Friday, 30 September 2016

How an industry manages its knowledge - the IAEA KM school

It is not often you see a whole industry uniting around Knowledge Management. Here is a story from the Nuclear sector.

As I describe here, KM in the Nuclear industry is a bit different.

For a start, in the Nuclear sector KM is a shared priority. Every Nuclear orgnization in the world understands that knowledge is of value, which is why we see the KM program within the International Atomic Energy, and the tremendous cross-organisational knowledge resources which it coordinates, such as the NKM Wiki.

However KM is not just about shared online resources, it is also about the KM roles and skills in the organisations.  That is why the IAEA sponsors an annual Nuclear Knowledge Management school, and the twelfth school has just completed in Trieste, Italy, as described here.   Attendees were new graduates and young professionals from many different types of organizations including nuclear power plants, regulatory bodies, universities, and even nuclear medicine departments in hospitals.

As the article describes:

The NKM School is delivered using a modality known as 'blended learning': a pre-training course must be completed several months in advance through the IAEA e-learning platform. The online pre-training ensures that the applicants develop a common understanding of the basics of nuclear knowledge management beforehand. This enables them to participate more actively in the face-to-face part of the course.  
In order to reinforce the knowledge acquired through the lectures, exercises, and practical examples, the students work together during the week to complete a final group project, which is presented and evaluated during the last day. 
However learning is not all about classroom training - much of it comes through networking, and the school also allows the participants to form strong networks, which will be an important source of knowledge and support for young professionals tackling the implementation of their first knowledge management projects.

One of the interesting aspects of this latest school was that it got very close to gender parity, even through Nuclear engineering is traditionally seen as a male-dominated area.

 The 2016 edition of the NKM School had a remarkable characteristic: 46% of the selected participants were women. This is the highest level of female participation in the history of the school. Achieving near gender parity is worth mentioning in the nuclear field, even bearing the school's conscious selection criteria in mind, which takes into consideration gender balance and the added value of cultural diversity.

If you are not in the Nuclear Industry, but feel such training would be of value to you, consider my open KM training course in London in November.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Better Ideas through Failure

 Here is a really interesting article from the Wall Street Journal entitled Better Ideas Through Failure

The article is about how leaders can remove fear of failure in order to encourage bolder innovation.

The article explains  as follows:

"Failure, and how companies deal with failure, is a very big part of innovation," says Judy Estrin of Menlo Park, Calif., a founder of seven high-tech companies and author of a book on innovation. Failures caused by sloppiness or laziness are bad. But "if employees try something that was worth trying and fail, and if they are open about it, and if they learn from that failure, that is a good thing."
Leaders can take many approaches to removing the fear of failure. Mr. Myhren of Grey Grey Group, New York, started handing out the "Heroic Failure" award because he was worried that fast growth at the agency, was making employees "a little more conservative, maybe a little slower." The award is for "The award is for ideas that are "edgier or riskier, or new and totally unproven,"

Michael Alter offers "Best New Mistake" awards at SurePayroll, a payroll-services company in Glenview, Ill. Only people who are trying to do a good job, make a mistake and learn from it are eligible for the $400 annual cash award.  Mr. Alter describes the fallout as "paying tuition. As opposed to saying, 'You screwed up,' or, 'You messed up,' we say, 'Let's talk about what we learned.' That drives a lot of innovation," he says.

Gary Shapiro, CEO of Consumer Electronics Association, tries to make it safe to fail by talking openly about screw-ups. In his eight-page manifesto called "Gary's Guidelines, he points out that "Mistakes are OK; hiding them is not."

The interesting thing here is that all these people are not rewarding mistakes, they are rewarding risk-taking and learning. It is not failure that is being celebrated, but the courage to take risks and to learn from failure.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Trust in large communities of practice

How can you develop trust within a group of people who have never met each other?

It is a well-established dictum that "trust is required for knowledge sharing and re-use". In other words, people will share what they know, and act of the knowledge of others, if they know them, if they have a social relationship with them, and if they trust them.

There is another rule of thumb - that it is difficult to form trusting social relationships in groups of more than 150 (Dunbar's number). This seems to be the average size of tribes, military fighting units, and (according to some sources) web 2.0 circles. Within a group of 150, strong social ties of relationship and trust can form.

However that seems to break down when it comes to large online communities of practice within an organisation. Shell CoPs can exceed 2000 members. The US Army "" community covers 12000 Platoon leaders. Other companies have communities which are just as large. Dunbar's number would suggest that these communities far exceed the limits of social cohesion, and  therefore should not work as knowledge sharing mechanism. Who would trust 12000 people that they have never met?

Yet these communities DO work.

People DO trust them.

People open up to a surprising extent, and share all sorts of things in these large communities, expecially the military communities. Somehow it has proven possible to generate trust in a social institution, rather than in social ties with individuals.  People trust teh community as an entity, even if they cdon't know the other members well enough to trust them personally.

How to generate the trust

  1. Firstly the community leaders and facilitators must engender trust. They must be trustworthy themselves, and behave in a reliable, predictable, consistent and postivie way.
  2. The community of practice has to be trusted as "a safe place to be vulnerable"; somewhere people can ask naive questions withouth being mocked, and somewhere where disagreement can be explored in a positive way and without flame wars.  Again the community leaders and facilitators set this vclimate through creating and maintaining a behavioural charter.
  3. The community of practice must build a brand and a reputation as being "a trustworthy means to deliver value"; both to the organisation and to teh membership. This is brand is built over years, and the community leader will be instrumental in coordinating brand-building through capturing and publicising success stories.
  4. Finally the users must get a rapid, quality response to their questions. If they are brave enough to open up to the community of practice - to expose their ignorance and ask for advice and help, for example - then the advice must be quick, and the help must be helpful.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

4 levels of collaboration

Collaboration is one of those terms that always sounds good, but covers a wide range of possible behaviours. Here are 4 of those behaviours.

I believe you can define four levels of collaboration, based on what the collaborating parties offer each other.

Sharing documents and artefacts

The first and most basic level is where collaboration involves using the work products of other parties.  These work products could be in a shared library for example, and "the others" have no involvement apart from creating the work products in the first place. They may not even know their work products have been reused.  This collaboration is so basic,  you might argue that it's hardly collaboration at all.

Sharing ideas and opinions

The second level is where the you need to access opinion from others.  The opinion collection might be in the form of a survey, or open-ended feedback, or crowdsourcing vian an online ideas jam or brain storming session.  Once the others have provided their opinions, ideas or feedback, they have no further involvement in creating the outcome (the new strategy, the new approach, whatever it might be that needed to be informed by those opinions). Although they have an interest in the outcome, and would like to see their opinions acted on, they don't have any further involvement until the outcome is ready.

Sharing knowledge

The third level is where the business needs to access advice, knowledge and experience from others.  Collecting this knowledge might happen through a community of practice, or through a peer assist.  The others provide advice, provide guidance, are involved in questioning the business unit that originated the collaboration, and have an advisory role in creating the outcome. However the outcome is not primarily for them, it is for the originating business unit. So althrough they are involved in creation, they don't have equal ownership of the outcome.

Sharing work and effort

The fourth level is where the business needs actively to work with people from elsewhere as part of a short lived co-located team, or a longer lived virtual team.  It needs the skills and input and judgment and effort from the others, and the outcome is co-created with the others. All parties have equal ownership and equal involvement in the outcome.

Monday, 26 September 2016

"Knowledge owner" role, example from McKinsey

I blogged last week about McKinsey's Knowledge Professional roles. Here is some more detail of one of those roles.

One of the things I find most interesting when organisations publish details of their KM frameworks is to look at the knowledge roles.  McKinsey give us quite a lot of insight into some of these roles, and here is a role description of what I would describe as a Knowledge Owner or a Practice Owner - someone accountable for a specific area of knowledge. 

That person is Eileen Lau, and her area of knowledge is Business Technology. The role is entitled "Director of Business technology", and Eileen

"Leads the global team of practice managers and knowledge professionals for the Business Technology Practice, driving knowledge development and dissemination and creating linkages among knowledge, client service, and learning"
This is therefore very much a knowledge role, the elements of which are described as follows:

  • leading Business Technology Practice's (BT) global team of practice managers and knowledge professionals, 
  • establishing connections among the functions that make up the global practice 
  • responsible for the overarching strategy and operations of the BT knowledge network, 
  • driving the development and dissemination of BT knowledge and materials across the firm
  • keeping up with new developments and innovations in the world of BT
  • identiying and strategically filling gaps in the practice's knowledge
  • ensuring that the practice has a point of view on topics of relevance—including cloud computing, cybersecurity, IT systems and infrastructure, technology enablement, and IT strategy
  • catalyzing performance in the areas of expertise most needed by clients 
  • establishing new areas of expertise in risk IT, value assurance, and digital transformation within the practice
  • championing projects that further the reach of the firm's expertise and knowledge into the relevant client-service teams. 
In addition, Eileen established and manages the BT "First Alert" team, which guides client-service teams to the appropriate knowledge, experts, and case studies on various nuances of business technology.

This knowledge owner role is a critical role in any organisational KM framework. 

Friday, 23 September 2016

McKinsey's knowledge professionals and knowledge centres

Organisations can take two approaches to KM work - they can centralise it, or decentralise it into networks. McKinsey have taken a partly centralised approach.

Image from wikimedia commons
A centralised approach to KM places the key knowledge holders and people involved in KM activities into one or more centres. The type example of this is the US Center for Army lessons Learned. 

A decentralised approach is usually based around networks. ConocoPhillips for example uses networks of expertise, rather than centres of expertise, to manage its knowledge, and much of the knowledge work is done in the business rather than in specific centres.

You would use a centralised approach to KM generally for one of two reasons:
  • There is a high turnover of staff, so the business is generally short of knowledge and experience;
  • Business staff are heavily incentivised to do client-facing work, and disincentivised to do knowledge work.
A global consulting firm may face both of these issues at once, which may be why McKinsey have taken a partly centralised approach to KM.

1800 knowledge professionals

McKinsey is an organisation of about 17000 people, providing consulting services to clients around the world. 1800 of those people are knowledge professionals  who work alongside consultants and clients to generate distinctive insights and proprietary knowledge. Thats about 10% of the workforce. The knowledge professionals also help develop, codify, sanitize, and manage the Mickinsey global knowledge portal, which includes more than 50,000 documents that form the backbone of the firm's codified knowledge resources.

The role of the McKinsey knowledge professional has two main components:

  • Helping clients and client teams resolve challenging issues by conducting research and in-depth analyses, along with pure thought partnership—sitting with consultants and clients to think through issues in a deliberate way;
  • Helping McKinsey build intellectual capital by creating internal documents that codify existing knowledge, and by developing and codifying new proprietary knowledge.

Global knowledge centres

The 1800 knowledge professionals are spread round the globe in 90 countries, but a significant proportion are located in six global knowledge centres in China, India, Poland, Costa Rica and the USA. Staff at these centres conduct the following activities:

  • Develop new firm capabilities and innovative ways to serve clients;
  • Coordinate innovation activities;
  • Develop, maintain, and disseminate knowledge, 
  • Deliver custom research and analytics to client teams, 
  • Work alongside the firm’s consultants and clients to generate distinctive insights and proprietary knowledge
  • Provide diagnostics, benchmarking, and data-management services.

This approach is noteworthy both for the number of staff working in the knowledge area - 10% is a large number - and also for the development of the knowledge centers.

McKinsey take KM seriously. As they say on their website -
"Powered by Knowledge 
"We invest more than $500 million of our firm’s resources annually in knowledge development and capability building. We study markets, trends, and emerging best practices, in every industry and region, locally and globally. All consultants contribute time and expertise to developing these insights, because they are integral to our ability to help clients achieve their goals. 
Our investment in knowledge also helps advance the practice of management. We publish our findings extensively, and we engage with leading thinkers on the most pressing issues facing our clients and society".

Thursday, 22 September 2016

The "bus factor" in KM

From the latest NASA JPL KM Newsletter -

Image from

"The Bus factor - The widespread capture and sharing of key knowledge increases the bus factor— the number of employees that would have to be run over by a bus before JPL would lose an important technical capability"

The bus factor would be a useful challenge to your own managers!

NB the concept of the bus factor is quite widespread in software development and related areas

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