Thursday, 17 January 2019

The problem with half-way governance for KM

KM Governance on its own is like a half-built bridge. It gets you nowhere.

Half built bridge
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © David Lally -

KM governance is a crucial part of KM, and much of the new ISO KM standard deals with issues of governance, such as leadership, support, and the creation of a KM Policy. However governance on its own is not enough, you have to go farther and tell people exactly how to fulfill the expectations set by the governance system. Let me give you an example.

I was working with a major company, doing an assessment of their knowledge management capability.

One of the things we always check for is Governance of Knowledge Management - whether people know what they are expected to be doing in KM terms, whether they have the resources to do it, and whether the incentive system is aligned with KM expectations (i.e. are they disincetivised, and could they get away without doing KM, and still avoid getting into trouble).  These are all elements within the ISO KM standard.

I was reviewing the alignment of project management and KM within this organisation, and particularly the habit of capturing knowledge from projects.

"Yes", they said. "We are expected to capture knowledge. It says so in our project guidelines".

When I checked they were absolutely correct, there was a line in there about "all projects will document lessons learned from their activity". However there was no guidance on HOW to do this.  As a result, there were a variety of approaches, the most common being for the project manager to jot some things down in a spreadsheet, and file it in the project files.

As regular readers now, this is far from being an effective lesson-capture process, and the lessons were sketchy, inconsistent, poor quality, and very hard to retrieve.

So the company had gone halfway towards having a KM policy for projects (albeit a sketchy one, hidden within the project management guidelines), but had not gone all the way in defining what actually needed to happen, not on quality-controlling the content, nor on ensuring that the lessons could be and would be re-used.

Governance is crucial, but needs to be accompanied by well-defined processes, roles and technology if it is to fully span the KM gap.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The organisations for which KM is not important

There are a few cases where Knowledge management is not needed in an organisation, and where the organisation need not bother with KM.

Image from
These are as follows.

  • When you have a monopoly, so that normal business pressures do not apply to you. You do not need to worry about growth, or efficiency, or cost control, because you have no worriers. You command the market, and people pay your price.
  • When you are in a business that does not change. Where there is no change, learning is not an issue. If your product does not change, and your processes do not change, and your customers and your competitors do not change, then KM could be a waste of time and money. Until things change, of course.
  • When you provide only labour, not knowledge. There may be some organisations where no knowledge work happens - companies mass-producing hand-made clothing, perhaps, or non-skilled contract employment. If knowledge is not what you sell, then knowledge management may not be of value. 
  • When you are a one-person business, trading on Skill. This is another situation where knowledge is not so important and where KM may be a waste of time. I am not sure that Knowledge Management would add much to the career of a concert violinist, for example, or a famous artist.
  • When there are even bigger problems. They need to be pretty big, but there would be cases where KM is nowhere near the top of the priority list. Lehman brothers in 2008, Union Carbide in 1984, Facebook at the time of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
For the rest of us - those of us who work with knowledge, in a changing world, subject to competition and to constant change but not facing outright disaster, Knowledge Management is something we cannot manage properly without. 

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

The importance of "learning urgency"

How urgent is learning in your organisation?

Image from wikimedia commons
When I give my Knowledge Management Training courses, I start proceedings by presenting three stories from organisations who are doing knowledge management, showcasing some of the benefits KM can bring.

I then ask the class to discuss the stories, and to identify the success factors that lie behind each one. Often these are a mix of successful interventions, and successful cultural elements.

One of the success factors a recent class identified was a "sense of urgency". In each case, the protagonists in the story treated learning as Urgent - one of the first things to be done before leaping into action - and as a result, delivered great results.

This was a really good insight.

All too often, learning (and Knowledge Management in general) is seen as important, but not treated as urgent. In these stories, the urgency was there, and learning followed.

So how had the organisations in the stories created that sense of urgency?

  • In the first story, the organisation gave a high-profile task to an individual who had never done that sort of thing before, with clear instructions not to "screw up". A risky move, were it not for the Knowledge Management system which gave the individual all the knowledge they needed to succeed.
  • In the second story, the organisation challenged a team to improve on the past benchmark performance by nearly 20%. An impossible challenge, were it not for the access the team was given to all the lessons and knowledge from past performance.
  • In the third story, the organisation gave the same audacious goal to twelve different teams simultaneously. A crazy thing to do, were it not for the way they set up knowledge-sharing between the teams, so they reached the goal far faster collectively, then they did individually. 
There is a saying, by the Greek philosopher Epictetus, that "you cannot teach someone something they think they already know". This means that if you give people problems they know how to solve, they will not look for additional knowledge, and they will not think outside the box. 

Learning, for them, will not be urgent. They will use the knowledge they have, do what they have always done, and deliver the performance they have always delivered. Safe, but no improvement.

An organisation can really drive Knowledge Management by giving people challenges they don't know how to meet, or putting them in positions where they don't know what to do. This is not as risky as it sounds, once KM is in place. 

Once KM is in place and is trusted, KM and management work together in delivering breakthough performance. Management gives people challenges they don't know how to meet, KM provides the knowledge they need to meet them. 

Learning becomes both Urgent, and Easy. Everybody wins.

Monday, 14 January 2019

One way to decide how much effort to put into KM in your project.

How much of your project spend should be on KM?

image from wikimedia commons
That's an interesting question, and one way to answer it is to look at the value of the knowledge in proportion to the value of the project itself (please note this argument only really works for projects that deliver a value stream).

Take for example a large construction and engineering project - the first of its kind in a new location. The project will create two things -
  1. An income stream for the owner
  2. Knowledge, which can be used to reduce cost for future projects
Let's assume some facts for our imaginary project. Let's assume it's a big one but not quite a megaproject.
  1. Budget of $500 million
  2. Timescale 2.5 years
  3. Net Present Value (NPV) $1 billion
  4. Work-hour estimate 10 million
  5. 2 similar projects planned
  6. Conservative estimate of the value of the knowledge - $50 million (5% cost saving on 2 follow-on projects of the same size and scope through effective KM and lesson learning)
So if the value of the knowledge is $50 million and the value of the project is $1 billion, then logically you would expect the investment in KM to be in the same ration to the spend on the project - ie 5%. You would expect a total KM spend of $25 million (3% of $500m) producing lessons, guidance and other knowledge for the improvement of the two follow-on projects. 

Now a lot of the work on the main project would  be done by contractors, and you would need to make sure that they also were spending their share on KM.  Its also possible that you could discount the cost or materials, and instead look at time and labour costs.  The project management team itself might be, say 20 people, working 10,000 days over the life of the project. By the same logic, you would want 500 days (or 1 person full time) spent by the project management team on knowledge management. 

In most projects, the team would spend nowhere near this. They might have a one-day lessons learned meeting halfway through the project (1 day for 20 people is 20 workdays) and another one-day meeting at the end (another 20 workdays). That is a massive under-investment of time and resource, given the value of the knowledge. Instead they should spend 5% of their time on KM, or 2 hours a week.

For your organisation,you can do the math. Work out the value of the knowledge vs the value of the projects, and see what investment in KM would  be appropriate. 

It might surprise you - it surely will surprise your management, because in our (Knoco) experience, the vast majority of projects under-resource KM, compared to the value it delivers.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Top 10 blog posts of 2018

Thank you for your support for this blog in 2018 - here is a review of the year, and our Top 10 posts from 2018. More posts will follow in 2019

Support for this blog has been fairly steady during 2018, although trends suggest that it is now viewed more through Linked-In than through other channels

 The most popular posts from 2018  are listed below.  Most are from the fist part of the year, as the longer a post is online, the more hits it receives from online searches.

 If you missed any of them, then why not have a look now!

 1. Why "knowledge sharing" cannot replace "knowledge management"
Can we use the term "knowledge sharing" as better replacement for the term "Knowledge Management? This post suggests two good reasons not to do so.

 2. There are only 4 types of barrier to Knowledge Management
This post presents a great Boston Square which looks at the four barriers to KM in a generic way. It looks at the unwillingness and the inability that can affect both the knowledge supplier, and the knowledge user. Any combination of these is a block to Knowledge management.

3. What is a knowledge product?
The concept of a Knowledge Product is a common one in the development sector, and is used as a label for many types of document. But what makes a product a "knowledge product"?

4. Will AI replace KM?
I have been working in Knowledge Management for a long time now, and the history of KM includes examples of one technology after another claiming that it will replace KM or make it obsolete. Yet KM is still here. Will AI be the same story again?

5. Can you time-write KM activity?
A common question from clients in professional services, legal or consulting firms, which usually operate a strict time-writing regime, is "How do we Timewrite KM"?

6. The knowledge cycle as you have never seen it before
We are used to seeing pictures of knowledge cycles, but there is one cycle you never see, and it's very important. It starts with a Problem, and is a demand-driven cycle, unlike the common supply-driven cycles.

7. The shrinking half-life of knowledge, and what that means for KM
Knowledge has a half-life, and that half-life is getting shorter every year

8. How the Australian Emergency Services manage lessons
Taken from an online document, This post shares a great insight into lesson management from Emergency Management Victoria.

9. What would it take, to get you to share more of your knowledge?
This was a question Shell asked in an internal survey, several years ago, in order to understand the incentives and barriers for knowledge sharing. The top 6 answers are shown and discussed in this post.

10. Why you can't have AI without KM
This post suggests that the rise of AI in the form of intelligent agents requires the rise of KM to support it.

 In addition - 

The most visited post this year, as last year, was an old post from 2013 called "The illusion of confidence - test your overconfidence bias". 

There were few discussions on the blog, most discussions happening in LinkedIn instead.

Monday, 17 December 2018

End-of-year break

Image from wikimedia commons

This blog is taking an end-year break.

Happy Holidays to all our readers; normal service will be resumed in January

Friday, 14 December 2018

5 reasons why Enterprise Search will never be as good as Google

All the time we hear managers saying "we want a search engine as good as Google". Here are 5 reasons why you can never even get close.

Image from wikimedia commons
 Google is the yardstick for search, and managers seem to want internal enterprise search that works as well and as (apparently) intuitively as google. But there are 5 good reasons why this will never happen (bearing in mind that I am by no means a search specialist).

1) Search engine optimisation - webpages want to be found

Do you have a website? If you do you will be as familiar as I with the deluge of Spam emails offering to optimise my website for Google search. SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is big business, and the owners of webpages are doing lots of work on Google's behalf to ensure their pages are indexable and findable and optimised for search.

But who, in an organisation, optimises their documents and sites for internal search? Let me tell you who - Nobody; that's who.  Unless you are very lucky, few if any people think about the issues of findability when they publish content.

Google is successful in finding sites because those sites want to be found. They are often very keen to be found, because they are trying to sell you something. The search results at the top of Google's list are often the ones most desperate to be found. Many documents in your enterprise system do not want to be found, often for issues related to confidentiality as described below.

2) The fact that the web is interlinked html pages, whereas your content is usually isolated word documents (if you're lucky!)

Sometimes it's not even Word documents - I know organisations that save their critical knowledge in pdf form!

The difference between interlinked web pages and isalted documents is critical. Google can crawl through the web of interlinked sites, can understand the context of a site partly through its links, and can identify authoritative or important sites based on the number of links that point to them. The search engine results at the top of the list are often the ones with the most backlinks.  The components of the page are also obvious to Google - the title, the first level headings, the metadata - and these also are used to understand what the page is about.

Your documents are not linked. Each stands alone. Each has to be searched and indexed separately. There are no backlinks. There is no visible structure to the document, other than to the human eye, and the search engine cannot tell a footnote from a level 1 heading.

3) The hordes of search engine specialists employed by Google.

How many search engine specialists do you employ? None, right? Google employs tens of thousands. That's one of the reasons their search works better than yours.

This is especially an issue if you are planning to use Semantic search, or to optimise customer search of your knowledge base. In these cases you will need a search engine specialist to build and evolve the ontology, track and improve the search accuracy, and define the synonyms and stop words.  However managers often neglect this aspect, and assume a search-engine is a one-off purchase that will run itself.

4) Google doesn't do "security levels"

Google assumes everything is available and visible to everyone. It doesn't do passwords or access restrictions or security levels. It searches everything that is not on the Dark Web.

A lot of your documents are effectively on the dark Web - they are in secure folders on Box, or Dropbox, or SharePoint. I consulted recently to an organisation that had 300 separate databases or document management systems. They had opened about 6 of these for indexing, the rest were effectively "dark" as far as search was concerned.

5) The web doesn't do version control

Every webpage on the web is the only version. Rather than storing a webpage as version 3.5 and writing version 4.0, you just rewrite and publish the page. Every page on the web is the current version, and is constantly under development. Google only returns one version of the page - the current version.

You don't treat documents in this way. Very often, unless your document management is very good, you will have multiple versions of the same document stored in different places.  One of the bugbears of enterprise search is that it will often find all these version in your search results.

So the next time your managers ask "Why can't we have search like Google" - 

you can reply - "Yes, we can, IF

  • You move all content out of documents onto wikis
  • You keep only one version of every document
  • You train all staff in search engine optimisation
  • You hire a team of search engine specialists, and
  • You make all documents open to everyone".
Then see what they say!

Enterprise search can work, but it will never work like Google.

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