Friday, 6 December 2019

6 potential KM implementation approaches

There are a number of strategic approaches that you can apply when implementing Knowledge Management. All have their failings - we recommend a combination of two of them. 

There are many and varied ways to introduce KM to a company, and a lot of these fail. The main 6 strategies are listed below, with their arguments for and against; probably the worst approach (and one of the most commonly applied) is number 5.

Strategic Approach
What is it
Arguments for
Arguments against
  1. Grass-roots revolution (Guerilla strategy)
Knowledge Management starts low in the organisation, without management support An attractive concept; that people do KM because they recognise its importance.
Unlikely to work when KM is up against urgent work, and management deprioritise KM efforts. Multiple diverse KM approaches are likely to emerge. Often fails to reach the tipping point. Can be used to generate evidence to gain senior support in order to kick off a different strategic approach.
  1. Management directive (top down)
Management tell people to do Knowledge Management
Quick. May appeal to autocratic managers.
May create a “tick in the box” ethic. Multiple diverse KM approaches are likely as each unit guesses what the managers want. Will stop as soon as management changes.
  1. Opportunistic
KM is introduced by looking for business issues which the KM team will help address.
A low energy approach – go where the appeal is. KM focused on problem solving. This is a good approach to identifying KM Pilots (see approach 6).
KM team can be rapidly swamped with some KM activities, while other components of the KM system are not addressed. KM continues to be "done" by the KM team rather than being embedded in the business.
  1. Move the whole business at once
Design a KM framework and roll it out to the entire organisation
Fast. An approach often advocated by large consultancies.
There is no reliable “one size fits all” KM approach, and if you get it wrong you get it wrong for everyone. Risky one-shot approach, akin to the IT "Waterfall" methodology. 
  1. Modular roll out 
Roll out components of the framework one by one (eg CoPs, search engine, etc)
Allows testing of each component of the KM system
Individual KM components are unlikely to deliver value on their own. The organization will need to take the value proposition on faith until roll-out is complete. One exception here is communities of practice, which deliver enough value as a standalone component to be a good place to start. Starting with technology modules on the other hand is usually a recipe for failure.
  1. Trials and pilots

Pilot an entire (MVP) KM Framework  in one or more business areas. Review, improve, repeat.

Secure, robust, allows advancement by discrete steps and decisions. Akin to the IT "Agile" methodology. 
Slow. Management may become impatient. Risk of being scuppered by organisational changes, unless you deliver Opportunistic quick wins as well.

Our recommendation, for almost all clients, is a two-pronged strategy of piloting and trials, plus opportunistic quick wins (a combination of numbers 3 and 6).

For more guidance on KM strategy and implementation, contact us, or get my strategy book or implementation book.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Content and Conversation - equal and complementary focus areas for KM

I  blogged recently about Connect and Collect - the two parallel approaches to transfer of knowledge. Now let's look in more depth about the two modes by which knowledge is carried - Content and Conversation. 

During the Connect approach we facilitate the transfer of knowledge through Conversations, whether these are online conversations or face to face meetings.

During the Collect approach we facilitate the transfer of knowledge through captured and codified Content in the form of documents, files, text, pictures and video.
We also know that Conversations are a far richer medium than Content, potentially 14 times richer, though Content can reach far more people, and has a longer life-span than a conversation.

Any comprehensive Knowledge Management framework needs to enable, promote, facilitate and otherwise support both Conversation and Content.

Focusing on conversation and focusing on content are not alternative strategies, they are complementary and interlinked. Neither approach is sufficient on its own (although the content-only focus seems very common), and each relies on the other.

Managing conversation without content leaves no trace, other than in the minds of the people involved. That in itself is useful, and we know that most of the processes of Knowledge Management, such as Retrospect, After Action Review, Peer Assist and so on are valuable individual learning experiences. But managing conversation without content is not a valuable organisational learning experience. Unless new knowledge becomes embedded in process, or guidance, or recommendations, it is never truly "learned", and without this we find knowledge becomes relearned many times, with errors being repeated, wheels reinvented and so on.

Managing content without conversation leads KM towards the already established fields of Content Management and Information Management, and you could (as the author of the famous "Nonsense of Knowledge Management" did) challenge what KM adds over and above these other disciplines. A focus on content without conversation results in a focus on publishing; on creation of reports and files, blogs, wikis, as a proxy for the transfer of knowledge; on Push rather than Pull. But unless people can question and interrogate knowledge in order to internalise it, learning can be very ineffective, and this approach always seems to deteriorate into technology, search, and the perennially soon-to-be-delivered benefits of AI.

There is a saying in social media circles that "Conversation is King, Content is just something to talk about". Like any other dualism-based statement, this is wrong. Knowledge Management, as a field, is far more "both/and" than it is "either/or".

Content and Conversation are the King and Queen of Knowledge Management - they rule together.

  • Content is something to talk about
  • Conversation is where Content is born and where it is Tested.

As a Knowledge Manager, please focus equally on both, and please do not assume that all Conversation needs to be by written means. Face to Face is still the preferred transfer mechanism for high-context knowledge, and "getting people together to talk about what they know" is an amazingly effective tool within your Knowledge Management Framework.

Make sure you promote and support Conversation and Content as equal partners in your KM Framework. 

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

How to calculate the transmission efficiency of lessons learned

The lesson learning system should be a supply chain for new knowledge. But how do you calculate its effectiveness?

We can look at lesson learning as a supply chain; identifying new pieces of knowledge and supplying them to other knowledge workers so they can improve their work. If it works well, knowledge is gathered, accumulated, synthesised into guidance, and used to inform future operations.

But how well does this supply chain work, and how can you calculate its efficiency?

This is something I tried to measure recently with a client, using a survey.

I divided the lesson supply chain into three steps, shown below

  1. Capture and documentation of lessons from project experience;
  2. Update of guidance documents based on new lessons;
  3. Review of guidance documentation in future projects.
Now this particular client  did not have a clear supply chain for lessons, so many people accessed lessons through search.

I therefore asked survey respondents to estimate in what percentage of cases the following happened, giving them the options to selecting 0%, 20%, 40%, 60%, 80% and 100%. The average estimate from the survey responders is shown below.

  • Any given project documents lessons (46%)
  • Any given lesson is used to update guidance documents (32%)
  • Any given project makes use of guidance documents (43%)
  • Any given project seeks for documented lessons (44%)
  • Any given search finds useful lessons (36%)
We can then use these figures to estimate the effectiveness of lesson transmission, as shown in the diagram above, and described below.

The effectiveness of transmitting lesson through guidance is 46% (capture) x 32% (update) x 43% (review) = 6%.

The effectiveness of transmitting lesson through search is 46% (capture) x 44% (search) x 36% (find) = 7%.

These are pretty low figures! Even if both routes were independent and there was an overall success rate of 13%, that still means that 87% of project knowledge was never transmitted other than via human memory.

Let's compare that with an organisation that treats lessons seriously. The diagram and numbers below are not from a survey, but from published statistics in another organisation. This organisation does not require users to search for lessons, but has a well-resourced supply chain to embed lessons into procedures and guidance.

  • Any given project documents lessons (100% - lesson capture is mandatory part of every project, and supported by dedicated resources)
  • Any given lesson is used to update guidance documents (93% - this figure was tracked on a quarterly basis and the "closure rate" for lessons varied between 88% and 95%)
  • Any given project makes use of guidance documents (100% - all activity was directed by operational procedures which were reviewed and use to make the action plans)

The overall transmission efficiency is 93%

Please note that these figures only reflect the documentation of lessons and their transmission to future knowledge workers; they don't include the loss of knowledge in the documentation process, or the issues of transmission of understanding from writtenprocedires into the human braid - they only look at the effectiveness of the supply chain of written lessons.

This effectiveness can be measured, through surveys or through lesson tracking, and we can see that is can vary between very ineffective (as low as 6%) or extremely effective (as high as 93%).  If you are applying lessons learned, then aim for high effectiveness!

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

General ignorance and the risks of outdated knowledge

Knowledge that "everyone knows" but which is quite wrong, it termed "General ignorance" and is a dangerous component of KM. 

QI stage-set from wikimendia commons
There is a highly amusing TV quiz here in the UK, called QI. One section of the show is called "General Ignorance", and consists of asking apparently easy questions, with answers that "everyone knows", but in fact they know incorrectly. The audience has great fun watching the participants answer with obvious, but totally wrong, answers.

Typical General Ignorance questions are

  1. How long did the Hundred Years War last? (Answer, 116 years)
  2. Which country makes Panama hats? (Answer, Equador)
  3. From which animal do we get catgut? (Answer, horses, sheep or cows)
  4. Puffinus Puffinus is the scientific name of what bird? (Answer, the Manx Shearwater)

Beware of General Ignorance  

I wrote last week about the maturity trajectory of knowledge – how knowledge passes through stages of maturity; from discovery, to exploration, to consolidation, to embedding, to obsolescence and reinventing. An exciting new idea passes through the stages, to become established knowledge; something “everybody knows”. Everyone knows the earth is just one planet in a solar system, everyone knows how an internal combustion engine works, and everyone knows that you need to wear a hat in the winter, because you lose most of your heat through your head.

Except, in the last case, you don’t. You don’t lose any more heat through your head than you do through any other part of your body. That’s one of the things “everyone knows” wrongly. This is knowledge that is obsolete and needs to be rejected and reinvented. Knowledge has a half-life beyond which it is no longer true, and common knowledge which has exceeded its half life - is beyond its believe-by date - has become general ignorance.

In Knowledge Management, we need to beware of the things that “everyone knows”, and occasionally we need to challenge them. Maybe they are not correct, maybe they have exceeded their believe-by date, maybe the context has changed and the knowledge is out of date.

For example, everyone knows you put the milk in the cup before you add the tea, but people used to do this to sterilise the milk, and all our milk is pasteurized. Similarly someone told me recently that you mustn't pick blackberries near busy roads for fear of lead poisoning, but who uses leaded petrol nowadays?

The ISO Knowledge Management standard requires a competent KM system to pay attention to the life of knowledge, and to have an approach to handle outdated or invalid knowledge, in order to protect the organization from making mistakes or working inefficiently, as a result of using outdated knowledge.

Communities of practice, and practice owners, need to be vigilant for general ignorance, and be prepared to challenge perceived wisdom.  Just because "everyone knows" that (for example) that the Canary Islands are named after yellow birds, doesn't make it correct.

Be aware of the risks of general ignorance, and ensure your KM Framework deletes or archives all knowledge that has exceeded its believe-by date

Monday, 2 December 2019

A new way to differentiate Industry approaches to KM?

If you are interested in how different industries approach KM, here is a new way to differentiate them. 

Different industries tend to approach KM in different ways, or apply KM in "different flavours."  In September I posted a ternary plot, where different industries were plotted on their relative focus on Product Knowledge, Process Knowledge, or Customer Knowledge. Below is a similar plot, but looking at the preferred "default approach" to KM.

This plot is derived from answers to our KM surveys in 2014 and 2017, answered by more than 700 knowledge managers worldwide. One of the questions asked the respondents to list, in order of importance, a series of KM components (communities of practice, for example). In this plot we look at three components, 
  • Connecting people through communities of practice;
  • Learning from Experience;
  • Improved access to documents (including search and portals)
The plot maps out the percentage of companies from each industry which chose each one of these three as their top area of importance. Of course for many companies, all three were important, but for this plot, we look at which of these three components was chosen as MOST important.

A Ternary plot such as this one shows a choice between three components, measures on three axes (labelled in the plot above) and the closeness to each of the apices shows the proportion of companies in that industry which chose that KM approach as the most important of the three. For example, the data point on the far left, the "Legal" data point scores 
  • 71% on the axis "improved access to documents"
  • 26% on the axis "connecting people through communities", and
  • 3% on the axis "learning from experience"
This represents the views of the 35 survey respondents from the legal industry concerning which of these three was most important for KM. 

What is interesting about this plot, is that the points are well spread out, suggesting that this is a way to differentiate some of the industries. 

  • Legal, for example, sees access to documents as the most important of these 3 KM tasks. Finance/Insurance and Health are similar. 
  • Oil and Gas, on the other hand, sees a mix of communities of practice and learning from.experience as more important (only 15% of respondents voted for "improved access to documents").
  • IT/telecoms has the highest proportion of people preferring "connecting people through communities", perhaps related to their long history of online collaboration.
  • "Learning from Experience" gets its greatest attention from Aid/Development, Military/Emergency and Mining.
  • In the middle of the plot, where all three areas get equal votes, are Utilities, Construction, and Education/Training.

You can see the outworkings of these preferences in all sorts of things, such as the ways KM job descriptions are written, the skills from which KM teams recruit, and the preferred components of the KM Frameworks

What's the conclusion? I think that this plot may be an interesting way to differentiate different KM approaches, but perhaps the main conclusion is that id you are looking at analogue Km approaches to learn from; stick to a neighbouring industry. There would be no point in an oil and gas company applying a KM framework from Legal, or Legal applying a KM framework from IT, or IT applying a Framework from Mining. 

Understand how your industry approaches KM, and use that as your starting point. 

Friday, 29 November 2019

The 6 stages through which a knowledge topic matures

Business in a world of change is a learning race. The winner is the organisation that can develop and mature knowledge more quickly than the competition, bringing new and improved products and processes into the market first, and so gaining First Learner Advantage.

Therefore one way of viewing Knowledge Management is to see it as a strategic approach to maturing critical and competitive knowledge domains in the most rapid and effective way. 

In this view, Knowledge passes through a series of stages, as shown and described below, and the task of Knowledge Management in each stage is to move as effectively as possible to the next stage. As the knowledge domain matures, so the management approach for that knowledge evolves.

The stages are shown in the plot below.

Stage 0. Innovation, or Knowledge Creation.

This step is where ideas are made. Knowledge Management helps innovation by creating proactive processes for generating new ideas in the areas of greatest business need, often incorporating networked innovation (Deep Dive, for example). 

Stage 1. Research

Research is Idea Testing - moving from an Idea to Knowledge through practical experimentation. Knowledge Management helps here by introducing roles, processes, technologies and governance for capturing that first knowledge, as well as by capturing what did NOT work (and why), and also the most promising research leads that there was no time to explore. The knowledge evolves rapidly, through the use of blogs and wikis (see this example). Once the main theoretical problems are solved, the knowledge needs to be passed to the Development team, and also retained for future Research programs.

Stage 2. Knowledge Development

The development stage involves taking the best research ideas and testing them further to develop a viable process or product which can be rolled out in the business, or delivered to a customer. Knowledge Management helps here by introducing a framework for learning during development, both to make the development process more effective and efficient, and to ensure the "knowledge workstream" is well managed (i.e. the creation of knowledge for the benefit of the users further along the value chain).  The techniques of After Action review, Retrospect, and Knowledge Asset development are important here. Once the main practical problems are solved, the knowledge is passed to sales, manufacturing or operations. 

Stage 3. Establishment of Best Practice

Even when the process or product is in use, the knowledge can be further perfected. The organisation can still improve the process or product, and can learn to improve its application. Because the product or process is now in use in many locations, Knowledge Management helps by introducing a framework of knowledge sharing and re-use, so that people all over the organisation can learn together. The techniques of Communities of Practice, Lesson-Learning and development of Knowledge Bases become important. 

Stage 4. Standardisation

Once the knowledge has been perfected through use, the next step is to standardise the knowledge, as further experimentation would now be wasteful "reinvention of the wheel".  The knowledge becomes codified in manuals, reference materials and training. Knowledge Management helps now by ensuring these "knowledge assets" are well constructed and easy to find. 

Stage 5. Reinvention.

However no knowledge lives for ever. There are often cycles of reinvention, where old knowledge is replaced by new ideas, and the cycle begins again with Innovation. Knowledge Management should promote constant challenge of the status quo, to test whether there could be a better way to do things, and to decide whether the maturity cycle needs to be restarted.

The most successful organisations will be those who can run this maturity cycle at optimum speed, and so out-learn their competitors.  

Thursday, 28 November 2019

How should you arrange your knowledge store - by topic, by type, or by organisational unit?

How do you structure your knowledge store? There are 3 options, but one is far better than the other two in meeting the needs of the knowledge seeker. 

Image from
There are three ways to organise your knowledge store. You can organise it by operational units, so that each unit has control of their local knowledge.  That way you have a European Division knowledge base,  a Pittsburgh Plant portal, etc. Or you can organize it by the type of knowledge, so you have a website for lessons, another for videos, another for training material. Or you organise it by topic, so there is a store for knowledge about preventative maintenance, another for knowledge about project management, and so on.

I don't have any statistics to prove which of these works better, but for me it is option 3 every time. I always recommend storing knowledge based on the topic. The knowledge may come from many operational units, and it may be of many types; lessons, good practices, training materials etc, but it is all about the same knowledge topic or knowledge domain.

I recommend this approach for 6 main reasons;

 1. Part of the value of Knowledge Management is enabling knowledge to be shared across organisational units. Imagine a manufacturing function divided into regional units. What is the point of organising knowledge by the regional units? Teams within the regions have a closer working relationship already than teams in different units. Far more value is to be gained by exchanging knowledge between units but within the same function. 
2 . Organisational structure changes on a far more frequent basis than topics and subjects.  Maybe one day, instead of a functional organisation, the company reformats into a regional structure, and the manufacturing function becomes split between European manufacturing, US manufacturing etc. Should the old manufacturing knowledge base be divided up between the regions? No. Manufacturing remains a core knowledge topic, and the manufacturing knowledge base should remain, covering all regions. 
3. The real value of knowledge management comes when discussing know-how. A subject equates to a practice area, which equates to know-how. Hence the value of developing Communities of Practice, which create, share, apply and steward the development of practice know-how. Communities of Practice are a fundamental of KM; communities of organisational unit are not. The top level taxonomy of your knowledge base should equate to your CoP structure, which should equate to your list of strategic knowledge topics, and all the knowledge associated with that topic should be owned and managed by the community, in one single knowledge store. In our case above, the manufacturing community of practice manages the manufacturing knowledge base. 
4. Arranging the content by Subject will make it easier to demonstrate compliance with ISO 9001 
5. People seeking for knowledge on a topic will not necessarily know which organisational unit has sourced the knowledge, and will not necessarily care. So long as it helps with their manufacturing issues, they don't care where it comes from.
6. People seeking for knowledge on a topic don't really care which format it comes in - whether it is text, or pictures, or audio or video, or powerpoints, or lessons learned, or training material. To be honest, they want to find all the knowledge, no matter the format, and if its Multimedia - so much the better! They don't want to have to look for video in one place, powerpoints in another.
Imagine looking through a library reference section, where instead of organising the reference books by topic, they organised them by the author's home town! Anyone browsing a library for reference on a topic knows that this is the best way to organise; a section on gardening, one on cooking, one on sport. They organize the library for the knowledge-seeker, and you should do the same.

Having said that
 a) your knowledge base should be arranged by Subject but also tagged by operational unit (and by contributor) to allow search by whichever method is needed, 
 b) your larger knowledge management framework needs elements that apply within the organisational unit (AARs, KM plans, lessons capture, KM champions) and elements that apply across units (CoPs, Lesson-sharing, knowledge bases, SMEs, Practice Owners), so even though the knowledge store is organised by topic, there will be activities which are organised by unit
 c) there are organisations where the Subjects should be organised by Practice topics, others where the Subjects should be organised by Product topics, and some where the Subjects should be organised by Customer topics (see here). 

Arrange your knowledge store by topic, so the seeker can find all the knowledge on the topic in one place, regardless of origin or format.

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