no indication in the loop that there is a need or a demand for that knowledge - only an arrow from "knowledge" to "capture". It does not start with the user in mind, but with the supplier in mind, and I think that's the wrong perspective. 

Knowledge management is not as simple as a one-way loop. There are two driving forces for knowledge, Push and Pull, and Pull is a stronger driver. Knowledge flows most easily when it answers a need, and knowledge flow is less like bottles moving along a conveyor belt than it is like electron holes moving through a transistor. The push loop above has no place for "knowledge seeking", for example, as this is a Pull activity and the arrow would go the other way.

Why not draw a pull loop, and see how that helps you?  It certainly gives you a different perspective.

Thirdly the model usually has no place for co-creation of knowledge.

It usually is seen as a transaction flow from knowledge creator to knowledge re-user, but we know that these flows are not simple, and that when they work well knowledge is not transferred like a unit - like a bolt in a piece of machinery - but changes its nature with every interaction. As people discuss what they have learned in a lesson capture meeting, they co-create the knowledge through conversation. As knowledge is stored in a wiki (for example), it is co-created through interactions in the wiki, as new insights are added and misconceptions removed. As knowledge is shared in a community of practice discussion, it changes again, growing and becoming more robust with each interaction. The knowledge user adds new knowledge to what they already know.

The dangers of this model

The model is not wrong, it is just only part of the story, and applies only in certain cases. It works for lesson-learning, for example, although lesson learning has way more steps than shown here, and lesson learning includes the missing co-creation step. For other elements of KM within your organisation - its insufficient and misleading.

The danger of seeing KM as a push-based flow of knowledge starting with capture was once again brought home to me recently, when talking with a young knowledge manager. Her approach to KM was to start with capture, and she was desperately trying to convince people in her organisation to submit "knowledge documents" to the knowledge base. She was failing, as people did not see the point. They did not believe in KM, they did not think publishing would have any effect, and they did not see "what's in it for me." Instead I suggested that she started to work on developing a demand for knowledge, and on setting up "knowledge conversations" such as after action review.

Monday, 23 January 2023

The 11 steps of the closed lesson-learning loop

A lesson, or a piece of knowledge, goes through eleven generic steps in its life cycle.

That's partly why lesson learning is not easy - the lifecycle of a lesson contains several steps if the learning loop is to be closed, and the lesson is to lead to embedded change and improved results. 

These eleven steps are listed below.

Step one, review of activity. 
The initial step in the lesson learned process is to review and restate the purpose and context of the activity being reviewed. Each lesson is learned in a specific context, and needs to be viewed in that context. For example the lessons learned from a project operating in a remote third-world location, where supply of spares and material is highly challenging, may learn different lessons from those in a project based in the commercial US. This activity review will look at context, objectives, and outcomes.

Step two, identification of learning points.
 By comparing outcomes against objectives and expectations, this step allows a number of learning points to be identified. The outputs of this step are observations that something has been unusually successful, or unexpectedly unsuccessful, and that a lesson needs to be identified. These Observations are the first stage in lesson identification and development - the egg from which a lesson may grow, if you like.

Step three, analysis of learning point. 
This takes the form of root cause analysis, seeking to find the root cause which created the result identified as an observation. There may of course be more than one root cause. Once the root cause is been identified, these are the “insights” of the Military lesson-learning quadrad of Observations/Insights/Lessons/Actions

 Step four, generalization and creation of learning advice. Once the root causes have been identified and the insights generated, the next stage is to discuss how the same operation or project, or future operations and projects, may avoid the root causes that caused cost or delay, or reproduce the root causes that led to success. The discussion leads to derivation of a lesson, which should be phrased in the form of advice or recommendations for the future. At this stage we have a “lesson identified” rather than a lesson learned.

Step five, identification of action. Once the lesson has been identified, the next question to address is how the learning may be embedded  by changes in the processes, procedures, standards, operating instructions, manuals, proposal decks, training and structures of the organization. In order for embedding to take place, somebody has to take an action to update the processes etc, and an action must be identified and assigned.
The 5 steps above are often conducted verbally within the project team, and mirror the 5 questions of the After Action review or Retrospect. In the steps below, the lesson leaves the team and starts to move out into the organisation.

Step six, lesson documentation. The lesson may be documented after the action has been discussed, or the lesson may be documented after step four, when it is still a “lesson identified”. In some cases, when the lessons are submitted by individuals, they document the lessons step by step, as they go through the thought process. In other cases, as discussed below, the lesson is first discussed and then later documented based on notes or records from the discussion. We can think of this as a "lesson documented". And to be honest, you can have a lesson learning system where this step is omitted, and all lessons are communicated verbally.

Step seven, lesson/action validation. Most lesson learning systems contain at least one validation step, where one or more people with authority examine the documented lesson and the assigned actions, to make sure that the lesson is valid and truly merits action and change, and that the proposed action is appropriate. Some regimes include a risk analysis, or a management of change analysis, on the actions proposed, if they are big enough. The deliverable from this step is a validated lesson/action

Step eight, lesson management. In many ways you can describe all of the steps listed here as “lesson management”, but in most of the organizations any oil and gas sector, a lessons management technology system (sometimes known as a lessons database) is brought in to ensure that lessons are “managed” by being routed to the people who most need to see them. This "routing of lessons" is crucial in a large organisation, to make sure the action-holders are notified of the lesson, and the action they need to take. The deliverable from this stage is a change request.

Step nine, take action. The action identified above, if valid, needs to be taken, and the change made. This is the most crucial step within the lesson learning system, because without change, no learning will have occurred. The deliverable from this step is Change.

 Step ten, lesson closure. Once the changes being made, the lessons can be completed, or closed. The lifecycle of that particular lesson is over, and it can be archived or deleted.

Step eleven, application of the updated knowledge.   Provided the lessons have been identified, provided an action has been taken to change and update processes, standards, training etc, and provided that people actually follow these procedures, then the lesson will lead to improved actions, improved decisions and improved results. The lesson learning loop is therefore closed
Steps 5 to 11 are concerned not so much with the identification of the lesson, but with the way in which it leads to the right change in the organisation, and improves future decisions. 
As this blog post shows, these ten steps can take place within a single project, across many projects, or across a whole organisation. However the ten steps are needed in each case.

Monday, 16 January 2023

Quantified KM Value story #144 - $1.4 million at Goodyear

 From a post on Linked-In, and with permission of the author, here is another quantified KM value story.

Jim Clarke,  Knowledge Management Project Leader at The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, posted the following on Jan 13, 2023

"My KM team has deployed a customized Rapid Learning Cycle (RLC) methodology based on the writings of Katherine Radeka. Our version of the method deployed within the Global Technology division at Goodyear involves the inclusion of the scientific method for prototype testing. We've documented reusable learnings for 26 technological innovation project cycles thus far, and we've measured $1.4 million in project cost avoidance. By December, the total project cost avoidance may exceed 10 million".

Thursday, 5 January 2023

11 common factors in best-in-class KM orgainisations

There are many things that the world leaders in KM have in common. Here are 11 of them.

1. A focus on driving their performance through knowledge. Whether this is Shell drilling wells fasterNASA cutting cycle timeSevern Trent improving their efficiency  - all successful KM companies link KM activity to improved performance.

2. A focus on know-how, and providing know-how to the decision makers at all levels. The leaders in KM know that the end goal of KM is providing knowledge to people who need it to make decisions. A prime example here is the US Army hurricane story, but we can see this same principle in all KM leaders.

3. A focus on seeking and asking. The learning maniac pledge at WD40 is a great example, as is Elon Musk's exhortation to ask at Tesla, and the Asian Development bank moving towards a knowledge demand model - leading KM organisations have a thirst for knowledge, and an expectation that people will seek for the knowledge that makes a difference.

4. An understanding of the value of their knowledge. Leading KM companies know how much (in rough terms) better management of knowledge means to them, and try to track the value through measuring the value of KM interactions like ConocoPhillips, or estimating the value of answered questions like Siemens. 

5. An understanding that knowledge is decentralised. Rather than centralising knowledge with experts or in centres of expertise, leading companies realise that knowledge is dispersed in the organisation and shared through communities of practice, as seen at Ericsson, World Vision, and Halliburton. Bringing together knowledge from many places yielded big benefits for Mars.

6. A complete framework for KM. Rather than just introducing one component of KM, Best in Class companies make sure they cover Roles, Processes, Technology and Governance. Bombardier is a great example,  with a framework of roles, processes, communities, technologies and governance.

7. A balance of connecting and collecting. Connect and Collect are the two main pathways for knowledge transfer, and all the leaders in the field run both pathways in parallel - CoPs and wikis at Shell, CoPs and Wikis at Pfizer, Knowledge Assets and communities at Samsung, Siemens and others. They realise that both pathways complement each other, and are not mutually exclusive alternatives.

8. Embedded roles. All the leaders ensure there are embedded roles for KM. McKinsey, for example, have 1800 knowledge professionals including knowledge owners, and the other big consultancies are amongst the world leaders in employing staff in knowledge roles together with the big technology firms like IBM and Hewlett Packard.

9. Embedded processes. KM processes are embedded in all the best-in-class KM companies. Processes such as After Action Review can be found in the oil majors, the emergency services and the military, while lesson learning processes and learning from experience has delivered value at Ford, the Canadian Air Force and Transport for London, and Peer Assist has be used to great effect at De Beers

10. Culture and behaviours, supported by governance. All the leaders recognise that culture is key, and address this through various governance processes such as the NASA KM policy, the knowledge policy for the Hong Kong Police, the Archimedes awards at Conoco, and the Oxfam "rights and responsibilities" charter

11. Enough technology, and the right technology. Each of the leaders has a technology set that does everything needed in KM terms without going over the top. This example from Schlumberger shows the ideal approach for KM technology, which is to select it based on need, and to eliminate any technology which will cause confusion.

Monday, 12 December 2022

10 reasons for your organisation to have a KM policy

What's the point of having a KM Policy? Here are 10 arguments in favour.

  1. There comes a time when a KM strategy has done its job, and that's when you need a KM policy.  Your Knowledge Management strategy is a strategy for change - a strategy for introducing the culture, behaviours and management framework for Knowledge Management. Once the change is complete, what replaces the strategy? The answer is a Knowledge Management Policy
  1. The KM policy is a statement of intent. It declares that the organisation believes KM is important, or important enough to have a policy in place. Conversely, if there is no policy, that declares that the organisation believes KM is not that important.
  1. The KM policy sets clear expectations and accountabilities for all staff. It is a statement of expectation and defines KM accountabilities for the organisation, identifying limits or boundaries on behaviours and actions related to knowledge.
  1. Creating a KM policy requires the support of senior management. The policy is a visible sign of senior management support, and indicates that senior managers want things done the right way in KM terms. The policy also requires you to work with senior management to define the expectations and statements, so drives you into deep engagement with leadership.
  1. The KM policy gives direction without being prescriptive. It sets boundaries within which people in the organisation can tailor their own KM approaches.
  1. The KM policy resolves tensions between opposing forces. Like the tension between open sharing of knowledge versus information security - the only way that will get resolved is through an overarching policy statement.
  1. The KM policy sets minimum standards for KM. This gives you a baseline to measure against, and a way to recognise those people who are not doing what they should in KM terms. 
  1. The KM policy helps develop the organisational culture, ensuring employees understand the role they will play in achieving strategic goals;
  1. A KM policy holds managers accountable.  Managers, as well as other staff, will be guided by the policy.  The policy defines how they will conduct themselves, how they will assign resources, reward and recognise, etc, and holds them accountable in a very transparent way.
  1. ISO 30401, the Management System Standard for KM, requires you to have a KM policy. ISO believe that an effective management system must be supported by a policy, for all the reasons given above, and that applies to KM just as it does to other management systems. Even if you have no interest in being certified against ISO 30401, 

Monday, 5 December 2022

Why it's important to communicate the value of knowledge

The most important thing you can do for KM within your company, is help people to understand the value of knowledge. 

I often say that "knowledge management is how people would manage their organisations if only they knew the value of their knowledge".  If they understood the unrealised value of the knowledge assets they already hold, they would willingly invest in delivering that value through better KM. And if they understood the value of the knowledge they risk losing, they would invest in retaining it.

If you know what something is worth, you know you need to look after it. If you don't know what its worth, you don't treat it with due care.

Organisations which apply knowledge management really well, report huge value. Mars, with their billion dollars of knowledge-enabled value, Texas Instruments with their "free fabrication plant" through KM, Shell with their $200m value per year.

The value is delivered through giving people access to better knowledge, so that they can make better decisions. Knowledge can be transferred from good performers to poor performers, or carried forward from one project to another, in order to improve business results. If you know the value, you can justify the investment.  Sometimes people estimate the value of KM by assuming how much time will be saved if people can find knowledge better, but this underestimates the value by a couple of orders of magnitude and therefore does not make the case for the sort of budget you need. Better to focus on the value of finding better knowledge, than on finding kn9owledge better.

In one drilling program, we anticipated that KM could save in the order of $100m (in the end, we saved $83m). So when management challenged investment in three full-time learning engineers, the KM team were able to justify this investment by pointing to the scale of the potential savings.

So an early exercise for you to undertake in your KM program is to estimate the "size of the prize" that KM could bring.
  • Can you estimate the current cost of lost knowledge?
  • What risks and costs would you face if critical knowledge were lost?
  • Can you look at performance across the organisation, and estimate the value of bringing all performance up to the standard of the best?
  • Can you calculate what it would be worth to accelerate your learning rates in new areas of business?
  • What are you spending on rework and duplicate work, dues to a lack of KM?
  • Look at some of our value stories. Do they provide analogues for you?
  • Can you use our Bird Island exercise to help people feel the value?

Once the senior decision makers understand the value that KM can bring, and the size of the potential prize, you will find it far easier to get their money and support!

Monday, 28 November 2022

Should you treat knowledge as a relay baton, or as a rugby ball?

Do you pass knowledge forward, as in a relay race, or do you pass it backward, as in a rugby match? 

 The metaphor of a relay race is often used in Knowledge Management. Knowledge is seen as a baton that is passed from a runner (project team), after they have finished their leg (project) to another runner (project team) that is just starting.

Knowledge transfer is serial - from one, then to the next, then to the next. This is what I refer to here as "serial transfer" of knowledge. This is supported well by techniques such as knowledge handover (which Pfizer called "baton passing" in a direct reference to the relay run).

Nonaka and Takeuchi contrast this with the Rugby metaphor, where the whole team runs forward, passing the ball from hand to hand between them. In Rugby the ball cannot be passed forward, and when one player meets an obstruction they seek to pass the ball to another player behind them who tries to find a way through.

By sharing small advances, the whole team moves forwards and eventually one player with the ball crosses the winning line.

In some ways this is a much better metaphor for knowledge transfer in many organisations, where the aim is to make progress on all fronts, and where knowledge is shared between the different divisions and the different teams like a rugby ball, where small gains in knowledge from one part of the business are combined with small gains from another part, so that everyone advances together, rather than in series.

This is particularly true in Pharma organisations or in research organisations, where few projects succeed in developing a new product and success comes from knowledge which passes through many hands and is accumulated through many projects. Rather than the knowledge being lost or archived when one project is closed, it is far better if the knowledge is passed on and "kept alive" - built up over time through the experience of many projects.

The ball in rugby is always passed backwards - from leader to follower - but the roles of leader and follower are always changing, depending on who made the breakthrough. In knowledge terms I referred to this as "synchronous transfer", and this is supported by communities of practicelessons learned systems,and knowledge exchange and by "learning while doing" rather than "learning after doing".

And who owns the knowledge, and who owns the win?

In the relay example, the knowledge is held by only one person at a time, who may be considered the "knowledge owner". But in the rugby example, everyone who touched the ball has a stake in the progress that is made, and has a hand in the eventual win. In rugby, the ball is a collective asset which every player takes care of on behalf of the whole team. 

Which is, of course, how it should be with knowledge in an organisation. Knowledge is a collective asset which every team and every knowledge worker takes care of on behalf of the whole organisation or whole community. 

If you are unfamiliar with rugby, see the masterclass demonstration below, which demonstrates the principle of passing the ball from hand to hand until the breakthrough is made (particularly clear in the overhead shot). The match was in 2002, England (in white) were playing Ireland (in green), and the ball was passed from player to player as each in turn met an obstacle, always passed backwards, involving almost the whole team, until finally the winning line was crossed.

If only we could do this in our organisations, with knowledge rather than with a rugby ball


Blog Archive