Friday, 27 November 2020

Great example of a Knowledge Asset - the "First 100 Days" handbook

 Here's a great example of a Knowledge Asset created to fill a critical knowledge need.

Sometimes a KM team needs to take the lead in creating (or facilitating the creation of) a knowledge asset to fill a knowledge need. This is an example from the US Army where this was done; the Handbook called "The First 100 days". 

The Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) is the Knowledge Management wing of the US Army, tasked with developing knowledge from operations and embedding it into guidance, training and doctrine. During the U.S.-led combat mission in Afghanistan from 2001 onwards, CALL recognised that the first 100 days of deployment were the most dangerous for soldiers and their leaders, and the time when they were most vulnerable. Knowledge of how to survive this time was held by the troops already on the ground, so CALL set out to make this knowledge available to those would would join them; creating the "First 100 days" handbook in 2008. 

The handbook describes the process as follows:

"CALL’s task was to get the Soldiers’ and leaders’ perspectives and insights from their first few months of combat and determine why they survived and what factors contributed most to their survival.  CALL wanted information straight from the Soldiers, in their own words. From that information, and with analysis and writing by subject matter experts, CALL developed the First 100 Days series of handbooks for Soldiers, small unit leaders, and commanders and staffs".
The series of handbooks were amalgamated into a single handbook which is now available here (and from many other sites).

The  handbook is structured around the main topics, and is written as concise advice, checklists and guidance. As the book says, soldiers should 

"Use this handbook to sharpen your focus (whether you are a leader, a Soldier, or a staff member) from pre-deployment through the initial 100-day period. Rather than telling you what to do, this handbook helps you assess a situation and identify ways to survive those first 100 days unscathed by combat and noncombat injuries or worse. Keep in mind that you and your unit may need to revisit the “100 Days” in part or in its entirety when shifting to a new operational area or with a change of mission.".

Lessons for the knowledge manager

Unless you are a soldier, this handbook is unlikely to be of much direct use to you, other than as a case study. However the principles are universal:

  1. Analyse your organisation to see where the main knowledge risks are, and the main "learning curves" for the individuals and the organisation.
  2. Discover where that knowledge currently resides.
  3. Facilitate the transfer of that knowledge. If the number of people involved is small, this can be done through face to face conversations. If there are a number of users, and there is a lot of knowledge to transfer (and if they will need to keep referring to it) then consider writing it down.
  4. If they will need the knowledge when out of reach of technology, then print it. If they will always be connected, then you can store it online, for example in a wiki (for constant update).


Thursday, 26 November 2020

Thought you might like to see this knowledge product

The video below is a product of the Olympic Games Knowledge Management program, as part of their methodology for transferring experience from one organising committee to another.

The 27-minute video is introduced here, and was created during the Rio Olympics to describe the work of press photographers at the Olympic games. It won the prestigious Candido Cannavo Award at the Milan Sport Film Festival 2018. That's pretty good for a KM product!

If you have 27 minutes to spare, it's a thrilling watch.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Why leaders have to let go of the need "always to have the answers"

If leaders are to empower their knowledge workers, they have to let go of "always having the answer"

Image from wikimedia commons

The book "It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy" tells how Captain Michael Abrashoff took command of the USS Benfold and turned it from being the worst performing ship in the fleet, to the best.

One key factor he mentions is familiar to all of those wishing to instil a Knowledge Management culture, and that is the willingness of leaders to let go of the "need to know all the answers", and to start to make use of the knowledge of the organisation.

 As Abrashoff says

"Officers are told to delegate authority and empower subordinates, but in reality they are expected never to utter the words “I don’t know.” So they are on constant alert, riding herd on every detail. In short, the system rewards micromanagement by superiors— at the cost of disempowering those below..... 
"I began with the idea that there is always a better way to do things, and that, contrary to tradition, the crew’s insights might be more profound than even the captain’s. Accordingly, we spent several months analyzing every process on the ship. I asked everyone, “Is there a better way to do what you do?” Time after time, the answer was yes, and many of the answers were revelations to me. 
"My second assumption was that the secret to lasting change is to implement processes that people will enjoy carrying out. To that end, I focused my leadership efforts on encouraging people not only to find better ways to do their jobs, but also to have fun as they did them". 
What Abrashoff discovered was the difference between managing knowledge workers, and managing manual labourers. Knowledge workers generally know more about their work than their boss does.  They use knowledge to make decisions and take actions on a daily basis, and they know what works and what doesn't. The manager's role is not to be the arbiter of those decisions, even less to be the decision maker, but to empower and enable the knowledge workers with the tools they need to get the right knowledge to make the right decision. Often the right response from the leader is "I don't know the answer - why don't you go find out what others do, and learn from them".

This empowerment, and this leadership move from being a Knower to being a Learner, are components of the culture shift that KM brings about, and which in turn liberates the knowledge, and also the performance, of the whole organisation. This cultural shift may be harder in some national cultures than others. However the message is clear - 

If you are managing knowledge workers, you need to let go of "always having the answers".

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Can there be such a thing as "too much collaboration"?

Collaboration is one of those words that is often taken as being overwhelmingly positive, and something everyone should do. But is it?

With the exception of France, where a "collaborateur" is still a dirty word, the concept of collaboration is usually seen as a very good thing. When people cooperate and collaborate across borders and organisational divisions, we expect good things to happen.

But as with most generalisations, this is only partially correct.

I have already reported how Haas and Hansen, in a study of a large services firm, identified cases where collaboration helps, and other cases where collaboration hinders success. Not all collaboration is good - some of it is a waste of time or creator of unneeded confusion. As this blog suggests - we need enough collaboration - neither too much nor too little, and collaboration may have become a fad.

Certainly one of the issues is the proliferation of communication channels, many of them real-time. A study quoted in the Chanty blog article suggests that the average worker uses 4.5 different tools to collaborate on project work, and a third of people answered that "everyone uses different tools". One of the tasks of the knowledge management team is to simplify and streamline the collaboration toolset to the bare minimum of channels. 

In a very interesting HBR article on collaboration overload  the authorship team of Rob Cross, Reb Rebele and Adam Grant point out that requests for collaboration are seldom evenly distributed, and often the collaborative load falls on relatively few employees. They say, for example, that up to a third of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees, and that these employees often feel overloaded, disengaged and disaffected as a result, and can become bottlenecks rather than enablers.

Cross et al suggest ways in which this issue can be addressed; once the overloaded collaborators are identified, you can either give them ways to filter out, or shut off, requests for help, you can use redesigned office space and/or collaboration tools to make collaboration less of a burden, you can spread the load, and you can look for ways to reward collaboration in the reauired areas.

There is another way as well.

  • 3% of the staff are in huge demand as collaboration agents, and
  • their collaboration efforts are adding value to others, and 
  • this value outweighs the value of their own work (which it may well might, but you need to check)
then give specific collaboration roles to this 3%. 

Roles such as Community of Practice Leader, CoP Facilitator, Knowledge Owner, Knowledge Manager, Knowledge Librarian - all of these can be excellent roles for the ace collaborators, which will fit and recognise their own drive to collaborate, make them happier and more fulfilled, and add value to the organisation as part of a Knowledge Management Framework

We should not assume that collaboration is always over and above your day job - collaboration can *be* the day job, provided it is focused, streamlined and facilitated.

Monday, 23 November 2020

Lessons learned in Emergencies

 In the video interview below with  Santhosh Shekar, my Australian colleague Ian Fry talks about lesson learning in the Australian emergency services, both on the recent Bush Fires, and also during the Covid pandemic. He also shares his thoughts on ISO 30401:2018; the ISO management systems standard for KM.

Friday, 20 November 2020

How the management of documented knowledge changes with KM maturity

 Improved access to documents is the second-most common strategic approach to KM. How is this improved access delivered?

A question in our 2017 and 2020 surveys asked respondents how explicit or documented knowledge is managed.  The question was phrased as follows:

Which of the following most closely represents the organisation's current approach to the management of "documented knowledge" (documents from which others can gain knowledge, and which are stored as part of the KM approach)? 

The following options were provided; 

  •  Documented knowledge is scattered across many document stores (eg stored by department, team, individual or project) 
  • Documented knowledge is collected in one or more knowledge-related document stores, without tagging. 
  • Documented knowledge is collected in one or more document stores, and tagged 
  •  In addition to document collection, the store of documents is Curated (filtered, rated, prioritised etc) 
  •  In addition to document collection, the knowledge within the documents is Synthesised (combined into new documents such as, guidance, best practices or wiki content)

The figure below shows the survey results, for respondents in 3 categories:

  • Those who said their KM program was "in the early stages"
  • Those who said their KM program was "well under way",
  • Those who said KM was "embedded in the way we work".

The plot shows three main things:

  • As KM progresses, it becomes far less common to see documented knowledge scattered across many document stores, or collected without tagging;
  • As KM progresses it becomes far more common to see documented knowledge being curated and/or synthesised;
  • Curation and Synthesis are still minority activities. 

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Revolutionising the productivity of the knowledge worker - 4, becoming lean and efficient

This week I have been blogging about the challenge of revolutionising the productivity of the knowledge worker; the challenge which Peter Drucker set for us.

The lean working environment for the manual
worker (image from
Does the working environment for the knowledge
worker look like this?
We have looked at the division of knowledge labour, the automation/augmentation of knowledge work, and the knowledge supply chain. Now we look at how to make the knowledge work-flow efficient.

When we look at how the productivity of the manual workers has been revolutionised, then the most recent advances come from lean production, lean working and the lean supply chain have all played their part. The Manufacturing Advisory Service (quoted here) claims a 25% increase in productivity through lean principles - a small increment compared to the difference made by division of labour, automation/augmentation and an effective supply chain, but still a significant factor in the continuous improvement of productivity. Lean is also a mindset - a relentless focus on adding value on behalf of the customer and removing waste effort and stock.

However a lean and efficient approach has not yet reached knowledge management. 

Certainly most organisations now apply a division of knowledge labour, all are applying automation/augmentation to knowledge work, and many have the concept of a knowledge supply chain, supplying knowledge (or insights, experiences etc) to the knowledge workers, at the time and place they need it, to the required standard and quality, in a deliberate and systematic manner.  

However our track record of delivering that knowledge in a lean and efficient way is poor, and there is little or no sign of a relentless focus on removing waste and adding value.  Metrics measure the completeness of the KM framework and its effectiveness, but rarely its efficiency. 

Knowledge bases are often full and clumsy to use, poorly structured and indexed, with duplicate, outdated or irrelevant material. Knowledge workers are often required to use multiple search engines or to visit multiple sites, social media streams are unfiltered and full of noise, knowledge is often synthesised, often unfindable, and usually is poorly tagged and labelled.

All of this makes knowledge seeking a massive chore, which it is easier to skip than undertake.

A lean approach to Knowledge Management would involve eliminating the 7 wastes, such as

  • Over-production of knowledge, which then becomes noise in the system
  • Waiting for knowledge, and a slow turnover speed of knowledge
  • Unnecessary hand-off of knowledge, with unnecessary steps in the chain between knowledge supplier and knowledge user  
  • Non-value added processing—doing more work than is necessary. We often see this in lesson-learning systems, where the work of sifting, sorting and synthesising multiple lessons or multiple search-hits has to be done by the knowledge user. 
  • Unnecessary "motion" - the need to visit multiple databases, multiple knowledge bases, a separate CoP system etc 
  • Excess knowledge inventory— frequently resulting from overproduction.
  • Defective knowledge.
Lean KM is the last of the four components to drive knowledge worker productivity. Together these 4 components can be revolutionary.

If we can have a lean and efficient knowledge supply chain, using automation and augmentation to deliver high quality knowledge to knowledge workers in a divided system of knowledge work, then we will approach Peter Drucker's initial vision of a 50-fold increase in productivity of the knowledge workers.

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