Thursday, 3 September 2009

KM failure stories number 2 - a KM tool in isolation is like a pump without pipes

Manifold and pump
Originally uploaded by Bryn Pinzgauer
We were working with a KM team, who had asked us to come into their organisation and run some Retrospects from major successful bids. They wanted to develop and deploy knowledge of how to bid successfully.

We held a series of Retrospects, and they worked very well. We had some fantastic dialogue within the bid team, and with the internal client, and identified a series of learning points. We found some really good success factors whch should be repeated in future, and whole set of opportunities for improving the bid process, including some things that were really frustrating the bid teams (mostly related to inappropriate company policies). We documented the lessons and the opportunities for improvement, trained the client in the Retrospect process, and moved on.

A few months later the client called, and said "That Retrospect process is rubbish". That took me aback, as I know from experience that it is a very powerful and robust process, so I asked him why he said this. He replied - "those issues that were frustrating the team when we started, are still there. They have come up again in the latest Retrospects. Nothing has been changed".

Well - nothing would be changed, if all they did was hold Retrospects. Retrospects are great for identifying team learning, but there needs to be a follow on process to take action on the issue, and for this particular company, those actions needed to be taken at a high level in the organisation. They had not implemented a process or workflow for addressing the actions, and had no engagement from senior managers in the learning process. Retrospects, like so many KM tools, need to be part of a system, and no tool in isolation will stand in for the system as a whole.

I blogged a while back about "KM and central heating", making the point that a KM system is like a central heating system in that it requires many components that work together in order for knowledge to flow (For those of you in hot countries - think of air conditioning systems in big buildings).

Introducing Retrospects without a system to act on the learning is like installing a hot water pump with no pipes and boilers and radiators, and then expecting your house to get warm.

This is a surprisingly common KM failure mode - introducing one or two tools, and expecting them to do the work of a complete system of technologies, processes, accountabilities and governance.

1 comment:

Art Schlussel said...

You are spot on with this. Unfortunately this is an all too often story. Developing and deploying a "KM" solution is the easy part. Changing culture, behaviors,and monitoring usage and impact is the hard part and where successful KM lives and thrives.

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