Friday, 30 April 2010

The four roles in KM

This blog post arises from a conversation I have been having with Mary Abrahams over the roles of knowledge manager and content manager and content catalyst, following the "turf war" post below. She asked me about my definition of content, in the context of roles and role descriptions, and we agree that content is recorded material (documents, videos, photographs etc). As the conversation moved into the field of Roles, then I realised that it was becoming too big for a comment on a blog post, and becoming a blog post in its own right.

In a managed KM system, I see four main facilitative roles, which we can link to the four squares of the Nonaka and Takeuchi SECI model, the four squares being

Socialisation - the transfer of knowledge between people,
Externalisation - where tacit knowledge is extrnalised, and then can be recorded (thus creating content)
Combination - where externalised knowledge or content is combined
and refined
Internalisation - where externalised knowledge or content is
internalised or "learnt" by the user

(I just want to say at this point that not all content, in fact only a small proportion, is externalised knowledge. There is a huge amount of content which is information or data. Also not all externalised knowledge, by the N&T definition, is content, but for the purpose of looking at roles, I will assume that we can equate the two. Please feel free to question this assumption, but that would lead us into different territory).

So what are the roles?

Socialisation - the role of the contact broker, for example the facilitator of a community of practice, or the subject matter expert who puts people in touch with people, arranging knowledge visits, conferences, round tables, knowledge exchanges, mentoring, demonstrations, conversations etc.

Externalisation - the role of the facilitator, who facilitates peer assists, AARs, Retrospects, Knowledge handovers, who conducts interviews, and who creates learning histories. This could be close to Mary's "content catalyst" role.

Combination - the role of the knowledge owner, or content owner. There will be a content manager role as well, who manages the repository of the content.

Internalisation - this is a fuzzier area, and this is an area of weakness for many KM programs. The role here is the broker for the internalisation of other people's knowledge. It may be the facilitator of the Business Driven Action Learning exercise, or the facilitator or trainer of other exercises(trainings, briefings, role plays, scenario planning) where people can internalise explicit knowledge.

These roles are in addition to the basic roles of knowledge provider and knowledge receiver/user. They facilitate the flow of knowledge, rather than contribute to it. Also they are not neccessarily roles on the KM team.

These need not be separate people - the knowledge owner or content manager could act as the contact broker, the externalisation facilitator can act as the internalisation facilitator. Or it could very well be more than four people. There may be many communities, each with a facilitator. There may be many facilitators of knowledge capture and knowledge internalisation.

But if knowledge transfer is to work well, these roles are needed.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

KM, what are people talking about?

Every day I get a email from Google, containing a day's worth of alerts of new web pages featuring the term "knowledge management".

I thought it would be interesting to review these alerts, to see what people are talking about in terms of KM in 2010.

Here are the results, having first removed the very large number that were talking about something else, but had "knowledge managament" somewhere else on the page.

22 of the alerts were job vacancies. That surprised me. 13 were KM jobs, the others mentioned knowledge management as one of the tasks or roles.

14 took me to web pages, blog posts or book reviews which were about "other technology". I say "other technology" to differentiate from the 8 which were about social media. Other technology included portals, "KM systems" etc

There were a whole number of conference and workshop announcements. Then quite a few about KM processes, such as knowledge retention, or various types of knowledge workshop.

6 I have called "KM application" as they represent the application of KM - people sharing things through wikis, people posting their details on KM sites etc.

5 were definitions or distinctions - posts or pages about KM itself. Then we had more on KM strategy, KM and culture, KM implementation, Communities, storytelling, and personal KM.

So what can we conclude?

1. There are quite a few Km jobs about. That's good news.
2. There is still a potential overemphasis on technology; social or otherwise, but not as big an overemphasis as I expected to find.
3. However in general there's a wide and diverse understanding of KM out there, and lots of good stuff being shared.

Think, every day, something no one else is thinking

Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to be always part of unanimity.
- Christopher Morley

PowerPoint and knowledge non-transfer

Another great article from the New York Times about the lack of power of PowerPoint as a knowledge transfer medium.


“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.)


Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat. “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”


Commanders say that the slides impart less information than a five-page paper can hold, and that they relieve the briefer of the need to polish writing to convey an analytic, persuasive point. Imagine lawyers presenting arguments before the Supreme Court in slides instead of legal briefs.


Senior officers say the program does come in handy when the goal is not imparting information, as in briefings for reporters.

see also here and here

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

KM and content management, the turf war

There's a strong overlap between content management and KM, and you can get into a sort of turf war over this overlap. See for example this post by Mary Abrahams on "Librarians vs Knowledge managers"

Sometimes the content managers stake a claim for KM, and in these cases, KM becomes a matter of documentation, of taxonomies, of search engines, and loses sight of the tacit knowledge, of communities of practice, of peer assist and AAR.

Sometimes, it seems, KM people stake a claim for content managment. Mary quotes Morgan Wilson, a law librarian, as describing the outcome

"KM ends up cannibalizing the library, creating a two tiered system in which the library is definitely subordinate. The library remains responsible for reference, document delivery and training; time intensive activities which KM doesn’t want to be burdened with. Cataloging remains with the library by default, but it is not appreciated or understood by the KM masters and is marginalized. KM takes on several higher status activities which the librarians used to be responsible for: liaising and outreach with the users in the practice groups, developing the research section of the intranet, working on new ICT projects and managing the library staff. Because KM is taking on additional work, it needs more people. The trouble is that KM professionals are lawyers and are not cheap. To balance the books, the library is shrunk."

The turf-war zone is shown in the venn diagram above, and is defined by two observations

1. Not all knowledge is recorded. I have described recorded knowledge as "explicit knowledge" above, to follow common practice, although this is not the sense in which the term was orginally used.

2. Not all documents and content are explicit knowledge. In fact, very little content is explicit knowledge. Much of it is information, which informs you of things, but doesnt give you know-how, or the ability to make correct decisions, or take correct action (see my post on data/information/knowledge) The explicit knowledge is the advice, the tips and hints, the how-tos, the guidelines and checklists, the procedures and manuals, the training and e-learning material.

So both the content managers/librarians and the KM people can legitimately stake a claim on the overlap area - those few documents or pieces of content which are both knowledge and content. And when they use this claim to expland their empires, then we get into trouble.

So how do we solve the issue? Simple - we work together. Either we sit in one team, which is what my South African colleague Ian Corbett did in De Beers (where the cyber-librarian was a key part of the KM team), or we have two teams but with a common framework and aligned strategies. We don't fight each other, as this puts both content management and KM equally at risk.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Knowledge management in the public sector

Our latest Knoco newsletter is now available here, and covers KM in the public sector.

We talk about what makes the public sector different, describe what we have seen in the Australian public sector, and list a few public sector initiatives we have been involved with.

My own view is that KM is that the approach to KM in the public sector should be no different from the approach for the private sector. You should

1. Identify the business issues which Knowledge can help solve
2. Identify the key knowledge which will help solve the issues
3. Map out how knowledge can flow systematically and routinely to the people who need it in order to solve the issue
4. Put in place the structures that allow this to happen
5. Put in place the governance that ensures these structures will be applied

All of these steps are harder to define in the public sector, but the overall set of steps should be the same.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

KM dream job?

Head of the Carribean Knowledge Management centre for the UN, based in Trinidad

Signal, noise and the blog cynic

vs. Noise
Originally uploaded by krossbow
Those of us who are professional advocates for KM will meet a lot of cynics. There are KM cynics, and also cynics who take against certain elements of KM (especially elements of technology). I recently met a blog cynic, who could not see a role for blogs in business. His issues with blogs were that

1. There are too many of them
2. You have no idea if there is anything useful in them,
3. People who ought to be writing blogs, often don't get round to it. There are people who aren't blogging, who really should be.
4. The quality of material is wildly variable - much of it is opinion, little of it is knowledge. There are people blogging, who really shouldn't

I would summarise the situation as "too much noise, not enough signal".

Now if there really is knowledge that needs to be "pushed" within an organisation, then a blog could be a pretty good way to do it. If there is Signal, and you can separate it from Noise, then a blog is a good Carrier (to continue the metaphor).

For this to happen, then

1. The person who should be doing the pushing, needs to see it as an important part of their role. They need to blog, and should blog.
2. The people who need to receive the knowledge, need to know where the blog is, so they can "tune in" to it (i.e. follow it)
3. The number of blogs within the organisation is managed, or limited, to minimise noise. This means a policy of "blog if you ought to" rather than "blog if you want to".

Let me give you an example. Say there is an IT community in an organisation. Say there is a head of IT security, who regularly needs to send out updates, alrets and other material to that community. He or she could use a blog (with email notification to the community). That way everyone will be notified, and the updates can be found on the blog site, for future reference. Notifications come through email, but Outlook is not the main storage site. However for this to work, there needs to be

1. One IT security blog
2. One person who sees it as their job to blog the updates and alerts
3. A community of users, with a vested interest in reading the blog.

Now let me say right now that I am talking about blogging within an organisation, as a way of sharing knowledge for business purposes - for continuous process improvement, and for better decision making. This is a different context from blogging on the world wide web, where people blog for many other reasons, including for self-expression, for profile building, and for social networking.

Here's another example. Imagine a community of practice in an oil company, focusing on some technical topic (borehole stability, seismic processing, expandable tubing). The community has a forum where they can raise questions and give answers, but also a community blog, moderated by the community leader, where the core community members or other subject matter experts can share validated knowledge with the community. It's a way of pushing out new knowledge. But there needs to be only one blog, with a group of people who see it as their job to inform the community, and a community of interested readers. This is a different purpose and a different mechanism from the chatter that goes on in the community discussion forum.

So if we add some process and some accountabilities to the blog software, we can end up with a useful approach which should convince the cynic. But if there are no accountabilities and no process, then we can end up with the situation the cynics describe - too much noise, not enough signal.

ideas quote

an idea
Originally uploaded by aloshbennett

I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones.
- John Cage

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Nested communities

I blogged yesterday about the four main types of community; the communities of practice, the communities of purpose, the communities of interest, and the social communities.

It is worth pointing out that in many large communities, these various types can coexist within one community, in a sort of nested arrangement, as shown on the diagram. This works as follows.

At the core of the community may be a core team, who are jointly accountable for the running of the community. This is part of their job, and they are rewarded for doing it. They roles are now officially part of what they do, and they cannot come and go as they please - they have a level of commitment. In some cases, they may timewrite against these community roles. This core team collectively agreee deliverables with the company (often through a community sponsor), and in return may receive a community budget. This collective agreement means that the core team is a community of purpose.

The core team service a community of practitioners. These are a true community of practice. Their roles are informal, and their involvement in the community is entirely at their own discretion. They do not timewrite to community activity - their incentive to take part is due to their passion for teh topic and to the access to knowledge proivided by the community. They are potentially both users and providers of knowledge.

There also may be a group of those who do not practice in the topic, but are interested observers of the community activity. They do not use the knowledge to improive their own practice, but they want to know what's going on. These people form a community of interest around the topic.

And where is the purely social community? It's not on this picture at all, as this is a community focused around a topic, rather than a social community of friends. Over time, friednships and social ties will develop, but the primary purpose of this nested community is business rather than social.

Now of course not every business community will be nested like this.

There are the purely vonluntary communities of practice, with no funding, no sponsor, no deliverables and no offical roles. These have no community of purpose at the core.

There are the communities which are purely communities of purpose - budget-holding collaborative work groups set up to solve particular problems.

There are the communities which are "practitioners only" - closed to the "interested observers"

However we need to recognise that community types can nest.

So how does this work in terms of technology? we will find that in a nested community, different layers make use of different tools.

The core Community of Purpose may have their own collaborative workspace, for setting up meetings of the core, or for administration. Often they will throw this open for comment to the wider community, but the main users of this workspace will be the core. The core may use the community blog for community announcements.

The community of practice will use the discussion forum, will build the wiki, will take part in knowledge sharing activities.

The community of interest will be more passive observers, and will read rather than contribute.

Olympic KM

I was pleased to note here that the 2014 winter olympics will have their own knowledge manager!

Monday, 19 April 2010

The four community types

The term "Community" is one we hear often in the KM world, usually with little qualification. However there is more than one type of community, and problems start to arise when management models for one type are misapplied to another type. Here are the four types.

Communities of practice are the KM standard. A community of practice is, as you might expect, a community of practitioners; practitioners within a single area or discipline of practice. They may be a community of geologists, of lawyers, of gardeners, of chefs. Their conversation is about practice, and the purpose of the community is primarily to help each other to improve their practice, by using the tacit knowledge of the community as a shared resource. The community do not deliver anything collectively to a host company; all products they create are for the benefit of the community members. Communities of practice generally are voluntary, and often have little or no funding from the host company.

Communities of purpose are different. Here the community is funded by a company or by a host organisation, and in return, commit to deliverables. They have a performance contract, a budget, and agreed KPIs. This sort of community will have an identified set of members, rather than being totally voluntary. They will have joint objectives. They act often as a virtual team. Their conversation is about practice, so they are a different from a multi-discipline team, but they behave in many ways like a team.

Communities of interest are different again. These consist of people who are interested in a particular topic (such as a fan club for a particular pop star, or supporters of a rugby team), but they are not practitioners. Their purpose is to receive and share information, but this information doesn't help them in their work as practitioners. Membership is entirely voluntary.

Social communities are communities of friends. Their purpose is not to share information or knowledge - their purpose is creating and strengthening social bonds. Membership is voluntary, but is often requested and invited. People are invited into social networks, though the invitation can come through membership in communities of interest.

Where community strategies go wrong, is when members of one type of community are treated as if they are members of another type of community.

For example, we have seen one organisation give deliverables to the community, despite the voluntary nature of the community. They have treated them as a community of purpose, though they are a community of practice. The community members did not sign up for delivering products to the company, and rapidly lost enthusiasm.

We have seen another organisation treat a community of interest as a community of practice, trying to engage them in conversation and exchange of knowledge, when all they were interested in was receiving information.

We have seen a third company treat a community of practice as a social community, trying to involve them in the creation of social and friendship bonds, when all they really wanted was access to knowledge.

Community is a wide term, and before introducing any sort of community strategy to your company or organisation, it is worth getting very clear about what sort of community you are dealing with. (Also please note - these communities can be nested within one topic area)

Friday, 9 April 2010

King Solomon on Knowledge Management

Where no advice is, the people fall; but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.
Proverbs 11:14

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Learning to fail, or failing to learn?

Originally uploaded by smemon87
I was reading this blog post the other day, about the role of failure in learning. In the post, the author says the following.

Every individual has three orientations in encounters with new areas of discovery — avoiding, performing and learning.

Most organizations are performance driven. The employees who perform the best are the ones who are rewarded. Those who try to improve on performance and fail are reprimanded. However, it is only in trying something new that they can improve performance, where new discoveries are made.

The implication here, is that failure and learning are linked, and that failure should not be treated as a negative thing, if it leads to learning. I know there is a strong body of thought that says you need to fail, in order to learn. "Experience is the best teacher" and so on. "Take risks, fail, learn". "Trial and error" is often used as a synonym for learning.

I have been thinking long and hard about this, and I dont think that I agree. I think you can learn, and still minimise failure. I think you can learn, and AVOID failure.

I know that the writer of the blog was contrasting "playing safe" with risk taking, and mentioning failure in the context of trying somethign new, but there are three points I would like to make here.

1. "Performing" should not be seen as in contrast to, or opposed to, learning. Performing and learning go hand in hand (see the video on Performing on our Knowledge Management video page - its in the middle of the bottom row). Performance should never be static - no manager should accept performance which is not constantly improving. Static performance is poor performance. John Browne's challenge to BP, which was such a strong driver of KM, was "every time we do something, we should do it better than last time". For him, static performance was failure.

2. Risk taking, trying new things, and failing are no guarantee of learning. I have seen people take risks, and create their own new solutions, as an alternative to learning from others. I have heard one guy say "I know that factory over there has done this before, but rather than learn from them, I am going to create my own solution. That's what I do - I am an engineer, and my favourite tool is the blank sheet of paper". Informed and strategic risk taking is fine. Taking stupid risks is just plain stupid. Failure in service of a stretch goal may also be fine, provided there are contingency plans and fallbacks, and also provided you haven't wiped out the company budget or killed someone along the way. Failure because you are too dumb or too lazy or too proud to learn from others before trying something new, is not fine.

3. Risk taking plus learning avoids failure. Part of the thinking behind the quoted post (that if you don't fail, you won't learn) is based on the assumption that all learning comes from doing. If you are "learning while doing", you need to feel your way, and mistakes and failures are unavoidable. But what if you "learn before doing"? What if you get us much knowledge as you can before you start? What if you learn from others (another plug for Peer Assist here), learn from your network and community, learn through practice, learn through scenario planning and role play? That way you take informed risks, and you minimise the chance of failure.

Let's sever this implied link between learning and failing. Let's embrace informed, knowledgeable risk taking as a way to avoid failure.

Let's re-unite learning and performing.

Lets learn to succeed, and learn to improve.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

5 rules to reinvent "best practice"

There is a lot of pushback in the KM world about the term "best practice". In the discussion groups, we hear people saying "we don't believe in best practice". Respected KM gurus say that "best practice harms effectiveness". David Snowden, in his complexity model, believes that best practice will apply only to simple repeatable non-complex problems.

Certainly I have seen the concept of best practice used negatively and destructively in organisations. I have seen people defend outmoded and inefficient ways of working by saying "we are following best practice". However I feel that as a concept, best practice can still be very useful, with the following caveats

1. Best is temporary. There may be a current "best way" to do something, but like "world champion" or "world record", it's not going to stay the best for long.

2. Best is therefore a starting point. We are always looking to improve on best, but without knowing the temporary best, we don't know what we have to beat. Like a world record, best is there to be beaten - its a minimum accepted threshold.

3. Best is contextual. There may be no universal "best way" to do something. The best way to deal with emergency decompression of a Jumbo Jet may not be the best way to deal with emergency decompression of a Harrier jump jet. However within that context, there is still a "best".

4. In a new context, you cannot blindly apply "best" from another context. However you can learn from other "bests" - no context is ever totally alien, and there may be approaches that can inform and advise, that you can build upon
5. Best practice does not have to be written down. It can live there in the community cloud of tacit knowledge. Usain Bolts "best way to run a sprint" is probably not even conscious - its in his muscle memory. However if it can be written down - in a wiki, or a document, or a manual - so much the better, so long as it is immediately updated every time its superseded and improved. The risk with documenting a best practice, is that it goes out of date, and there is no point in documenting without allowing for continual update. The risk with not documenting a best practice, is that people can't find it, can't refer to it, and so make up their own practice which is frequently far from best. The answer is to record and continually update, eg through a wiki, or through a constantly reviewed and updated reference (for example, army doctrine)

If you apply these 5 caveats, then there is little or no risk from the concept of best practice, and instead it can be part of the engine that drives continual improvement.

After all, the concept of best practice is simply the following thought process

"Here's a problem. Has anyone seen anything like this before? What's the best way they've found to deal with things like this? How can I build on/improve on that to tackle my problem? Hmm - that worked, I'd better let others know what I did".

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Idea stealing quote

Don't worry about people stealing an idea. If it's original, you will have to ram it down their throats.
- Howard Aiken

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Knowledge Asset - cooking for engineers

Dry Ice Martini
Originally uploaded by oskay
I was pointed to this courtesy of Mary Abraham's Law KM blog. It's such a great example of knowledge packaged for the specific end user, that I felt I had to share it with you!

This is from a cookery book for engineers, and is just a fantastic example of packaged knowledge - in this case how to cook a meat lasagne. Very visual, and I love the process diagram at the bottom, and the layering diagram. Or this example for cheesecake. Look also at the comments beneath - in this example we can see an error in the original recipe has been picked up in the comments and corrected.

Now I know that not all KM consists of "giving people the recipe", but sometimes it does, and when we do have to write the "recipe" for an activity or a business process, lets make it as clear and as visual as these examples, with the same ability to comment and correct.

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