Friday, 21 September 2018

Why knowledge re-use is such a barrier in KM

Unless knowledge is re-used, KM adds no value. Why is this final step so hard, and what can we do about it?

Roger by ZapTheDingbat, on Flickr
I was having a great conversation with a Knowledge Manager recently, who was grappling with the final, and most difficult, step in the Knowledge Transfer process, the step of knowledge re-use (what Nonaka and Takeuchi call the Internalisation step).

She had a great system of collecting knowledge, and a great system for synthesising knowledge, and when she showed the knowledge to the users they said "Wow, great, that's very useful", but when she asked them later whether they had actually used the knowledge, they said No.

We had a look at the reasons behind this. There were several blockers -

  • The knowledge was not to hand when they needed it - they needed to go look for it
  • They had no time to go looking for the knowledge
  • They may not trust the provenance of the knowledge
  • The knowledge did not solve an immediate pain, but was more of a long term benefit (see blog post on why some ideas spread and others don't). 
  • They could get away with doing things the way they had always done, even though the new way was better.
If we want knowledge workers to re-use knowledge, then 
  1. The knowledge should be available to them (or better - presented to them) at the point and time of need
  2. Ideally the knowledge should be built into process and procedure, and this procedural guidance should be available at the point and time of need
  3. There should be a culture of checking the procedures, just as an airline pilot goes through their checklist before take-off
  4. The knowledge should be usable
  5. They should be able to see a clear link between their experience and learning (and the learning of others like them) and the creation of the new knowledge.  
  6. They need to be assured, and need to believe, that the new knowledge or the updated procedure is the best available. 
  7. They should be clear that their peers, managers and stakeholders expect them to to use the knowledge
  8. there may need to be coaching or encouragement in he use of the new knowledge. The new knowledge should be built into training plans
  9. Then the knowledge worker's manager may need to check whether the new knowledge was used
  10. Failure of a task through not following the current procedures (and therefore the most up to date knowledge) should be treated as a serious breach.

Knowledge re-use is far harder than just giving people access to a site or a document. It's tricky, it's hard work, and it is the step where many KM programs fall.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

How to identify your critical knowledge - look for the areas with greatest room for improvement

KM should prioritise critical knowledge, but how do you tell what knowledge is critical?

Any Knowledge Management strategy, system or approach should be based around, and focused on, the knowledge which is critical to an organisation.

At one level, we need to focus on critical knowledge when piloting and implementing Knowledge Management, so that we address the knowledge of greatest value first.

At a second level, we need to think about the type of knowledge which is most critical, when it comes to developing our communities of practice, and the structures and taxonomies that underlie our knowledge management framework.  Let me give you an example.
In the British Army, the primary structure of their lessons management system is a Practice based structure. They have broken down all the Army activities into a process map, and used this breakdown or processes and practices as the structure of their lessons system. This is because they want to use knowledge and learning to improve their processes and practices. 
In the British Air force, the primary structure of their lessons management system is an Equipment-based structure. They collect lessons on, and seek improvement of, the equipment they use. This is because they want to get improve their equipment, and the way they use and maintain it. 

Similarly an organisation that most wishes to improve its internal practices - a sales or services organisation, for example, - should use Practice as its knowledge dimension,  because practice improvement is important, so practice knowledge is critical. They should appoint practice owners, communities of practice, and use practice-based taxonomies. Within this structure, they should then focus on the practices that most need to be developed and improved. These could be practices that are historically problematical, or new practices that need to be developed; practices and processes with the greatest room for improvement and development.

Knowledge of how to best conduct these processes and practices is the critical knowledge on which the KM strategy should be based.

An organisation that most wishes to improve its products - an automotive or aerospace company, or a manufacturer of  mobile phones - should use Product as its knowledge dimension, because product improvement is important, and so product knowledge is critical. They should appoint product owners, communities of product, and use product-based taxonomies. Within this structure, they should then focus on the products and technologies that most need to be developed and improved. These could be  products that have been historically problematical, or new products and technologies that will open new markets; products with the greatest room for improvement and development.

Knowledge of how to best design, manufacture, sell and support these products is the critical knowledge on which the KM strategy should be based.

What does your organisation most need to improve? That tells you your organisation's critical knowledge

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

The secret to successful KM communication is repetition

When communicating about KM and its benefits, you need simplicity and lots of repetition!

image by Ghozt Tramp from wikimedia commons
Are you tired of repeating the same old Knowledge Management message within your organisation?  According to an interesting article from Ramon Barquin and Chris Coleman, you may just have to keep on repeating - 151 times!

Their central message is not only that you need a simple, understandable message (see my tips for the KM salesperson) , but that you also need constant repetition. Here's some excerpts from the article.

A memo from the CEO isn’t enough to build support for knowledge management. Constant repetition from a variety of sources, both spontaneous and carefully strategized – meetings, memos, word of mouth – is the only way to do it, and this brings us to the Rule of 151.

Scientific? Maybe not, but the Rule of 151 goes something like this. The first 50 times you talk about the business advantages of (KM), nobody seems to hear you. The second 50 times you explain it, they don’t understand. And the third 50 times, they just don’t believe it.

Persist beyond this point, however, and you see progress. Colleagues, peers and bosses hear what you’re saying. They understand it, and more importantly, they repeat it. Fueled by word-of-mouth, even the most offbeat notions can evolve into conventional wisdom. Marketers call it branding, politicians call it campaigning, cynics call it brainwashing. Call it whatever you like: repetition works.

And a really useful summary paragraph at the end
Shortly after Michael McCurry, Clinton administration press secretary, left the White House, a writer for the Harvard Business Review asked what McCurry says when people ask him how to become better communicators. “Know what you’re trying to say and say it precisely and simply,” McCurry answered. “And be committed to telling the story over and over again. You have to persevere.”

So, persevere! Communicate! Keep sowing the seed on the stony ground, until one day, after 151 sowings, it takes root.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Knowledge suppliers and users

We often get hung up on treating knowledge as if it were impersonal pieces of content; instead let's look at it as an interaction between supplier and user.

Image from wikimedia commons
All knowledge, if we think in terms of "Know-how" originates from people, and is re-used by people.  Sometimes it passes from person to person through conversation, and sometimes the interaction is more remote - through written or recorded words and diagrams.

Knowledge Management, therefore, is a systematic and structured approach to transferring strategic and operational knowledge from suppliers to users through whatever interactions are most effective and efficient. And in many cases co-developing the knowledge as well as transferring it.

In a recent blog post, I explained about Collect and Connect as being two routes for knowledge transfer between the supplier and user, but now let's look at the supplier and user themselves.

Knowledge is created through experience, and through the reflection on experience in order to derive guidelines, rules, theories, heuristics and doctrines. Knowledge may be created by individuals, through reflecting on their own experience, or it may be created by teams reflecting on team experience, or communities of practice engaged in collective sense-making. These are knowledge suppliers.

Knowledge is applied by individuals and teams, who can apply their own personal knowledge and experience, or they can look elsewhere for knowledge – to learn before they start, and benefit from shared experience. These are knowledge users. One of the challenges for knowledge transfer, is that often the user is unknown and the supplier has limited ways to interact with this user.

Knowledge management consists of building an enabling environment, or framework, where the users are expected to, and given the tools to, seek for and re-use knowledge whenever they need it, and where the suppliers are expected to, and enabled to, share and/or store their knowledge, wherever and whenever they have something of importance to share, using either Connection or Collection, depending on which is appropriate.

Monday, 17 September 2018

How to curb overconfidence by considering the unknowns

Overconfidence is one of the most powerful cognitive biases that affects KM. Here is how to address it.

Cognitive biases are the plague of Knowledge Management. They cause people to neglect evidence, to fail to notice things, to reinvent their memory, and to be overconfident about their own knowledge.

Overconfidence in particular is an enemy of learning. People are more willing to accept knowledge from a confident person, but confidence is more often linked to a lack of knowledge - the "Dunning-Kruger effect". Overconfidence leads to wishful thinking, which leads to ignoring knowledge from others, and is one of the primary causes of project cost and time overruns.

Overconfidence is therefore what happens when you don't know what you don't know, and a recent Insead study shows that overconfidence can be significantly reduced just by considering your lack of knowledge. In this study they gave people general knowledge questions, and found (as is often the case) that people were overconfident about their answer (You can take a similar test, to test your own level of overconfidence). Then they tried again with two groups of people - with the first group they asked the people to list a couple of missing pieces of knowledge which would help them guess the answer better, and with the second group they asked them to consider reasons why their choice might be wrong (a "devil's advocate" approach).

The paper contains a very clear graph which shows that the approach of "considering the unknowns" has a major impact on overconfidence, while the devils advocate approach is far less powerful. The report concludes:

In our view, overconfidence often arises when people neglect to consider the information they lack. Our suggestion for managers is simple. When judging the likelihood of an event, take a pen and paper and ask yourself: “What is it that I don’t know?” Even if you don’t write out a list, the mere act of mulling the unknowns can be useful. And too few people do it. Often, they are afraid to appear ignorant and to be penalised for it. But any organisation that allows managerial overconfidence to run amok can expect to pay a hefty price, sooner or later.

In Knowledge Management, we have a simple and powerful process that allows exactly this process of  "Considering the unknowns". This is the Knowledge Gap Analysis, or its more elaborate version for larger projects - the Knowledge Management Plan. Both of these processes require a team to list the things they do not know (thus reducing overconfidence) and then set up learning actions to acquire the knowledge (thus reducing the number of unknowns).

These are two of many KM techniques that can help address cognitive bias.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Connect and Collect - the two parallel pathways in KM

I mentioned Connect and Collect in yesterday's blog as being two routes for knowledge flow, so I thought I would expand on these two in today's post.

One of the earliest models in the history of Knowledge Management, and one that sometimes seems to get forgotten, is that there are two key dimensions in Knowledge Management, representing two routes between the knowledge suppler, and the knowledge user.

These are the Connect route, and the Collect route.

The Connect route supports knowledge transfer through connecting people.

  • In the Connect route, Knowledge is transferred through conversation - either face to face or electronically mediated. 
  • It can be supported by processes such as Peer Assist, Knowledge handover, knowledge exchange, knowledge markets, knowledge cafes, action learning, after action review, mentoring, coaching, and communities of practice.  
  • It can be supported by technologies such as collaboration tools, people-finders, community forums, webex, telephone and skype. 
  • The knowledge never needs to be written down; it can be - but it does not need to be, and knowledge can be transferred in tacit form.
  • The Connect route is necessary for complex knowledge, advanced knowledge, deep skills, and highly contextual knowledge. 
  • The Connect route is a highly effective way to transfer knowledge, but very inefficient, as the conversation must be repeated for each knowledge user.

The Collect route supports knowledge transfer through collecting knowledge into documents.

  • In the Collect route, Knowledge is transferred through documentation ("Knowledge capture"), through organisation and synthesis of that documentation, and through connecting the user with the documents, through search or through push.
  • It can be supported by processes such as Retrospect, Lesson Learning, Interview, creation of Knowledge Assets, and Knowledge Synthesis. 
  • It can be supported by technologies such as portals, lessons management systems, search, semantic search, blogs and wikis
  • The knowledge is written down or recorded, and transferred in explicit form.
  • The Collect route is ideal for relatively simple non-contextual knowledge which needs to reach a large audience, for knowledge that needs shelf life, for knowledge where no immediate user is available, and for knowledge which needs compiling and processing (such as lessons). 
  • The Connect route is an ineffective way to transfer knowledge, as we can only write a fraction of what we know, but very efficient, as once that fraction is captured it can be reused a thousand times.
Connect and Collect are not alternative strategies. They are two components of a single framework and a single strategy, which work in parallel. 

Your organisation will contain critical knowledge of very many kinds; some of which will need to be transferred through collection and some through connection. So make sure you address both dimensions

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Why so many simple KM loop diagrams are wrong

Here is another post from the archives, this one on the problem with so many simple KM loop cycles.

I have lost count of the number of Knowledge Management lectures, strategies, introductions and other material I have seen, which somewhere along the line have presented a single loop model for Knowledge Management.

Almost all of these have been wrong.

The ones that were wrong, were the ones that look like the upper picture - that start with "Create" (for creating knowledge), then immediately move to "Capture". Try a google image search for "Knowledge Management cycle" and you will see what I mean.

The reason why they are wrong, is that Knowledge does not always need to be captured to be managed. 

You can, in some circumstances,  operate a perfectly good Knowledge Management system while keeping knowledge tacit and uncaptured, and transferring the knowledge through planned and structured conversations between the right people (for example using Peer Assists, Knowledge Handovers, Knowledge Exchanges, Mentoring and Coaching). Therefore a single loop with a "Capture" step is only a partial truth.

In more general terms, Knowledge management can take two routes, generally known as Collect and Connect. In the Collect route, knowledge is documented and becomes content - it is "Captured" (leaving aside for the moment all the arguments around whether knowledge can ever really be captured). In the Connect route, knowledge need never be "captured" so long as it is transferred through conversation.

Therefore all these knowledge cycles, that require "Capture" somewhere along the chain, only refer to the Collect dimension of knowledge management, and miss the Connect dimension.

A single loop is a single line - a one-dimensional thing. Knowledge Management is two dimensional (if not more).  It is both Connect and Collect - it needs a Collect loop, and a Connect loop.

Therefore a more realistic model is the lower one shown here, which reflects the reality of the two dimensions, and expresses them in two cycles.

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