Tuesday, 8 April 2014

This blog is on holiday

This blog is on holiday for a couple of weeks. Normal service will be resumed on return

Monday, 7 April 2014

How much difference does Knowledge make to performance? (the answer, up to 220%)

How much difference does knowledge make to performance?

We can give you this answer, based on the controlled experiment that we call "Bird Island".

The answer is
  • Your own team knowledge can make a 40% difference to performance
  • The knowledge of your current CoP can make an 80% difference to performance
  • The knowledge from "all time" can make a 220% difference to performance
Let me explain how this works, and where these numbers come from.

In the Bird Island exercise we ask the teams to build a tower, then we measure the height of their tower. We then hold an after action review (AAR) to discuss what they have learned about tower building, and after the AAR we ask them to estimate how much taller they can build, now they have knowledge and experience.

The graph to the right shows as histogram, or frequency plot, of the percentage increase they recognise. This is somewhere between 0% and 120%, with a mode of 40%. This represents the performance increase a team thinks they could gain, by learning only from themselves.

Then we hold peer assists, where the teams exchange knowledge with the other teams, rather like sharing in a Community of Practice. Now they are sharing knowledge, instead of just looking at their own learning. Then after the peer assist, we ask them to estimate how tall they could build the tower.

This next graph shows the percentage increase between the first tower and the post-peer assist estimate. Although the mode is still a 40% increase, the mean is now closer to an 80% increase. (The reason why the mode does not shift from 40%, is that the team with the highest tower rarely believes they gain any knowledge from the peer assist. So one team almost always does not improve their estimate. That's why the frequency distribution in this graph has more than one peak).

Finally we show the teams the current best practice, built from the experience of hundreds of teams over 14 years, and ask them to build the tower again. This gives them access to the current full state of knowledge about tower building, and really gives their performance a boost.

 The final graph shows the percentage increase between the first and second towers - between a state of no knowledge, and a state of full knowledge. The increase they achieve is now in the order of 220% - representing a trebling of height from the first tower to the second.

Bird Island is a test of the link between knowledge and performance in a controlled experimental environment, with a simple repeatable task, and with teams that come to the task with no knowledge.

Whether the same performance increases could be made at work, in a more complex environment, I don't know, and it is sometimes very difficult to measure. However we can certainly see a 67% increase in the speed to drill oil wells, and a 55% increase in the speed to build drilling platforms, so where performance improvements through controlled learning are measurable, they are large.

Therefore the answer has to be - Why not?

If KM materially impacts performance in the experimental setting why should it not do so in the real world?

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Excellence is not an act but a habit

Inspiration from Aristotle, by Kevin Krejci, on Flickr

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. --- Aristotle

Friday, 4 April 2014

Knowledge Management, the lazy way to work

Lazy Drinker by Saul Soto on Flickr
The quote about Knowledge Management being "the lazy way to work" came from a control room operative in a chemicals plant in the USA
As far as this guy was concerned, if a problem arose at work, he would turn to the KM system to find the answer. If the answer was not there, he would ask his CoP, or pick up a phone and speak to another operative in another factory, and find their way to fix the problem. As he said -

"The lazy person will find the easiest way to do something, and if someone somewhere else has found an easier way to do something, I am going to incorporate it into my job"

We so often fixate on KM as making people's job harder - of adding to the workload - and that may be because we start at the Supply end of the equation. We start by thinking about the effort required to capture knowledge, and we decide "this seems like a lot of effort".

But if you start from the Demand side of the equation, we see that KM may actually be the lazy way to work.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

How long should you have to keep selling KM?

Sold, by Sean MacEntee on Flickr
I met a company Knowledge Manager recently who had a Marketing-based KM strategy.

Although the KM initiative was over 10 years old, the focus of the KM team was on marketing and selling Knowledge Management within the organisation.  Through branding, through communications, through market research, they were marketing the application of KM in the operation units, and meeting with the operational managers one by one to make the sell.

It made me think, how long should you need to keep selling KM?

Are there any other management disciplines and initiatives that you need to sell in this way? And if so, for how long?

Do you still have to Market teamwork? Do you still have to Market Quality Management? Do you still have to Market Project Management?

If you still have to sell KM after more than 10 years, surely something is wrong?

In an ideal world, KM marketing comes in three stages, as part of your stages KM Implementation.

  • Stage 1 (and this comes after the Assessment and Strategy stages) - you market KM widely in the organisation in order to identify suitable pilot projects. You are marketing the benefits of KM in order to find managers who need it - who are prepared to work with you to apply KM to business problems in order to solve those problems.
  • Stage 2 - you market KM to senior managers.  You use the results from the pilot projects to broker a deal with the senior managers; that they set KM as a corporate expectation and in return you deliver business value through KM. If they are not convinced by the pilot results, find out what evidence would convince them, and go and get that evidence, until the senior management team "buys" KM on behalf of the organisation.
  • Stage 3 - as part of the roll-out campaign you need to raise awareness of KM in the operational units, and awareness of the fact that the senior management have now set KM as an expectation. By now the sell should be much easier. After stage 3, everyone knows that KM is now an expectation, so the selling can end and Support can begin.

For me, the big question when it comes to KM is "Who is the Buyer", and the big answer is "Senior Managers".

That's why Stage 2 above is so crucial. If you cannot get the Senior Management Team commitment to KM, then you are going to have to keep marketing at a lower level, trying to sell something that management don't fully support.

If they did fully support it, you would not have to keep marketing it.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

KM in the Golden Age of Navigation

Henry the Navigator at the helm

Uploaded by leoglenn_g on June 1, 2011
The golden age of Navigation was a golden age of knowledge management, and offers several lessons to KM today.

We are talking about Portugal, Spain and England in the 15th century, so what on earth has knowledge management got to do with it? Let me explain.

The 15th century Navigators were, absolutely literally, heading off into the unknown, and their lives, as well as their fortunes, were at risk. Knowledge - knowledge of existing discoveries, and where the unknowns still were - was vital to them, and knowledge was their main product on their return (well, knowledge, and shiploads of gold).

Part of the eminence of Portugal in the navigation race was down to the KM techniques of Henry the Navigator, Prince of Portugal. Henry allegedly created the Sagres School - the most advanced navigation study and research centre of the time, located in his own estate at Sagres - where he gathered state of the art knowledge on astronomy, cartography and navigation. This was the Knowledge Centre - the "Centre of Navigational Excellence". According to this site
"The school of navigation was like a magnet to the best brains in Europe concerned with the nautical sciences. Under Henry's patronage, a community of brilliant scholars came here to teach and to study, and accumulated and correlated nautical knowledge as it was brought back by captains of successive voyages to hitherto unknown places. The scholars in turn instructed less experienced captains about Atlantic currents and wind systems and the latest navigational methods. Cartography was refined with the use of newly devised instruments. Maps were regularly updated and extended. A revolutionary type of vessel, the caravel, was designed".
Before the captains set off on their journeys of discovery, they would visit the Sagres School, talk at length with the captains from previous voyages, study and copy the existing maps, train in the principles of navigation and map making, and read through the exploration journals from previous voyages (usually taking these journals with them, as reference). They would start with as full a cargo of knowledge as they could manage.

Then, as they explored, they would capture their own knowledge, in the form of their own journals, and (most important) their own, new, maps. Gradually, voyage by voyage, the white spaces on the maps were filled in, and taken back to the Sagres school to build up the body of knowledge of navigating the new world. This knowledge was a hugely competitive advantage for Portugal, and jealously guarded from Spain and from England - the main competitors for new territory.

So what can this teach the organisations of today? Are there relevant lessons that we can learn from the Navigators?

Yes there are. Wherever a project is exploring "unknown territory" they can follow the principles of Henry the Navigator.
  • Know the value of your knowledge. Knowledge of navigation, and of the coasts of Africa, was of huger competitive advantage in the 15th century, as it allowed Portugal access to resources that were inaccessible to her competitors. (Incidentally, I am not condoning the imperialism and slave trading that was associated with these voyages - I am merely pointing out the deliberate and highly effective management of knowledge for competitive advantage. I am sure today's competitive organisations are far more ethical, though perhaps not as consciously aware of the value of knowledge.)
  • Find the high level sponsor. The King would have been the ideal sponsor, the King's Son is pretty good as well. The sponsor had the vision to see what was needed, the resources to make the investment in knowledge, and the incentive to drive the knowledge forward (in this case, the incentive was becoming very rich).
  • Build the knowledge centre. Where you have competitive knowledge, it needs to be owned. Henry built the Sagres school to develop knowledge of navigation, and headed it himself (note however that there is some dispute among historians about this).
  • Learn Before. Ensure that people setting off on new projects or new activities visit the knowledge centre (whether this is real or virtual), talk at length with the managers of previous projects (peer assist), study and copy existing processes, read through the lessons from the past, train in the new technologies.
  • Learn during. Make sure project leaders make their own "map" of the project journey, filling in the unknowns, using techniques such as After Action review or project blogs to keep journals of the learning.
  • Learn After. Make sure that new knowledge is brought back to the organisation. Project managers should not just be delivering the project scope, they should be delivering knowledge as well. 
  • Update the Knowledge base. Extend the knowledge maps. Fill in the white spaces. Keep the knowledge safe. 

This is can be YOUR competitive advantage - your route to new resources.

Learn from the Navigators - the golden age of navigation was founded on a golden framework of Knowledge Management

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Trends in KM maturity - preliminary results from free online survey

Last week we released the 2014 Knoco Survey of Global KM Status (please take part!), and today I want to look at some results from an earlier survey, which demonstrate just how valuable it can be to collect such data.

The graph shown here represents some first pass results from our free online survey of KM maturity, which is a much smaller and less comprehensive survey, but which has been running for about a year.

Although the datasets are still small, there are some interesting results emerging.

The survey rates KM maturity against 10 elements, giving marks from 1 to 5. The 10 elements are
  • Learning Before
  • Learning During
  • Learning After
  • Communities of practice (CoPs)
  • Ownership of Knowledge (k ownership)
  • KM roles
  • KM technologies
  • Behaviour and culture
  • Governance
  • Business alignment
Here's what we see so far.
  • On aggregate, taking all responses (grey bar) the highest score is for Technology. Technology is not an issue for the majority of the people replying to the survey.
  • The second highest is culture and behaviours. Culture, long considered to be the biggest barrier, is not the major problem any more, according to the survey responses.
So if organisations have the technology, and they have the culture, what's holding them back?

Here are the top three culprits in reverse order.
3. A lack of KM Roles. And as we know, where roles are absent, KM becomes "nobody's job" (or it becomes "everyone job but nobody's responsibility").
2. A lack of business alignment. And as we know, if KM is not aligned with the business, it's a waste of time.
1. Far and away the lowest score of all the ten factors, a lack of Governance. And as we know, where there is no governance, nobody sees the point of KM.
The 7 countries shown on the graph are the 7 for which we have the most results, and their overall KM Maturity scores are in the following order, from highest to lowest. 
  • Belgium
  • Sweden
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • USA
  • UK
  • S Africa
All 7 countries see the same dip on the graph related to KM governance and business alignment, and USA, S Africa, Canada and Australia see a similar dip on KM roles.

With a little more data, we might be able to speculate on why we see some of these effects. For example, might there be a link between the strength of Individuality within country culture and an aversion to roles and governance?

That may well be the case - see the data below comparing the survey results with the Hofstede country scores for Individuality (I don't have Hofstede scores for South Africa and Canada). An increase in the Hofstede Individuality score seems to correlate with a decrease in the scores for KM roles and KM governance.

There therefore seems (with all the caveats about small datasets) to be a correlation between an individualistic culture, and poor maturity of KM roles and KM governance.

Hosftede Individuality score
Survey score for KM governance
Survey score for KM roles

We will learn more as we get more data, so please share your knowledge through the 

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