Saturday, 25 June 2016

Understanding decisions, understanding knowledge

“Decision making is a knowledge-intensive endeavour ... To understand decisions and decision making, we need to understand knowledge and knowledge management” 


(Holsapple, C. W. Decisions and Knowledge, Handbook on Decision Support Systems 1, International Handbook on Information Systems F. Burstein and C. W. Holsapple, eds., pp. 21-53: Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2008.)

Friday, 24 June 2016

Rationalising the KM programs

Applying the Lean approach to KM involves removing the waste from the knowledge flow. Sometimes this involves combining existing KM efforts.

Large organisations sometimes develop many parallel KM programs which have grown "bottom up" in different parts of the business.  Last week in KMUK Lutz Lemmer described just this situation in Transport for London. 

By rationalising and combining these disparate approaches into a single KM framework, TFL have been able not only to provide a simpler, unified and complete framework, they have been able to cut costs at the same time. 

This is a lesson for anyone introducing, re-introducing or rationalising KM in a large organisation.

Find out what's being done already in terms of KM, find the lisste bottom-up activities, the samll communities, the local KM sites, and then
  • Combine
  • Reduce
  • Simplify
Combine small efforts into larger systems to increase the power of the collective (as well as filling in the gaps),
Reduce waste, duplication and support resources, and the number of places people must go to to find knowledge,
Simplify the flow of knowledge.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

How scaleable are communities of practice ?

Communities of practice are seen almost as a silver bullet in KM terms - a must-have item.  But does the concept of communities scale to all organisations?


Communities of practice as a concept is 25 years old, going back to the original work of Etienne Wenger and Jean lave, who define communities of practice as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly".

The uniting force for the community is that "something they do" - an area of practice - and the focus of the community is "learning through regular interaction".  By learning in a community, community members can both use each other as a knowledge resource, and also co-create knowledge within the community. Communities of practice are as much knowledge-creating mechanisms as they are knowledge-sharing mechanisms.

There are two end-member approaches to Communities of Practice - large online communities, and small face-to-face communities.

The large online communities are immensely successful KM solutions for multinational organisations. The big consulting houses make extensive use of online CoPs, as do the big oil companiesand engineering houses. I have CoP success stories from  Siemens, Merck, Halliburton, Fluor, Caterpillar, Orange, Conoco and Shell.

These CoPs are largely focused on problem solving, and responding to reauests for help ad advice from members. They work through online discussion, often with the help of a facilitator or moderator.  The bigger the better, as far as these communities of practice are concerned, as shown in the graph below. Some of the most effective communities have thousands of members, and there is certainly an issue of critical mass. Communities need to have a "buzz" - they need regular, and to have regularity, they need mass. Online communities of practice which are too small are unable to sustain enough activity, and die. (see this blog post about how much buzz an online community needs)


At the other end of the scale are small communities of practice that meet face to face. The type example here is the tech clubs from Daimler Chrysler; small groups of tens of people that would meet once every two weeks to discuss technical issues and solve technical problems.  These online communities are often very valuable knowledge sharing mechanisms, but seldom grow beyond about 50 people. This is because discussion becomes difficult above 50, and because larger groups tend to meet less regularly and, again, that feeling of buzz dies away.


It is between these two end members that Communities of Practice get most awkward.


Firstly you cannot scale down an online community of practice far before you run into the issue of critical mass. This is what is behind the decreasing satisfaction in the column graph above. Most of the surveyed communities were online communities, or had some online component, and the smaller they are, the less effective they are deemed to be.

Secondly you cannot scale up face-to-face communities. Above 50 people, they cannot have a good discussion.  They start to fragment. The effectiveness of face to face communities would show the opposite trend to the column graph above.

There is an awkward zone for community size, where they are too large to meet face to face, and too small to be viable online. This zone is probably about 50 -  250 people, and this is a zone where considerable effort will be needed from the community facilitator.  You will either need smaller face to face groups within a larger online community, or you will need to amalgamate several of your awkward communities into one larger community with the requisite level of buzz.

Communities of practice is a great concept, but neither the face to face nor the virtual community solutions are fully scaleable, and they leave an awkward zone where neither solution works properly. Therefore think carefully when scaling a community solution. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Middle managers -the KM blockers

Middle management can form an almost impenetrable layer to knowledge management in many organisations.


The two main stakeholder groupings for KM are the senior managers and the knowledge workers. The value proposition for the senior managers is that KM will deliver greater efficiency, greater effectiveness, faster growth, bigger market share, faster time to market, and happier customers. The value proposition for the individual knowledge workers is that KM will provide then with easy access to reliable knowledge that will save them time, will reduce their risk of failure, and will make their results better.

However between these two groups lies a layer of middle management; the sales directors, the plant managers, the project managers etc.

These are the people who have tough choices to make. They have demanding customers, tight budgets, and tighter deadlines. Every penny they spend on KM is a penny less to spend on operational issues. KM, for them, is two steps away from operations (the first step is that operations reauires knowledge, the second is that knowledge requires management).

The result is that these are the poeple for whom KM is the toughest sell - the people who won't be swayed by high level arguments or appeals to emotion.

Here is what John Keeble, CKO at Enterprise Oil, had to say

"It is that bunch between (top management and the "coalface" that I think are almost the most important - the team leaders, the middle management. They are the people who are constantly trying to juggle this dilemma of too much to do and not enough people. So if you cant convince them of the value of knowledge management, its likely not to get the resources applied to it. So then you get the situation where in theory you have support from the top, and demand from the base, but that demand from the base is being frustrated by the fact that their managers aren't freeing them up to do it. And that can be a very negative cycle if you get trapped in it. Overall I think you have got to get support from all levels, but it is very easy to overlook that middle management level, and they are perhaps the most important"
We heard the same message from Lutz Lemmer at Transport for London last week, and have heard it from many many clients over the years.

Make sure your stakeholder management plan clearly addresses the middle managers as a core group, and that you have a well worked business case that addresses their concerns. Without this, they can derail the whole program.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Knowledge Management and Knowledge replication

Knowledge Management is a key tool for organisations that want to replicate their services in new markets. The Olympic Games can give them some pointers in how to do this. 

Knowledge Management in service of growth is a special case model for KM. In a growing organisation - one that wants to move into new markets, new cities and new countries - the core issue is being able to replicate past success somewhere new, rapidly and effectively. Replication of knowledge is part of the solution to this issue.

When I was working in BP in the 90s, we looked at this issue in the context of entering new countries.  Whenever the company wanted to open a country office somewhere new, the same generic set of actions was needed, albeit in a different cultural and legislative context. We introduced the idea of the "new country briefcase" - not a literal briefcase, but a collection of knowledge, good practice and advice that would give the new country manager and their team a head start.

The US Army have created a similar collection of knowledge for their company commanders, to give them guidance on their "first 100 days" in post in Afghanistan. Based on the universal lessons in combat survival in a counterinsurgency, and research collected by the Centre for Lessons Learned,  this handbook emphasises what experienced soldiers and leaders said are important in terms of training, skills, and knowledge.  Here the knowledge replication is from one group of soldiers to the next.

At KMUK last week we hard from Chris Payne of the Olympic games about a similar need for knowledge replication. Each Olympic games looks to reproduce the success of the games in a new cultural and legislative context, and each new host country seeks for the lessons that previous host countries have said are important in terms of training, skills, and knowledge

According to Chris, the new host countries have three sequential knowledge acquisition priorities:

  • Firstly they want to get data. Data on budgets, sizes of teams, plans for organisation, construction, broadcast and so on. 
  • Next they want to get knowledge about organisation structure. Chris described how organisation structure is not static during a Games, and the change from a function-based structure to a venue-based structure is one of the risk points that needs to be handled well.
  • Finally they want knowledge about the processes to use, and the best practices in these processes. 

These knowledge needs are met through a comprehensive program of conversation with previous host nations, secondment and shadowing for fist hand experience, and a set of guidance manuals.

If your organisation ever needs to replicate activity and success, then knowledge replication needs to be part of your Knowledge Management strategy

Monday, 20 June 2016

5 things I learned at KMUK

Wednesday and Thursday last week saw Knoco at the KMUK 2016 conference in London. Here are some reflections from the event.

At KMUK 2016, from left, Laura Brooke, Lutz Lemmer
Ian Rodwell, Steve Perry, Rupert Lescott, me.
Photo by Laura Brooke
These conferences - always very interesting, always very well organised - are an opportunity to take the pulse of KM in the UK. Thank you very much to Ark group, Laura Brooke, Ian Rodwell, Paul Corney and the conference speakers and delegates for a great event.

Here are some of my thoughts on the current state of the art of KM in the UK, based on the presentations and discussions at the conference.

There seemed to be four main themes within the bigger topic of KM: Communities of Practice, Lesson-learning, Knowledge Transfer, and Technology. Communities were prominent in the presentations from Steve Perry (E&Y), Monica Danese-Perrin (Lloyds), and Christine Astaniou (FCA). Lessons were prominent in the presentations from Lutz Lemmer (TFL), and Ian Tinsley and Rupert Lescott (British Army/Knoco). Chris Payne (Olympic Games) and John Hovell (BAE systems) talked in the context of Knowledge transfer from organisation to organisation, and from person to person.  The technology presentations included James Loft talking about Artifical Intelligence, Ben Gardener on Semantic methors, and Nathaniel Suda on SharePoint.


You can see, within these themes, varying approaches to the issues of Content and Conversation - the two subjects of KM. The demonstrated processes - John Hovell's knowledge transfer planning, and the perennial favourite, the Knowledge Cafe - were conversational processes. Many presenters discussed KM frameworks that covered both content and conversation (Chris Payne, Lutz Lemmer, Peter Brown from the English Institute of Sport). Others were firmly down the content end. David Smith from the civil service described the KIM professionals as being certified in content management (library) skills for example, while the technology presentations covered content only (unless you count voice interactions with AI as conversation, which in a way it is, but it certainly isn't dialogue).  One thing that surprised me is that the demonstrated conversational processes were seen by many as something new, which makes me concerned that we may have lost sight of some of the conversational basis of KM. Sharing knowledge through structured conversation is a bedrock of KM, not something new.


The term "communities of practice" was very widely used at the conference, but the nature and scale and method and purpose of the networking within these "communities" was radically different. At one end of the scale you have the E&Y tax community of 13,000 members, interacting remotely through a sophisticated online site, and at the other end of the scale you have the groups of 10 experts in the FCA coming together for face to face meetings on specific topics. I wonder whether we need to be more precise in our descriptions of different types of networks (see here for example) as to lump them all together as "CoPs" is to mask the differences.


The best examples of Knowledge Management presented at the event were related to the areas of clearest  knowledge need, such as the need to "learn before doing" when hosting an Olympic games (which Chris Payne described as the largest and most complex endeavour other than military conflict), or the need to upgrade the transport infrastructure of one of the worlds busiest cities (Lutz Lemmer), or the need to save lives in Afghanistan (Ian Tinsley and Rupert Lescott). In other areas, people are still trying to do KM by stealth, or KM with no budget, or KM by technology, or KM by little incremental changes; all of which are very risky approaches.


The big issues for discussion in the knowledge cafe were the same issues we have been discussing for years - the issues of KM Value, and of Culture Change, for example, have been constant recurring discussions for years. In these two cases in particular I believe we have enough knowledge and experience of KM to give definitive answers, which makes me wonder how we can get those definitive answers out there so that people no longer have to keep struggling with these issues every time there is a conference.


Friday, 17 June 2016

Genghis Khan - ace Knowledge Manager

Here is an interesting analysis of Genghis Khan, suggesting that an open approach to knowledge acquisition was the Mongol leader's key to success.

Genghis Khan, image from wikipedis(not a photograph)
The analysis is published in the Farnham Street blog, and is reproduced from the book "Ego is the enemy" by Ryan Holiday. Holiday's thesis is that great leaders do not achieve results through force and through the power of Ego (D Trump please take note), but through softer approaches including confidence, humility, hard work, and learning. 

Genghis Khan is one of his more unexpected examples. 

Genghis Khan, born in or around 1162, was the founder and Great Khan (Emperor) of the Mongol Empire, which became the largest contiguous empire in history. He has a reputation for brutality and genocide, but far less of a reputation for Knowledge Management. Ryan Holiday would like to redress this.

As he says:
Not only was Genghis Khan one of the greatest military minds who ever lived, he was a perpetual student, whose stunning victories were often the result of his ability to absorb the best technologies, practices, and innovations of each new culture his empire touched....  with each battle and enemy, [the mongol] culture learned and absorbed something new. 

Holiday gives the following examples of Genghis Khan's knowledge acquisition and integration program:

  • The concept of splitting his soldiers into groups of ten, taken from neighboring Turkic tribes
  • How to attack fortified cities through the use of siege engines, learned from Chinese engineers
  • How to hold territories through a hearts-and-minds campaign, learned from campaigns against the Jurched
  • How to build cannon, learned from an innovative combination of Chinese gunpowder, Muslim flamethrowers, and European metalwork

He describes how
"in every country or city he held, Khan would call for the smartest astrologers, scribes, doctors, thinkers, and advisers—anyone who could aid his troops and their efforts. His troops travelled with interrogators and translators for precisely this purpose"
As the Mongol empire grew, so Khan added to his knowledge, seeking out new ideas that he could put into practice. This openness to learning was one of the factors that enabled Khan's success.

I wonder, how open are today's business Khan's - the CEOs who take over other organisations in order to build their empires? Are they open to learning? Do they have teams of "interrogators and translators" (aka Knowledge Managers) to identify and capture the new knowledge they use in their own business purposes? Do they see each acquisition as a learning opportunity?

Or are they driven by their egos to conduct downsizing exercises (the business equivalent of massacre and genocide) with no thought to the knowledge that will be lost?

Let's not just learn from Genghis Khan; let's learn LIKE Genghis Khan.

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