Monday, 21 May 2018

Becoming "One Organisation" - KM's role in integration of approaches

Many global organisations pass through a stage of global integration. Here is how KM helps.

image from wikimedia commons
Global organisations constantly draw a balance between global aspiration and local delivery. They need to balance agility and accountability in the local business units with the power and resources a global organisation can bring, and one of those resources is knowledge.

The managerial pendulum often swings between globalisation and localisation, and the swing to globalisation is often accompanied by the call to be "One Organisation". I have seen this at BP with "One BP", but also "One Rio Tinto", One BBC", "One Anglo-American" - and many others.  "One" can mean a uniform branding or a uniform strategy, but it can also mean "one way of working". And this is where KM comes in.

KM can help learn from different local approaches to operational activity, using a process such as Knowledge Exchange, and to come out with a global "current best approach" on which any future local variants can be based. The company experts and practitioners get together, compare approaches, share knowledge of how things are done in the different regions and why, and build a "best of the best". This then becomes the new standard way of working for the organisation, and the new baseline for continual improvement.


Immediately there is a step up in productivity and consistency. This is particularly important for global service companies, as their global clients now get a consistent standard of service worldwide.
This standardisation of approach is a Knowledge Management strategy, in that it results in pooling global knowledge into a "company best practice".

However as a long term approach, this "one way of working" faces several problems;

  • Best practice never stays Best for long. The "global way of working" is going to need to evolve over time if the company is to stay competitive. There needs to be a feedback and improvement mechanism, such as a lessons learned cycle.
  • This is a "central push" model for KM, where knowledge (the "standard way") is pushed out from the centre to the regions. However the regions are where The Way is applied, and unless knowledge comes back, and is shared between the regions, then that operational experience is lost. There needs to be an experience gathering approach, such as Knowledge Exchange.
  • All too often, the "global way of working" tells people what to do, but not how to do it, nor how to do it in the most effective way given the different operating contexts around the world. It provides the Standards and Rules, but not the tips and hints. The Tips and Hints come from the operators on the front line, and need to be shared with other operators. There needs to be a Community of Practice, allowing effective local application of the global ways.
In other words, a Knowledge Management Framework needs to be in place, supporting, refining and building upon the global ways of working. The first step of standardising needs to be followed by a second step of application and continuous improvement. Then the whole organisation, both global and local, form one learning organisation.

That way lies both local and global success.

Friday, 18 May 2018

The ISO KM standard - news and explanations

The ISO KM standard is due for publication in September. Here's the latest news, and what to expect when the standard is finally ready.


The international committee at work on the standard this week.
That's me on the far right. Photo by Avigdor Sharon 
This week, in Paris, the ISO working group finished work on the final draft of ISO Management Systems standard. Here are some facts about the standard,  a description of its development, and a discussion of some of the benefits.

First of all, some reassuring words about ISO standards in general and the KM standard in particular.

About the standard

The standard will not try to tell you how to do KM.  This would be crazy - every organisation has to do KM in a way that suits their purpose, objective and context. What the standard does is makes sure you have set up a good management system, to provide solid foundations on which to build your KM solution.


The standard is not just for big companies.  We have tried to make it flexible enough work for organisations of all types and of all sizes.

The standard will not require you to be externally audited.  It's primarily for your own guidance, with internal audit as a good practice if you so choose. Only a small proportion of the ISO standards are regularly audited  using external auditors, and 90% of audit work is against only 5 standards (9001, 14001, 18001, 27001, 45001); the other 22131 standards mostly never get audited. There would need to be a reason for external audit,for a KM standard and then a set of accredited auditors willing to do the work, and I can't see either of these being viable for KM, which is relatively niche when compared to topics such as health, safety and quality. The KM standard will be an aid for self-audit and self-examination rather than a requirement for accreditation.

The standard will not take ages to implement. There are 49 uses of the word "shall" in the standard, each of which marks a requirement, but many of those are sub-requirements to a larger requirement. There are maybe 25 or 30 things you need to be able to demonstrate in order to comply with the standard, and the chances are you do most or all of these already.

The standard does not mandate how you implement KM. Top-down, bottom-up, middle-in-out, guerrilla KM, agile KM, or KM as a change program - implement it as you see fit and at your own risk. The standard describes requirements for the final product, not how you get there.

The KM standard will look very much like other ISO standards. That's because all the ISO management systems standards use the same structure and much of the same text. You can see the mandatory generic text here. The introduction and annexes are unique to the KM standard, but these do not contain any requirements, but are instead explanatory.

The development of the standard

Work on the standard started in 2015 and was conducted by an international committee supported by mirror committees in the main involved countries. Several sessions through 2016 and 2017 created a  draft version of the standard, which was judged in late 2017 to be ready enough to open for public comment.  You can buy a copy of this draft standard here. It will cost you 58 Swiss francs.

The draft was made available for public review and comment over a 6 week period in Dec 2017 and Jan 2018. Hundreds of comments were received. The British site alone received about 350 comments - some of them one-liners pointing out spelling mistakes, others suggesting rewordings for entire sections. Many of the comments gave alternative views on the same points, and needed to be balanced and reconciled; others suggested alterations to the mandatory text which ISO requires to be used. The British working group went through each comment, identifying 270 suggestions to be referred on to the international committee.

This week the committee reviewed the referred comments from all 15 contributing countries - 420 comments in all - and discussed each one, making edits to the text as appropriate. We finished the job, and the standard now goes to ISO for proof-reading and for translation into French, German and Russian. We expect it to be ready for purchase in September, if all goes well.

You can "follow" the development of the standard here
You can read the draft introduction and see the draft table of contents here

Benefits of the standard.

I presented on the standard at KMUK this week, and in discussion afterwards we identified several benefits the standard will bring to knowledge managers:

  • It gives KM legitimacy as a profession. Several people said their management often look at KM as "not a real management discipline". Now it's real enough to have its own KM standard.
  • It gives the Knowledge Managers leverage in their organisation. You can say to your management "if we don't do X, Y and Z our KM won't be compliant with the ISO standard".
  • It can be used in bidding for work. If you are bidding based on your organisational expertise, it might be useful to say "Our KM approach is compliant with ISO standard 30401" (provided your internal audit shows this to be the case, of course).
  • And naturally it provides a benchmark for your KM management system; a yardstick for you to measure against, and a guide for those organisations who are newcomers to KM to stop them falling into the common pitfalls.




Thursday, 17 May 2018

How to embed knowledge activities into organizational process

Another post from the archives - this time on embedding knowledge activities into organisational process


Complex BPMN 2 process in ARIS Express One of the aims of Knowledge Management Implementation is to develop and embed a Knowledge Management Framework, including building KM activities into business process. I thought I would expand a little on how to do this.

Most large organisations have pretty well-defined business processes. These may include

  • Marketing process
  • Sales process
  • New Product Development process
  • Manufacturing process
  • Packaging/distribution process
  • Project management process
  • Service-call resolution process
and so on. These processes consist of a series of steps, often shown diagrammatically as a flow chart, like the example shown.

Embedding KM into these processes means putting Knowledge Management-specific steps into that flowchart.


  • You can start, by identifying where, within the business process, there is the greatest need for the team to acquire knowledge, and adding a "Knowledge Acquisition" step, such as Peer Assist, Lessons Review, Knowledge Site Visit, Collaborative work session, or a Knowledge Management Plan. There may be several such steps needed within the business process.



  • You can look at where,  within the business process, there is the greatest need for the team to create new knowledge, and add a "Knowledge Creation" step, such as Deep Dive, Think Tank, or Business Driven Action Learning.


  • Then you can look at where, within the business process, there is the greatest need for  the team to discuss and identify learning. These will be steps which follow points where the greatest knowledge has been created, or the greatest learning acquired, and where you need to add a "Knowledge Capture" step. Some of these will capture knowledge for re-use by the same team, and may include small scale After Action Reviews. Some will capture knowledge and lessons for other teams, and may include Retrospect. Some may  include hand-over of knowledge to later stages in the project or product life-cycle, and may include Baton Passing or Knowledge handover. There may be several such steps needed within the business process.

That is your starting point - looking at the flow of knowledge into and out of the process. You may eventually add other steps where needed.

The important thing is to 1) find knowledge management processes which work in your context, and 2) make sure those KM process appear, as little boxes, within the business process flow chart.

That way, they will be applied.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Knowledge Management in a big organisation - local or global?

"How can you implement a common approach to Knowledge Management, in a globally diverse company?


How much of  a Knowledge Management framework needs to be consistent around the globe, and how much can you vary on a local basis?

The answer is that you select certain global commonalities, but allow local expression of these. And the local expressions could be localised by geography or by corporate division.

There are several elements which need to be common, and applied globally.

  • Knowledge Management needs a common vision and a common definition (see blog post on example visions). That means that KM, across the whole global organisation, is trying to do the same thing.
  • Knowledge Management should employ a consistent approach to Communities of Practice. CoPs are  likely to be one of the elements that cross the corporate geographical and divisional boundaries, so a common and integrated CoP approach is important.
  • Knowledge Management should use a common global set of technologies wherever possible. One set of Community software, one Yellow Pages, one search engine, one Portal, one Lessons Management System, one email system, and so on. There may be technologies that apply to only one part of the business - CRM being used only by sales, and not by manufacturing, for example - but it should be applied globally to sales.
  • Knowledge Management should be approached in the same way by Leadership. This will be expressed in a common KM Policy, and reflected in leadership expectations.


The elements which need to differ from division to division, are as follows.

  • Embedding KM processes into business process. Each division will work with a different process. (Ideally processes should be harmonised globally within each division - if not, then this can be one of the early tasks that KM helps with). Therefore KM will need to be embedded differently, in different steps in the process, and sometimes using different processes. The Sales process and the Project Management process may be sufficiently different that each uses a partially different set of KM processes, embedding these processes in different places, but the principles of "Learn before, during and after" should still apply. Projects may "Learn before" by doing KM planning at the project start, while Production may do KM planning on an annual basis. Projects may "Learn After" through holding Retrospects, Sales through using Knowledge Exchange. The principles are the same, the local expressions of those principles are tailored to the business process.
  • Embedding roles into the organigram. Each division will have a different organigram, so KM roles (which will be needed in all divisions - roles for knowledge creation and use, roles for knowledge ownership, roles for KM support) will be placed in different spots on the organigram. If the Projects division has a Project Management Office, for example, this could be the ideal home for the KM support roles for projects - the facilitators, the trainers, the lessons management team. If the Marketing division has regional hubs, this could be the ideal place for the KM support roles for marketing. And so on. 

So the implementation of Knowledge Management is set on global principles, adapted to local settings - all part of the work of defining the Knowledge Management Framework and the Knowledge Management organisation

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

What happened when the Wright brothers stopped learning?

This is a story about the Winners' Curse - the observation that Leaders make poor Learners, often because they are unwilling to let go of the knowledge that made them leaders in the first place. The story is taken from the excellent book Profiles in Folly.



Wright Brothers Visitor CenterThe Wright brothers are not a couple that you would expect to encounter in a book about Folly. Their development of the first powered flight reads like a manual in Knowledge Management.

They created a Knowledge Management plan at the start of their "project", realising that there were three key areas of knowledge which they needed to develop before they could expect success - how to generate lift, how to power the aircraft, and how to control the flight. They conscientiously did their Learning Before Doing - Wilbur's letter to the Smithsonian reads like the letter of a Knowledge Manager
“I am an enthusiast, but not a crank in the sense that I have some pet theories as to the proper construction of a flying machine. I wish to avail myself of all that is already known and then if possible add my mite to help on the future worker who will attain final success.” Wilbur Wright
They did meticulous research into lift, building the worlds first wind tunnel in order to devise the optimum wing profile, thereby inventing the science of aeronautics. They transferred that research into the design of the power system and the propeller, realising that the propeller was just a wing, oriented sideways. Finally they addressed the "Breakthrough concept", solving the problem of controlled flight through a solution known as "Wing Warping", which they tested extensively on unpowered gliders. They had addressed the three key areas of knowledge, and their maiden flight was almost a formality (as Wilbur wrote at the time, "“There is now no question of final success”).

The rest is history. The first powered flight, the first patents on a viable flying machine, and a start at pole position in the aviation industry. Fame and fortune looked assured.

So where did it go wrong?


One key to the Wright brothers' initial success, and the one they were quickest to patent, had been Wing Warping - the use of levers, ropes and pulleys to twist and bend the wings in order to steer the plane. However steering an aeroplane by Wing Warping was very difficult to learn and very tricky to master, and it was far too easy to lose control. Already a better means of control was being investigated by other inventors - the use of wing ailerons; hinged flaps at the trailing edge of the wings as used in most planes today - but the Wright brothers held the patent to this idea.

According to the author of "Profiles in Folly" -
"The United States entered World War 1 with woefully obsolete aircraft. The Wrights stubbornly refused to abandon the wing-warping system, even after it repeatedly proved fatal. On September 17, 1908, Lt Thomas Selfridge became the first military pilot to die in a crash ..... more than 20 other aviators were killed in crashes almost certainly caused by a loss of control linked to wing warping.......Yet even after the Wrights clung to wing warping, even after they were manufacturing aircraft full-time through their own company, they stubbornly defended in court their patent right to the aileron system, discouraging others from using it for fear of suffering lawsuit. 
"The Wrights, who had made the greatest breakthrough in the development of aviation, then hobbled that development before finally abandoning the field altogether".
The Wright brothers suffered from winners curse. Having won the race, they clung to the knowledge they had developed, even as it became obsolete as better solutions were developed, and eventually sold their company and retired. First learner advantage only remains an advantage, if the learner continues to learn. If the leader doesn't continue to learn, they don't continue to lead.

(In a postscript, the author of Profiles in Folly points out that Wing Warping has returned as a viable technology in the 21st century (see for example the Active Aeroelastic Wing), but only because it relies on multiple servo motors controlled by advanced microprocessors, rather than Orville and Wilbur's pulleys and string.)

The lesson is; you may be ahead of the game, you may be winning the race, but unless you continue to be open to new ideas and to continula learning you will eventually be overtaken and will lose.


Search or Browse? Which is best?

Should you optimise your knowledge base for search or for browse? Answer to an online question.


I received the comment below on my blog post on "Knowledge documents vs project documents".

"I found this a helpful blog. I am working on the implementation of a matter management system within a large law department. One of the things I've been considering is the appropriateness of organizing documents within matters using a folder structure versus metadata and tags. 
"I have a hypothesis that it makes sense to use a folder structure to organize "project" or "matter" documents - because the folder structure operates as a story map, and helps people understand what is involved with the specific project/matter. Browsing for project documents seems intuitive. But it makes sense to use metadata to classify "knowledge" documents because users are likely going to want to find knowledge documents through "search" as opposed to browsing. 
"I'm interested in hearing reactions to that hypothesis."

Firstly I am pleased the blog post was helpful! Then I have two answers for you below.

This is the dilemma of optimising for search or for browse when it comes to maximising findability of knowledge and information. We assume "users are likely going to want to find knowledge documents through search" - but is that true?
  • This study found 14% of users start with search
  • This found less than 5%
  • This found that 59% of web visitors frequently use the internal search engine to navigate on a website and 15% would rather use the search function than the hierarchical menu. 
Some conclusions from these studies are as follows:

So the first part of the answer is this

You have to optimise for browsers. 

From the results above, browsers are the majority. Also search has its limitation: a lack of discovery. A user relies on search to find specific information he or she already knows or suspects to exist. Rarely does a user search for something he or she doesn't even know to search for. browsers see more and buy more - often things they did not know they wanted.

I like the idea of structuring your folders like a story map, or you could use the model of the knowledge supermarket (see my post on How a Knowledge Supermarket helps the knowledge customer to find what they need). Supermarkets are predicated on findability, and one of the reasons they put the bread and the wine at the back of the store is that it forces you to see more of the store, to browse, and ultimately to buy more.

Also, try to introduce a standard folder structure, so your lawyers can move from one matter to another and still find their files stored int eh same way.

However the second part of the answer is this

You have to optimise for searchers as well.

This means getting a good tagging system and a good metadata structure. Good metadata and a good folder structure are not mutually exclusive - you need both. Some people will browse and find more that they came for; some will search, and need to find exactly what they asked for.

Like so much in KM, this is not an "either-or", this is a "both-and".

Cater for the browsers and for the searchers, and you might just please all of the people all of the time.  

Monday, 14 May 2018

How to innovate

Innovation has a recipe. Here is how it works


It's tempting to think of innovation as a "flash of inspiration" - a blinding idea - a lightbulb going off.  However - counterintuitively - many of the most innovative and imaginative teams and companies use a structured and deliberate process to innovate; a process that starts not with an idea, but with a problem.

We can see this structure below in the clip from IDEO, which shows their innovation DeepDive process applied to the problem of innovating the humble Shopping Trolley.




Notice how they go through several deliberate steps in their Deep Dive - a process similar to our Business Driven Action Learning Innovation process. The steps are

1) Identification of the problem
2) Data gathering around the problem
3) Sharing and consolidation of the findings and re-definition of the problem
4) Idea creation and mock-up
5) Idea combination
6) Solution testing

Note how they spend the enitre first day just working on the problem, long before any ideas are generated.

The ground rules are interesting;
  • Stay focused on topic
  • One conversation at a time
  • Encourage wild ideas
  • Build on the ideas of others
  • Defer judgment

Note also the deliberate time pressure, and listen to the summary at the end.

Innovation has a recipe. It can be deliberate. It can be structured. Don't wait for inspiration to strike - go out there and hunt it down.

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