Monday, 19 July 2010

KM and the overloaded expert

Heavy Load
Originally uploaded by feserc

Tom and I are working on another book in our "Knowledge Management For......." series, this one on Knowledge management for Sales and Marketing (see here for a list of the others). There is a very interesting chapter in there by Graeme Smith, on KM along the supply chain in the Ordnance survey. I won't tell you the whole story (he tells it very well in the book), but there is one point that really struck me.

Before the Ordnance Survey applied KM to their supply chain, they did an audit of supply chain activity, and measured the level of conformance with process. In other words, how much time were people spending doing their core role and core process, and how much doing other things, including rework.

They found a level of non-conformance in some areas of 80%. These people, most of whom were very experienced, were spending 80% of their time not doing their job.

Graeme explains

Closer inspection of the data and workplace analysis of activities measured, revealed the nature and extent of the role these individuals were playing within the social network.
The most revealing aspect of their role was the fact that the rest of the organisation was using them as knowledge experts. They were being exploited for their knowledge; the position they held in the value chain; their propensity to help others solve customer problems; and, to a certain extent, by their own management who left them alone simply because they "got things done" and helped the team achieve their key performance indicators.

As a result of staff movements and retirements, these individuals were having to deal with increased demand and conversely were becoming a scarce resource and a growing risk to the business. Their own lack of capacity to create and innovate change in the process, due to volume pressures was reducing their ability to transfer knowledge to others. Of immediate concern to management was the high degree of risk that this built into the process. Individuals leaving their role would see a collapse of the social network previously dependent upon their knowledge.

That is a vision of Knowledge management being done because it is needed to be done, but being done with absolutely no support or strategy or structure or process, and as a consequence resulting in a very risky and unsustainable situation.

The Ordnance Survey took a number of actions to address this, including reworking processes, codifying expert knowledge into a "knowledge and learning pack", and a major program of retraining. But what can YOU do in your organisation, if you find people playing the expert role at the expense of their day job?

1. You can make the expert role into their day job! Its obviously what's needed to be done, and they are obviously the right people to do it. See blog post 
2. You can start to codify as much as you can; into processes, wikis, checklists etc
3. You can build the communities which can support the expert

But don't leave it with the poor overloaded individual, with only 20% of capacity left for their official job. That way, you are heading for a fall.

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