Friday, 20 January 2017

How to apply Guerrilla Knowledge Management

What if you have no senior management backing for your Knowledge Management program?  In a situation like this, your only recourse is to take a strategy known as “Guerrilla KM,” or “Stealth KM.”

Originally uploaded by ˙Cаvin 〄
A Guerrilla Knowledge Management program is one where you work undercover, out of the sight of the ruling powers. Please don’t treat this as a long-term strategy. This is a strategy for gaining support for KM implementation, rather than for implementation itself.

To understand the strategy, lets look at Military uses of the terms Guerrilla and Stealth.

  • The purpose of a Guerrilla military unit is only to escape detection until they make a big impact on a strategic target, like a bridge or a railroad. Then everyone knows they are there!
  • The purpose of the Stealth bomber is only to escape detection until it drops a bomb.
  • Similarly the purpose of the Guerrilla Knowledge Manager is only to work undetected until you make a “big bang” and achieve a spectacular and strategic success.

 The Guerrilla strategy

The first step of the Guerrilla Knowledge Management strategy is to choose your sphere of operation. Effectively, you are looking for a KM pilot project that you can get permission to run.

  • Find a supportive manager – someone who sees the potential that KM can bring, and who already has a problem that KM can solve. 
  • Make sure you can demonstrate and measure success in business terms. You need a clear metric, and the opportunity to make a big difference. 
  • Make sure you have the potential to scale up the success so that when the pilot is over, you have not just delivered success to a supportive manager, you are bringing valuable knowledge to the rest of the company. 
  • Make sure you have the resources to do the pilot. The resources are likely to be your own time and energy, these are not boundless, and you cannot afford to fail. The Guerrilla who fails, vanishes without a trace. 
  • Focus on areas that will have high impact, high visibility and a high probability of success. 
  • Get clear on the organisational drivers within the pilot area, understand the critical knowledge, create a local framework, identify and work with the local stakeholders, and drive a change in behaviour at the local level. 
  • If you have little time and little money, focus on connecting people, and on Knowledge Pull. Techniques such as Communities of Practice, Peer Assist, Knowledge Exchange, and Knowledge Visits can all generate a quick value return for relatively little outlay. 
  • Publicise the success. Celebrate noisily. Get the individuals involved in the pilots to tell the story of the success. Record them on video. Embed the video into presentations for senior managers. Post the video on the intranet. Write stories in the company magazine or newsletter. Put up posters and banners. Make sure everyone notices. Much of Guerrilla Warfare is about propaganda – if nobody hears about the “big bang” then the Guerrilla has failed. 

As Ken Miller says

The response you want is, “How did you do that?” Don’t make the mistake of piloting the concepts on low-hanging fruit. Think big. We’re not talking about moving the coffee-maker closer to the break room. If nobody notices what you’ve done, you’ve missed the point of Guerrilla Warfare. And if everybody notices what you are doing before you’re done, you have also missed the point. 

Then you need to transform your success into high level support. 

This is the point at which you start to bargain with the senior managers. Show them the local value you have created through KM, and promise them that you can scale this up across the whole company, with little risk and high levels of return on investment. All you need from them in return are resources and support to enable you to take the next step.

A Guerrilla Strategy is not an easy option, and it requires bravery. Sometimes people instinctively choose a stealth approach to KM because they believe it is less risky. They feel that by working undercover and out of sight, they can avoid high level challenge; the sort of challenge that might lead to the cancellation of the KM program.

However remember Ken Miller's words "If nobody notices what you’ve done, you’ve missed the point of guerrilla warfare". You are only working undercover until you can drop the Knowledge Management bomb.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Communities of practice - wild gardens, or market gardens?

What sort of garden is your community of practice?

Barnsley House kitchen garden,
from wikimedia commons
One of my stock sayings is that if knowledge is organic, KM is gardening.

This recognises that knowledge is not a uniform commodity than can be counted out like money, but also recognises that looking after knowledge is hard work.  However even within the topic of gardening there is a range of approaches, and we can see that also in KM terms when it comes to how we work with communities of practice.

There really are two approaches to “community gardening”, and we can call them "select and support" versus "seed and promote".

The first - "select and support" - is a bottom up approach. It sets the conditions for community growth, lets communities emerge spontaneously, and then selects and supports the ones that are felt to be strategic. Its like preparing a flower bed, allowing flowers to appear, then thinning out the ones you don’t want and watering the ones you do want. You get a wildflower garden if you are lucky, or a bramble patch if you aren't.

The second approach - "seed and promote" - is more of a top down approach. Here you deliberately seed communities on key topics. Here you plant the things you want to grow – the gardenias and the hollyhocks, or the carrots and the pumpkins.

Each approach has its merits and demerits

The "select and support" approach makes use of existing networks and existing energy. As a manager or network champion, you will be "pushing on an open door". Payback will be rapid, as there will be very little start-up time and cost. The communities will spring up. However there may be no existing communities which cover the most crucial and strategic topics, and many of the communities that do emerge may have relatively limited business benefit.

The "seed and promote" approach allows you to set up communities to cover the three areas of

  • Strategic Competencies (crucial to competitive success),
  • New competencies (crucial to growth and new direction), and
  • Core competencies (crucial to income and market share).

However payback may take longer, as you need to climb the start-up curve, and it may be hard work generating enthusiasm and energy among prospective community members. These communities will take more work, just as creating a vegetable plot full of prize-winning vegetables takes more work.

But the results may, in the long term, be more valuable to the organisation.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

6 danger signs for a Knowledge Management Strategy

How do you know your Knowledge Management strategy is in danger of crashing? Here are 6 signs.

These 6 danger signs are from a 2009 blog post by Lucas McDonnell, reproduced as a Linked-In Pulse article in 2015.

Image from wikimedia commons
1. People outside your group don’t understand what you’re doing. Assuming you’re communicating your strategy appropriately, the fact that no one else gets it usually means that far from being too brilliant to grasp, that instead you’ve simply got your head in the clouds.  You need to be able to translate the concept.

2. You keep changing vendors/technologies/products. Look very carefully to make sure that what you’re attributing to be a set of technology defects or a vendor deficiency isn’t actually a non-existent content management process or broken governance model. Changing vendors/technologies/products won’t help you with those sorts of issues. Ensure you implement a complete Knowledge Management Framework.

3. You keep layering vendors/technologies/products on top of each other. More vendors and products to deal with usually also means added complexity, and unless you have a strategy and the resources to deal with that added complexity, you’re going to drop a few when trying to juggle all those balls.

4. You find it difficult to explain what you’re trying to accomplish. If it’s really that tough to explain what you want to get done, it’s probably going to be really tough to get the money, support and people to get it done.

5. You’re prescribing organizational change. Organizations can be changed — but a knowledge management strategy that seeks to change every part of an organization at once is pretty much doomed to fail.

6. You’re making big promises. Making promises isn’t a bad thing, but don’t promise things you aren’t sure you can deliver — or assume that certain longstanding problems can be fixed via knowledge management.  Promise small, deliver big.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

More success factors for Communities of Practice

Building on yesterday's post, here is some more data on the success factors for CoPs.

As part of the Knoco 2014 survey on Knowledge Management, participants were asked whether Communities of Practice (CoPs) formed part of their KM approach. 73% answered Yes.  Interestingly, the people who answered Yes (and therefore who incorporate CoPs in their KM programme), and who quoted a value delivery figure, said on average that they delivered $145 million in value from Knowledge Management. Those who answered No delivered on average $9.4 million.

133 people then continued to answer supplementary questions about their CoPs. One of these questions covered the management components applied by CoPs, and another was the overall rating of teh effectiveness of the CoPs. We combined these questions in the table above, to find which of these management components had the most impact on effectiveness.

The "effectiveness impact" measure for each components in the table is calculated as the average effectiveness of CoPs where this component is present, divided by the average effectiveness when this component is absent.  For example, the average CoP effectiveness rating from people who said their CoPs had a way of interacting online was 30% higher than those who said they had no way to interact online.

So this table is a rough guide to the elements that need to be in place for CoP success. It is intersting that, after the "means of interacting online", the next five highest success factors are all related to governance:

  • A CoP charter
  • A set of CoP objectives
  • A business case
  • A focus on organisational goals, and
  • A leader.
These are interesting results, suggesting that the old concept of CoPs being loose, anarchic and free from governance does not work out in modern practice, and the CoPs that were identified as being most successful have developed a leadership and governance framework that provides a level of structure and direction to CoP activities.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Why communities of practice succeed, and why they fail

This blog has already published several articles about KM success factors. Here is another slant on the topic.

Communities of practice are such as core component of any Knowledge Management Framework that people are very interested in why they work, and why they fail. We find, for example;

Here is some more input to the debate - a 2008 paper from Gilbert Prost and Stefano Borzillo, called Why communities of practice succeed, and why they fail, where they use a study from a number of organisational settings to identify 10 success factors and 5 common reasons for failure, as listed below.

Prost and Borzillo give a rather different view of the role of communities of practice compared to the traditional organic bottom-up view, seeing them more as a top-down structure for developing and sharing best practices.  See what you think.

Success factors.

  1. Stick to strategic objectives. "We found evidence that setting clear and measurable objectives provides COP members with a concrete direction to follow"
  2. Divide objectives into sub-topics. "Evidence also suggests that classifying objectives into subtopics gives COP members absolute clarity regarding the goals that a COP must achieve"
  3. Form governance committees with sponsors and COP leaders. "Our findings indicate that sponsors and leaders who are active in the same functional area meet regularly to form a ‘‘governance committee” (which) discusses and assesses the overall activity of the various COPs in their specific functional area of the organization". 
  4. Have a sponsor and a COP leader who are best practice control agents. "Results also suggest that both the sponsor and the COP leader fulfill the task of controlling whether or not the COP effectively develops and shares best practices over a predetermined time".
  5. Regularly feed the COP with external expertise "Our data suggest that knowledge related to the COP’s practice is regularly imported from experts outside the COP. These experts can be from other organizations, or be part of the organization to which the COP belongs"
  6. Promote access to other intra- and interorganizational networks "Our results indicate that the COP leader promotes the access to intra- or interorganizational networks through their COP. This increases members’ active participation"
  7. The COP leader must have a driver and promoter role "Our findings show that the leader increases the COP’s attractiveness by distinctly structuring it into different sub-topics and coordinating the COP as a whole, with each sub-COP managing and indexing best practices relative to a specific part of the COP’s general practice".
  8. Overcome hierarchy-related pressures "We found evidence that within the COP’s boundaries, members are no longer regarded as being under their direct superiors’ orders...(and)... the leader reminds members that they will not be judged and/or sanctioned by their direct superiors if they make mistakes, ask naıve questions, or admit that they have gaps in their knowledge".
  9. Provide the sponsor with measurable performance "The COP’s initial objectives are measured and the quantitative benefits for the organization are publicized in terms of the sponsor".
  10. Illustrate results for COP members "Our results demonstrate that COP members are encouraged to post their written experiences with a best practice on an electronic scorecard reporting system. In these ‘‘stories,” the COP members explain the entire process of how they implemented a practice in their organizational unit, how they used it, and even how they were able to improve it.

Main reasons for failure

  • Lack of a core group. "(failed CoPs) lack a group of core members actively engaged in its activities, such as regular participation in meetings, the inflow of fresh ideas, and support provided to other members on problem solving.
  • Low level of one-to-one interaction between members "These COPs lack one-to-one interaction between members (face-to-face, telephone, e-mail etc.)".
  • Rigidity of competences "Members tend to primarily trust their own competences, and are therefore less willing to integrate practices originating from other COP members into their daily work".
  • Lack of identification with the COP. "Members do not view participation in their COP as meaningful for their daily work" (ref the "I am" test)
  • Practice intangibility "Practice intangibility occurs when members fail to engage with one another in a way that allows them to illustrate the practice to make it concrete enough for other members to understand and visualize its function. The 12 unsuccessful COPs all used inappropriate tools (e.g. imprecise documentation and visual supports) to illustrate their practices".

Friday, 13 January 2017

6 reasons why After Action reviews are such a great tool.

After Action reviews are one of the core tools in Knowledge Management - but what makes them so powerful?

After Action Reviews (AARs) are like the Hammer in the Knowledge Manager's toolkit - one of the most basic and most important tools.

They are applied in many organisations around the world as part of their Knowledge Management Framework.  They are focused review meetings, relatively short in duration, designed to help the team become conscious of their own knowledge, so they can act on that knowledge as work progresses. It is like "learning on Tuesday to perform better on Wednesday". In addition, the learning can be transferred to other teams, but this is generally a secondary role.

 This process was developed by the US Army, who use it as their main knowledge-gathering process. It does not go into very great analytical depth, and so is useful for reviewing short-turnaround activity, or single actions. It is short and focused enough to do on a daily basis, perhaps at the end of a meeting or at the end of a shift. After Action review consists of a face-to-face team discussion around 5 questions:

  • "What was supposed to happen'?" 
  •  "What actually happened?" 
  • "Why was there a difference?" 
  • "What have we learned?" 
  • "What will we do about it?" 

So what makes AARs so valuable? Here are 6 reasons (and you can find 6 more reasons here);

  1. AARs are a conversation about knowledge. They are not progress reviews or individual evaluations, they are conversations with the sole purpose of discussing new knowledge and new learning. The very act of holding an AAR is an acknowledgement that knowledge is important.
  2. AARs are high bandwidth.  Face to face conversation is far and away the best method to surface shared knowledge and to discuss it. 
  3. AARs are culture change agents. People find that it is possible to open up and to share knowledge in a group session, with no risk and no comeback. 
  4. AARs are instant feedback. As people share their knowledge, they can see it being transformed instantly into actions and improvements. Instead of their knowledge vanishing into a black hole, they see immediate results.
  5. AARs are quick and efficient. They can take as little as 15 or 20 minutes, but may have a big cumulative effect. 
  6. AARs lead to action and to change.  Or at least, they should do. Question 5 is the key here - "What are we going to do about it"? AARs are successful to the extent that they lead to change and to action. If they are just talking shops - if all they do is lead to bullet points on a flipchart - then they are a waste of time. AARs should be used to drive changes and improvements in the way a team, department or organisation works. 

If you can apply AARs as part of your KM Framework to regularly drive improvement and change, then you have made full use of this simple yet powerful tool. 

Thursday, 12 January 2017

KM - one of the four forces of change?

This Linked-In pulse article suggests that KM is one of the four forces of business change in the world. Can this really be the case?

The article, which appears to be a reprint of earlier work by Ruth Tappin, suggests that there are four forces of change in the early 21st century organisation:

  • Globalization, 
  • technological change, 
  • knowledge management and 
  • cross border cooperation

Globalisation is something we all recognise - the need to work in a global economy, and not to assume that what we know to be true locally will work globally. Globalisation requires every organisation to think in a different way.

Technological change, particularly the change in the way information is created, shared and used, is rapidly changing the way organisations work, make decisions, and manage their resources. Technology supports globalisation, but brings increased demands,increased stress and an increased rate of change.

Cross-border collaboration is described in these articles in the context of collaborating internal borders. Technology allows, and globalisation demands, that modern organisations are completely permeable to knowledge and information. However increasingly collaboration corsses organisational boundaries as well, in integrated supply chains, consortia and joint ventures.

So is Knowledge Management a fourth force for change, or it is the response to the other three? The articles assert that "Managing its knowledge assets can give a company a competitive edge as it effectively utilizes the expertise, skills, intellect, and relationships of members of the organization" - so describe it more as an enabler of change than as a force for change.

I would say that KM is not a force for change, but is the management system that makes change possible. It is probably no coincidence that KM began when globalisation and communication technology were just beginning to take off in the late 1980s.

We live in a global, collaborative and technology-enabled world, where knowledge is one of the primary assets of successful organisations. Knowledge Management is the way to mange that primary asset.

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