Saturday 31 July 2010

The illusion of Knowledge

Optical Illusion ??
Originally uploaded by C.P.Storm
This is blog post 3 in a series of 3.

The last of the illusions from The Invisible Gorilla, by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, that I would like to cover is the Illusion of Knowledge.

The Illusion of Knowledge is behind the way we overestimate how much we know. The authors refer, for example, to how people think they know how long a project will take, and how much it will cost, despite the fact that projects almost always overrun in both cost and time. "We all experience this sort of illusory knowledge, even for the simplest projects" they write. "We underestimate how long they will take or how much they will cost, because what seems simple and straightforward in our mind typically turns out to be more complex when our plans encounter reality. The problem is that we never take this limitation into account. Over and over, the illusion of knowledge convinces us that we have a deep understanding of what a project will entail, when all we really have is a rough and optimistic guess based on shallow familiarity"

People think they know what to do. So they never ask for help, and they never look for knowledge in the first place. They think (mistakenly) they have all the knowledge they need.

So how do we deal with this problem? The authors propose a solution which is very familiar to those of us in the KM world.

"To avoid this illusion of knowledge, start by admitting that your personal views of how expensive and time-consuming your own seemingly unique project will be, are probably wrong. If instead, seek out similar projects that others have completed (the more similar to yours the better, of course), you can use the actual time and cost of these projects to understand how long yours will take. Taking such an outside view of what we normally keep in our own minds dramatically changes how we see our plans"

In other words, Peer Assist.

Peer Assist is the best way to avoid the illusion of knowledge. If you want to promote better decisions in your organisation, promote Peer Assist. Obviously if people have an overconfident view of their own knowledge, they may not ask for a Peer Assist in the first place, which is where Management comes in. If they can mandate (or at least strongly recommend) Peer Assist for every project, then at least they are ensuring a mechanism whereby the illusion of knowledge can be challenged, and where people can find that, in fact, they don't know everything, and that there are useful lessons from the past that can be Incorporated.

So in summary, those three illusions - the illusions of memory, confidence and knowledge - need to be borne in mind as part of KM.

If we are unaware of these illusions, we can feel confident in our knowledge, based on our memories of the past, without realising that the confidence is false, the knowledge is poor, and the memories are unreliable and partially fictitious. Awareness of these illusions allows us also to challenge the individual who confidently declares "I know how to do this. I remember how we did it 5 years ago", because we recognise the shaky nature of confidence, knowledge and memory.

Awareness of these three illusions allows us to build a knowledge management framework based on a firm foundation, and not a foundation of illusion.

Friday 30 July 2010

The illusion of confidence in KM

the confident pup
Originally uploaded by newandrew
Following my previous post about the Invisible Gorilla and the illusions of awareness, I would like to share some thoughts on the illusion of confidence, and how this might impact Knowledge Management.

The illusion of confidence represents the way that people value knowledge from a confident person. This would be fine if confidence and knowledge go hand in hand, but in fact there is almost an inverse relationship. A lack of knowledge is, instead, allied to overconfidence. Lack of knowledge leads to confidence, which leads to you being seen as knowledgeable.

Lets explore these ideas a little.

Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, the authors of The Invisible Gorilla, give several examples of the illusion of confidence.

They mention studies of chess players. Each chess player is given a points rating based on their competition results, which is in fact a very effective and reliable measure of their ability. Yet 75% of chess players believe they are underrated, despite the evidence to the contrary. They are overconfident in their own ability.

They mention studies of groups of people coming together to solve a maths problem. You would expect the group to defer to the person with the greatest maths knowledge, wouldn't you? In fact, the group deferred to the most confident person, regardless of their knowledge. In trials, in 94% of the cases, the final answer given by the group is the first answer suggested, by the most confident person present, regardless if whether it is right or wrong.

Which doctor would you rather trust, they ask; the doctor who confidently writes a prescription without any ado, or the one who consults a reference book or online diagnosis system before concluding their diagnosis? The heart says you trust the former for their confidence, the head says you should trust the latter for their use of knowledge.

When I was a geologist, I used to run a field trip to Sardinia, the purpose of which was primarily to undermine the confidence of young geologists, by showing them how complex geology actually is. We would drive to a viewpoint, look out over the countryside towards our next stop, and ask people to predict what rocks we would find there. And for the first two days, almost every prediction was wrong. Together with raising their knowledge of geology, the field course taught them a healthy realisation of how little they really do know. With increased knowledge, came decreased overconfidence.

So what are the implications for Knowledge Management?

For example, when sharing knowledge in a Peer Assist or Knowledge Exchange, we have to be careful to distinguish between confidence and knowledge. The facilitator need to be aware of this illusion, and make sure that everyone has their input, and that we understand the knowledge and experience behind their viewpoint. The facilitator cannot just allow the most confident person to sway the result, he or she must explore what the group actually knows, before coming to a conclusion.

Secondly we need to be aware how groups can reinforce confidence without increasing knowledge. The authors of the book mention a Harvard study of confidence vs knowledge in a trivia test. They certainly saw overconfidence in individuals - people were confident of their answer 70% of the time, while being correct only 54% of the time. They then put them together in pairs. The counterintuitive outcome was that the pairs were no more successful than the individuals, but they were a lot more confident. When two low-confidence people were put together, their overall confidence increased by 11%, even though their success rate was no higher than before.

Again, a facilitator needs to be aware of this. A confident group expressing an opinion is not necessarily right, and can make some crazy decisions. The authors relate this experiment to the example of Georgia declaring war on Russia - a country which outnumbered them 25 to 1. I quote

"This experiment illustrates why the Georgian government's high-confidence decision to provoke war with Russia did not necessarily stem from the overconfident views of any one individual. The people making these decisions might each have had low confidence - perhaps so low that they might not have given the order themselves. In a group, however, their confidence might have inflated to a point where what were actually uncertain, risky procedures seemed highly likely to succeed"

So confident is not the same as knowledgeable, and confident decisions are not the same as low-risk decisions.

Thursday 29 July 2010

The Gorilla Illusions

Gorilla 2
Originally uploaded by nailbender
I have just finished reading The Invisible Gorilla, by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons (an extremely interesting book). These are the guys who set up the famous "invisible gorilla" experiment (if you don't know it, go here). The subtitle of the book is "ways our intuition deceives us", and the authors talk about a number of human traits (they call them illusions) which we need to be aware of in Knowledge Management, as each of them can affect the reliability and effectiveness of Knowledge Transfer.

The illusions which have most impact on KM are
 I would like to address these three illusions in a series of blog posts, as its a bit much to fit into a single one.

The illusion of memory has massive impact in KM terms, as it affects the reliability of any tacit knowledge that relies on memory.

I have already posted about the weakness of the human brain as a long-term knowledge store. Chabris and Simons give some graphic examples of this, pointing our how even the most vivid memories can be completely unreliable. They describe how one person has a complete memory of meeting Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard of Star Trek) in a restaurant, which turns out not to have happened to him at all, but to be a story he has heard and incorporated into his own memory. They talk about two people with wildly differing memories of a traumatic event, which turn out both to be false when a videotape of the event is finally found. And they give this story of a university experiment into the reliability of memory.

 On the morning of January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff. The very next morning, psychologists Ulric Neisser and Nicole Harsch asked a class of Emory University undergraduates to write a description of how they heard about the explosion, and then to answer a set of detailed questions about the disaster: what time they heard about it, what they were doing, who told them, who else was there, how they felt about it, and so on.
Two and a half years later, Neisser and Harsch asked the same stu­dents to fill out a similar questionnaire about the Challenger explosion.The memories the students reported had changed dramatically over time, incorporating elements that plausibly fit with how they could have learned about the events, but that never actually happened. For example, one subject reported returning to his dormitory after class and hearing a commotion in the hall. Someone named X told him what happened and he turned on the television to watch replays of the explo­sion. He recalled the time as 11:30 a.m., the place as his dorm, the ac­tivity as returning to his room, and that nobody else was present. Yet the morning after the event, he reported having been told by an ac­quaintance from Switzerland named Y to turn on his TV. He reported that he heard about it at 1:10 p.m., that he worried about how he was going to start his car, and that his friend Z was present. That is, years after the event, some of them remembered hearing about it from differ­ent people, at a different time, and in different company.

Despite all these errors, subjects were strikingly confident in the ac­curacy of their memories years after the event, because their memories were so vivid—the illusion of memory at work again. During a final interview conducted after the subjects completed the questionnaire the second time, Neisser and Harsch showed the subjects their own hand­written answers to the questionnaire from the day after the Challenger explosion. Many were shocked at the discrepancy between their origi­nal reports and their memories of what happened. In fact, when con­fronted with their original reports, rather than suddenly realizing that they had misremembered, they often persisted in believing their current memory.
The authors conclude that those rich details you remember are quite often wrong—but they feel right. A memory can be so strong that even documentary evidence that it never happened doesn't change what we remember.

So what is the implication for Knowledge Management?

The implication is that if you will need to re-use tacit knowledge in the future, then you can't rely on people to remember it. Even after a month, the memory will be unreliable. Details will have been added, details will have been forgotten, the facts will have been rewritten to be closer to "what feels right". The forgetting curve will have kicked in, and it kicks in quickly.  Tacit knowledge is fine for sharing knowledge on what's happening now, but for sharing knowledge with people in the future (ie transferring knowledge through time as well as space) then it needs to be written down quickly while memory is still reliable.

We saw the same with our memories of the Bird Island game in the link above. Without a written or photographic record, the tacit memory fades quickly, often retaining enough knowledge to be dangerous, but not enough to be successful. And as the authors say, the illusion of memory can be so strong that the written or photographic record can come as a shock, and can feel wrong, even if its right.

Any KM approach that relies solely on tacit knowledge held in the human memory can therefore be very risky, thanks to the illusion of memory.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Why should I share? Receiving, in order to give.

Originally uploaded by andrew_mc_d

Back in the days of the BP Knowledge Management program, in the late 1990s, we were travelling the world, spreading the news about Knowledge management and engaging different BP business units in conversation about the value KM could bring.

One of our tours took us to South America, where we visited the Colombia Business Unit in Bogota. They had been doing some great work locally on the use of LiveLink to exchange and build knowledge, and we asked whether they would be prepared to share this work with the rest of the company.

They said No.

Not because of any secrecy issues, but because they were very busy, and this was very low on their list of priority actions. Effectively it would cost them time and resource, with no payback for them, as the benefit would be for the rest of the organisation). In terms of "What's In It For Us", the answer (at the time) was "Nothing".

About a year later, BP Colombia went through a massive downsizing and restructuring operation, where they needed to reduce office costs by 50%. Their aspiration was to do this fairly, with complete consultation, so that everyone in the exercise felt they had been treated well. And that is very difficult to do. So they looked around for help, and they remembered the Knowledge management program. They called us in, we conducted a whole series of interviews from past restructuring programs, and drew together the best of the lessons from the past. Colombia used these lessons to inform and tailor their own program, and their restructuring went as well as they had hoped. Everyone felt they had been given choices, everyone felt they had been treated well, there were no incidents of people feeling aggrieved or upset or outraged, there were no safety incidents or production incidents caused by people getting worried or distracted.

And afterwards, the gates were open in terms of Colombia sharing knowledge with the rest of the world. It was like a switch had been thrown. They were delighted to share, starting with their own experiences from their own restructuring.

So what had changed?

What was now "in it for them"?

The answer is, reciprocity. They had received, and now they gave. They had felt the benefit, and so were willing to share the benefit. Instead of sharing "in case it helps someone", they would share "because it will help someone".

So if you find a part of the business which is unwilling to share, then start by giving them something - some knowledge that will make a real difference to them. Allow them to Pull before requiring them to Push. Let them feel the benefit of knowledge transfer before asking them to share the burden.

Let them receive, before asking them to give.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

"Best Practice" and KM

I know a lot of people are suspicious of the concept of Best Practice in KM, but I believe its a useful concept when handled properly. See the video below

Monday 26 July 2010

An individual with information

SAS MD80 at Brussels
Originally uploaded by Eurapart

“An individual without information cannot take responsibility;

An individual who is given information cannot help but take responsibility.”

Jan Carlson - Former Chairman, SAS Airlines

KM Implementation, preparing to stop

Prepare to Stop - 300420081386
Originally uploaded by roland
I was recently having a discussion with Alan O'Neill on KM implementation, and he made the point that "we have stories of organisations giving up because they view KM as a project, it doesn't deliver at the "discrete end date" so it is viewed as a failure".

Although I am a proponent of viewing KM implementation as a project (which then hands over to a KM operational and maintenance team, once KM has been embedded into business processes and business governance), I think Alan has a very good point. There is a huge risk of stopping your KM Implementation activity too early, before it has been embedded. I can see that if you plan a "2 year KM program" then the risk is that you stop after 2 years, no matter how far you have come, and if KM is not embedded at that point, it slides back or tips back to the previous state, despite the best efforts of the KM operational team.

I prefer to think of a KM implementation project as best approached as a series of decisions, with each decision moving you on to the next stage

1. The decision to investigate what Knowledge Management would mean for us in our organisation
2. The decision that the organization needs improved Knowledge Management, and to find out how much investment is required.
3. The decision to set up a KM implementation program, with a full-time team and budget.
4. The decision to pilot KM in high profile areas
5. The decision to roll out KM as a required discipline to the whole organisation.
6. Once KM is embedded, the decision to stand down the implementation team and hand over to management within the business (with the support of a central KM team to operate and maintain the KM framework).

You dont stop the implementation project until you have good evidence to support decision 6.

To do so would be like stopping a bridge-building project until the bridge crosses the river, and has a roadway across it.

So if you are to set up KM implementation as a project, then you need very clear deliverables (for example, embed a self-sustaining approach to KM in all elements the business, with clear governance and support, and clear evidence of sustainable culture change and sustainable business value) and you dont stop until you have got there. And even then, plan for a handover period, until operational KM is up and running.

Saturday 24 July 2010

The best decision

Marilyn Monroe
Originally uploaded by Shavar Ross

"Did you ever notice that 'what the hell' is always the right decision"?


Friday 23 July 2010

Learning, in the genes of the future CEO

CEO Face
Originally uploaded by rogerimp

Here's an interesting quote from a report by the Korn Ferry institute called "Discover the DNA of future CEOs".

They believe that learning ability (or learning agility) is part of that DNA. I quote from their report.

"According to Ian Smith, Former CEO of Reed Elsevier: “There needs to be openness to learning. It’s a paradox as in order to learn you need to make yourself vulnerable – but great leaders walk a tight rope between being open to learn (vulnerable) and striving forward.”

Here, there is a striking parallel with previous research by the Korn/Ferry
Institute. In our 2008 White Paper “Using Learning Agility to Identify High
Potentials Around the World” De Meuse, Dai, Hallenbeck and Tang underlined
the importance of ‘learning agility’ as a predictor of high potential in business executives. Learning agility is, in simple terms, the ability to learn from experience and to quickly adapt to, as well as drive, change.

Successful executives learn faster than those who ‘derail’, not because they are more intelligent, but because they have the necessary skills and strategies, and are therefore ‘learning agile’. By contrast, those that do not learn from their jobs, and simply repeat their previous performance in each new role, will never become the most effective leaders"

So if the future CEO is learning-agile, can we expect them to develop a similar learning agility in their organisations?

Thursday 22 July 2010

Real Geniuses

Light My Path
Originally uploaded by faith goble
Everyone is a genius at least once a year. The real geniuses simply have their bright ideas closer together.
- Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

What does a merger do to communities?

Looking through the archives on the train this week, I found a record of what happened to Communities of Practice after the BP Amoco merger in 1999. This is a useful case history of the effect of mergers on communities.

Both BP and Amoco were operating with communities of practice, and many of these communities overlapped. So what was done to merge and combine them?

Well, to be honest, it was not handled systematically or strategically at the time, and was really left up to the discretion of the individual communities. However bear in mind that the BP KM team had been disbanded already, and that communities of practice were still a new concept, and their vital importance to organisations was not fully recognised.

The community model survived, however, and the BP technical director introduced the BP community model to the new business leaders after the merger. The different business streams carried forward the model in slightly different ways, so the communities did not all look the same or work quite the same.

Initally there was a honeymoon of 3 months when people made a great effort to collaborate. But as the pressure came on, community collaboration started to suffer, and people reverted to their own personal networks and their old, pre-merger communities. There was a hiatus in workshops and conferences, exacerbated by travel restrictions. New communities created after the merger had buy-in across the organisation, but some of the older ones became more like "old boys clubs", and getting the different communities to let go of their own tools/techniques and to adopt a common set was a real issue.

Eventually the communities were merged, but not until after a hiatus in activity in many cases.

With the benefit of hindsight, you can see some things that should have been done

  • dedicate one or two people for the first year to raise the awareness, encourage, facilitate
  • create a directory of communities
  • raise the restrictions on travel
  • encourage the key communities to meet, talk, create something new between them
  • close the old community sites, and migrate to the new

Wednesday 21 July 2010

KM success story 16, £462 million at Anglo

Originally uploaded by blpgirl

Reproduced from here

"Anglo American cut a further £462 million through productivity improvements, partly driven by changes at subsidiary Anglo Platinum, where a five year knowledge management transformation has taken place to improve decision making.

..................This year (2010) Anglo American plans to invest £2.7 billion in mining projects, and is “modernising” project management processes and standards, Caroll said, “to ensure they not only capture lessons from previous projects but that they provide us with world class tools for the future allocation of capital and control of major projects”.

Anglo Platinum, a subsidiary of the group, has undergone a series of cost and operational improvement initiatives in recent years. A large knowledge management programme, focusing on tracking information from mining through refining and sales processes, aims to improve decision making".
It's a little ambiguous, though, whether the £462 million is a direct result of the KM program, or whether the two were just going on at the same time.

How communities transcend the social

Once upon a time, we all relied on what we as individuals knew.

Certainly this was true at school - we relied on what we held in our own heads to be able to write our term papers or pass our exams.

When we got to work, we found that this was not enough, and we started to build personal and social networks of people we had met, people we knew and people we trusted. We found that they would share their knowledge with us, and that gave us access to much more knowledge - maybe the knowledge of dozens of people.

Now there are Communities of Practice in many or most organisations. The great thing about these communities, is that they can give us access to knowledge beyond our personal networks,. They can give us access to knowledge from people we have no social tie to. People we have never met, never seen, and probably never will. Access to knowledge from hundreds of people - into the thousands sometimes.

The issue of trust in these communities is an interesting one. There is no way we can know these people - the limit seems to be about 150 people in a social group, so the community expands way beyond this. We can't know them, so can we trust them? And if we can't trust them, then will we use their knowledge?

The way communities seem to work, is that people trust the process and trust the system. They trust "the community" rather than the individuals. If the community coordinator makes sure that the community is a safe place to be, and that questions and pleas for help are answered promptly and not laughed at or ignored, then people will trust the community itself, even if they only know a fraction of the people.

  • When I access my own knowledge, I access the knowledge of 1
  • When I access the knowledge of my personal network, I access the knowledge of dozens
  • When I access the knowledge of the community, I access the knowledge of hundreds.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

A billion dollars of KM-enabled value at Mars

Mars Bar advert 1945
Originally uploaded by Smabs Sputzer
I was in Mars yesterday, at the Slough chocolate factory, talking with Linda Davies, their head of Knowledge Management, who I have known for about 8 years now.

I first met Linda in 2002, when I was helping Mars in the early stages of launching Knowledge Management. Now we are 8 years on, and Linda and her team have added up the value delivered by communities and networks and the Knowledge sharing initiatives they have launched. Linda agreed to let me share this fact with you.

That value, which Linda calls "Knowledge-enabled value", comes to a billion dollars.

That’s $1,000,000,000.00

Congratulations to all at Mars; that is one heck of an achievement.

Linda did not share with me all the details of how this value was delivered, but you can see one major example in the chapter she wrote for my latest book, the Lessons Learned handbook, about the Emerging Markets Global Practice Group we helped launch in Munich in 2004. I quote from her chapter

"In the 5 years this network has existed, sales in the 12 markets have trebled and the percentage profit has more than doubled, adding around $250 million to the bottom line. Whilst it would be unfair to claim this was entirely due to knowledge sharing, the GPG members themselves clearly point to the ideas and lessons they have gained from others as fundamental to their success. I guess you could say it has worked"!

It certainly has!!

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.

Sunday 18 July 2010

people do not network without good reason

Thankful for my network
Originally uploaded by krossbow

"...people do not network (using a noun as a verb, here) without very good reason. Certainly they may have common interests, or even needs, but this is not sufficient. What they also need is the belief that there is something in it for them, to make it worth their while participating. This could be things like getting direct help with problem-solving on their own projects; learning about similar problems to their own in the hope of inspiration; getting satisfaction from helping others; or generally getting to be known around the company as a learned, wise and helpful expert. You may well be able to think of other reasons."

Ray King. Community of practice leader

Saturday 17 July 2010


Ant Job.
Originally uploaded by Faunaface

“It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants.
The question is: What are we busy about?”

Henry David Thoreau

Friday 16 July 2010

"A widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible"

Bertrand Russell
Originally uploaded by Simon Harriyott

The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.

Bertrand Russell

How to incentivise knowledge sharing?

Every month I review the search terms that lead people to our Knoco website, just to see what people are searching for. A common search term that came up again this month, is "How to incentivise knowledge sharing".

I thought it was worth a blog post on it's own.

The simple answer is Don't!

Don't incentivise it; or at least, not directly. Instead, make Knowledge Sharing part of "doing a good job", and incentivise doing a good job.

I think this question often comes from people who have developed a Push system for Knowledge management, sitting in the Explicit Push quadrant of the diagram shown here. This is perhaps the least effective way to start with Knowledge Management, as I have discussed many times. But if you have decided to start here, then probably you have built a "knowledge repository", or perhaps a wiki, and it's probably sitting there mostly empty, and you are probably relying on people to start to populate it. So you think - how can I encourage them to post material? Can I pay them? Can I reward them? Can I nominate "sharer of the month" who gets a nice reward?

All of these ideas are seductive, but dangerous. All incentives like these can be gamed, and the gaming will be counter-productive. By providing incentives which are separate from normal job incentives, you give the message that Knowledge sharing is not part of the job, so needs to be incentivised separately.

So what do you do?

Firstly, make it clear that Knowledge Sharing is part of the job. If you need your sales reps to put knowledge into the CRM system, then write it into the company expectations. Just as timewriting is an expectation, or performance appraisals are an expectation, so knowledge entry should be an expectation, in this case. Or entering lessons into a lessons system - make it part of the project expectations, and the project doesn't get management sign-off until the lessons are done. Or if you require a company expert to own or edit part of a wiki, write it into their job description.

Secondly, reward people for performing against their expectations. Whatever conversations you have about performance, knowledge sharing needs to be part of that conversation.

Imagine a conversation at the end of a project - "Good job; delivered on time, to budget, and a really really great set of lessons for future use, that should save us millions down the line"

Imagine a conversation in a performance appraisal - "you did well with these objectives, but your Knowledge sharing performance was not great. I dont see any contributions from you in the forum, or in the wiki. What happened there?"

in both these conversations, knowledge sharing is part of a broader performance conversation, not something separate.

Thirdly, it does no harm at all, and is positively beneficial, for the community coordinator or the KM coordinator of the knowledge base, to publically thank the good contributors. See for example this post about community recognition. But the point is that this is not management recognition, so doesn't muddy KM recognition and job recognition by introducing a separate recognition system. Any such peer recognition can be referred to in the job appraisal, and the community facilitator or KM coordinator can let the manager know that "X is doing a great job in delivering against KM expectations".

Fourthly, you use the Nudge principle of peer pressure. You publish, to management, league tables of KM activity. You highlight the divisions that are sharing freely, and the ones that aren't sharing at all. You publish these at a high enough level that the managers don't want to look bad in front of their peers. Then you let the managers sort it out in their own divisions, through the normal chain of command. You can imagine the conversation - "Guys, we were shown up again in front of the CEO as being the division that shared least knowledge this past quarter, and by a very long way as well. You know how interested he is in this at the moment. Can you please raise this with your business units? I don't want to be bottom of the list again next quarter." This is not the same as setting targets and quotas, this is making people aware of activity, so they can take action.

I would much rather use these four, or a combination of these four, rather than any discrete incentives for publishing knowledge.

But please don't forget to address knowledge seeking as well, and also the entire tacit domain. Sharing without seeking can be a waste of time. If you focus only on Explicit Push, you miss 75% of Knowledge Management territory, and it is the more powerful 75% that you have missed.

Thursday 15 July 2010

Rise and fall of a community

This rather sad rise-and-fall progression for a community of practice was published by Tom Stewart in "The Invisible Key to Success" in Fortune magazine, 5 August 1996, and was adapted from work at Shirley Corporation. It represents what commonly happens to communities that become over-managed.

Although the publication is old, the progression can still be seen today, anywhere senior management take too much of an interest in Communities.

0 Months
Creation of Community of Practice

2 months
Community of practice meets for the first time

4 months
Community begins to develop innovation through shared insight and problem solving. Group begins to attract organizational attention.

6 months
Senior manager becomes intrigued with the community of practice and begins to attend meetings. Manager offers to act as advocate and acquire resources for the group.

8 months
Manager begins to dominate the session with questions-the meetings begin to focus less on sharing insights and more on educating the manager regarding the community's area of expertise.

10 months
Manager obtains corporate funding, proposes instituting ROI metrics to track performance.

12 months
Community of practice dissolves. Members cease to attend meetings.


The moral is, if there is that much senior management engagement, you don't need a community of practice, you need a community of purpose - a very different animal altogether.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Moving the cemetery

Angels in the Graveyard
Originally uploaded by David Masters

“ It is a bit more difficult to change the culture (in academe or in industry) than it is to move a cemetery.”
Woodrow Wilson

Performance Metrics and KM

I have blogged many times about the value of business metrics as a way to frame the KM conversation. Here’s another example.

A Community of Purpose in an organisation was looking at knowledge sharing between four countries; two where the business was well established, and two where the business was just starting. One of the first steps in knowledge sharing in the Community was to develop metrics; a way of benchmarking the countries, to determine who should learn from who.

As one of the community members reports, "the metric discussion really allowed us to move to a different level of performance, and to start learning from each other. The question 'why is country X better than Y?' starts a conversation between X&Y, and countries A, B and C too. One of the things I would emphasise is the precision of the metric is not nearly as important as the conversation around it".

The key metric in this case was a simple ratio of money spent in the country against value created. The community set themselves a target of adding €1.5 for each €1 spent. However when they plotted out this metric they found that the well established countries C and D were below the target, while the new countries A and B were claiming that they would create value very fast.

This obviously did not match the track record, and so kicked off a discussion in the community about what the newer projects could do differently based on the learnings from the past.

Without the metrics, the discussion would have had less focus, and less power.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

If we cease sharing

The storyteller
Originally uploaded by matwiemann

If we cease sharing our stories, our knowledge becomes lost

(Algonquin Indian saying)

After Action Reviews for negotiation

Here’s a really good example of After Action Reviews being used by a negotiation team. The source has to remain anonymous.

“For the first 5 months of this year I co-ordinated a real-life, application of KM in Country X. The situation was one of intensive Government commercial negotiations, on multiple fronts across senior levels of the Country X Government. Negotiations are difficult being the first piece of this type of infrastructure for the country and the size over US$2 billion being unmatched in terms of previous investment. Things were tough and decisions difficult to achieve despite daily contact with a large team with many different players meeting many different people.

The stand-off and complexity, led to a reasonably forthcoming environment for KM in the team, and almost a desire to try anything, including KM. However, the main KM tool that achieved instant buy-in was the AAR process, which we forced the application of to all external interactions.

Key success factors
• Heavy facilitation in the early days
• Keep it short (around 15 minutes)
• Do not let it substitute the minutes of the meeting
• Output less than one page, big font, based on proforma, 3 or 4 points per question
• Ensure everyone gets the opportunity to speak, best run and owned by one of the team, not the team leader ... who should always add his views last
• Concentrate on How and Why, not What

What it gave us/them in return
• Effective fast, broad communication throughout the team of what happened and what was learnt at each meeting
• Lateral communication across all teams and into management, within 24 hours of each interaction occurring
• Consolidated weekly summary of all AAR's, linked together into the bigger picture, and pushing all lessons that can be learnt laterally across the organisation ... prepared by me in my KM role”

What’s great about this example is that the application of KM was totally business-led, and the simplest tool gave the greatest benefit.

A few things to note;

KM was introduced as a solution to a business problem, and it was a knowledge based problem - they did not know the best way to negotiate, they did not even know what was going on at times.

The KM solution was very simple, and tailored to the working style and culture

Facilitation was heavy in the early days

KM was kept distinctive, not just "another way to write minutes"

Knowledge turnaround was very rapid - everyone know the learning from each interaction within 24 hours

The KM solution was introduced as a discipline - note the words "we "forced" the application of AAR

The KM solution was coordinated. There was a KM role; coordinating, consolidating, pushing knowledge laterally

Monday 12 July 2010

Gen Y, not so different?

4 Generations
Originally uploaded by edanley
Thanks to Erica Hurley and Deena Patel for this link, describing some data on generational differences at work.

I know there are many assumptions about how different generations will behave at work, especially when it comes to KM and knowledge sharing, but the studies that come out, don't seem to back up the assumptions (see this post for example).

Now here's another one, from Bloombeg Business Week, describing research from the Corporate Executive Board.

I quote

Myth 3: Gen Y Communicates Differently

A third major believed difference
across generations centers around communication styles. While Gen Y is
significantly more likely to use text messages and social networking sites in
their personal lives as a method of communication, this is not true when it
comes to communication within the workplace. When communicating with their
manager, 18 percent of Gen X and Gen Y employees indicate that they
predominately use networking tools, text messages, or instant messaging
communication tools. By comparison, 15 percent of baby boomers say they
predominately use the same tools when communicating with their managers.

The contrast is greater when it comes to communicating with peers: 25
percent of Gen Y employees use new communication tools in peer interactions,
compared with 19 percent for Gen X and 16 percent for baby boomers. New
communication technologies will continue to expand in the workplace, but a
communication tool gap is unlikely to emerge across the workforce, because older
generations in the workplace are already adopting these tools. The objective of
executives should be how to improve communication across the organization rather
than focusing on specific communication tools for different generations.

The reality of Gen Y in the workplace is that they aren't as different
as we might think.

We build our own silos - groupthink in social media

Originally uploaded by eirikref

This is not a research paper, its a germ of an idea that came to me when researching our forthcoming book “Knowledge Management in Sales and Marketing”, when I was looking through various sites and communities on Facebook.

Two of the sites I looked at were the BP corporate site and the Boycott BP site. Two more polarised communities it would be impossible to find, although conversations within the communities on both sites were focused on the same topic. Both sites were full of conversation about the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, and BP’s role in the spill and the clean-up. While the BP America community were talking about the technical details of the clean-up and the unprecedented resources and skills being deployed by BP, the Boycott BP community (more than 30 times larger than the community on the BP America site) were sharing horror stories about alleged breaches of safety and responsibility. Almost certainly the truth lies somewhere between these polarised views, but almost certainly there was no interchange of knowledge (or even of opinion) between the two groups. Nobody was on the BoycottBP site arguing that maybe BP isn’t the pantomime villain that some community members were claiming, and nobody was on the BP corporate site arguing that maybe BP isn’t the innocent victim that some community members were claiming. There was no dialogue - just a parallel separate pair of incompatable group monologues; loads of opinionated people agreeing with each other.

What has happened here? Facebook and her sister social networking sites are being quoted as the next step in KM - the technology that will breach the social barriers and allow free flow of knowledge, but this pair of sites is just an extreme example of what’s happening throughout Facebook, LinkedIn etc. Conversations and groups are forming largely among like-minded people who reinforce each others’ opinions, rather than challenge them. I am no doubt as guilty of this as anyone, as I know there are certain Linked-In groups I prefer to contribute to, because my opinions will be supported by the posts of others, rather than radically challenged. My opinions are roughly that of the group, and those other groups, where the shared opinions are at odds with mine, are the ones I tend to avoid.

Social Networking groups are building new silos of group-think, rather than exploring the truth that lies between the silos; the truths that come out when group-think is challenged.

I think we may be seeing a combination of two factors. One of these is the bottom-up, unstructured nature of these tools, which means that you can set up as many Knowledge Management groups, or BP groups, as you want (there are greater than one hundred KM groups in Linked-In, for example). Secondly, one of the incentives for using Social Media is the endorsement and affirmation you get. As it says in an article in this week’s New Scientist, “In two studies of college students, Nicole Ellison of Michigan State University and colleagues found that the frequency of Facebook use correlates with greater self-esteem. Support and affirmation from the weak ties could be the explanation, says Ellison”. (By weak ties, she means the loose acquaintances in your online social circle). So you get more support, affirmation and self-esteem from people who agree with you, and there are enough groups out there that you will find one you agree with. And then, the more you contribute to that group, the more you reinforce the opinions of the group - the ones you already agree with, and so already agree with you. If people disagree, there’s another group not far away that probably suits them better, and where they will get more affirmation and greater self-esteem.

This could well all be fine in a non-business social networking world, where the primary driver is value for the individuals. However within an organisation, I would suggest that we need to challenge group-think, otherwise we just create a new set of silos - silos divided by opinions rather than by geography or by organisational hierarchy.

To start with, we cannot afford plural communities covering the same topic. There needs to be one community covering knowledge management, not 100. There needs to be one community covering oil-spill recovery, not two highly polarised ones. Then within each topic, disagreement needs to be sought and explored, in service of finding the truth. This is part of the role of the community facilitator - the role of allowing a diversity of opinion, and promoting and facilitating the dialogue that allows this diversity to be explored and resolved.

Sunday 11 July 2010

The basic economic resource is knowledge

"The basic economic resource - the means of production - is no longer capital, nor natural resources, nor labour. It is and will be knowledge."
Peter Drucker

Saturday 10 July 2010

You don't need to know much, if you know the way to the library

The best of my education has come from the public library... my tuition fee is a bus fare and once in a while, five cents a day for an overdue book. You don't need to know very much to start with, if you know the way to the public library. ~Lesley Conger

(You can use this inside a company as well - "You don't need to know much to start with, if you know the way to the Community of Practice/Knowledge Base")

Friday 9 July 2010

Fling out the old ideas

If you do not fling old ideas out of your mind, you cannot give birth to new ones: Peter Dunov

Isn't KM everyone's job?

This is a comment I hear quite a lot - "We all work with knowledge, so surely knowledge management is everyone's job? Why do we need knowledge management roles? Or a KM team?"

We all work with knowledge, and have responsibility for sharing it, searching for it and applying it. However we also need knowledge managers as an assurance role, to make sure knowledge is managed. Think of knowledge as rather like safety. We all need to be safe, and safety is everyone's responsibility. However we still need HSE professionals to co-ordinate and assure HSE delivery. Its the same with knowledge; knowledge management will not happen without roles and accountabilities.

If you took away the HSE roles, would a safety culture survive? Not for long, I suspect.

If you took away the KM roles (listed and described here), I don't think a knowledge culture would last long either.

Here's something Tom Davenport said in his article for CIO magazine in 1997, "Common pitfalls of knowledge management", which I think puts it brilliantly.

"It should be everyone's job to create, share, and use knowledge-to some degree. But let's face reality here. Every engineer in your organization, for example, should be creating and using new product development knowledge. But not every engineer will (or can) do a good job writing down what he or she knows. Everyone should reflect on life, but not everyone should write poems or novels about his or her musings. Knowledge management will not succeed if there are no workers and managers whose primary duties involve gathering and editing knowledge from those who have it, paving the way for the operation of knowledge networks, and setting up and managing knowledge technology infrastructures.

The next time someone starts spouting the "it's everybody's job" rigmarole to me, I'm going to retort, "So I guess since it's everybody's job to monitor costs and enhance revenues, you've also eliminated the finance and accounting departments?"

Thanks Tom; nicely put!

Thursday 8 July 2010

Definitions matter in KM

Those of you who are subscribed to Linked In may be able to see this set of KM definitions from a recent survey, posted by Steven Oesterreich in the KM Edge group.

There are 130 responses to the survey. Many of them are not definitions, and are people saying "we have no definition", or defining knowledge management as "not important".

However the three words that appear most frequently as key components of the definitions that really are definitions and not commentary, are "Knowledge", "Information" and "Experience"

The Venn diagram, to the right, shows how many of the definitions are based on these words, either alone or in combination.

42 of these definitions define KM solely in terms of knowledge. For example "creation of a knowledge culture intent on innovation and driven by passion", or "Strategic approach and systematic process to capture, create, use, reuse and share knowledge across the enterprise to improve individual and organisation performance"

24 of these definitions define KM solely in terms of information. For example, "The efficient collection and dissemination of information across the organisation, and between the organisation and its customers", or "the right information to the right people at the right time".

10 of these definitions refer to both words, eg "KM provides an organisation with the opportunity to use its knowledge and information resources to greatest effect".

Then we have quite a few that refer to experience, either alone (including "the ability to share and manage experiences gained over time for the sustainability of the business"), or in combination with one of the other words ("....the transfer of knowledge and experiences from people to people...", "... the effective management of human intuition and experience augmented by the provision of information....", "sharing and reusing knowledge, information and experiences to improve our individual team and organisational performance".

Now I know there is a school of thought that says this diversity of definition is not a problem, and in fact reflects a refreshing diversity in the knowledge management field.

But I think there is a problem hidden in there, and the problem is the confusion between knowledge management and information management.

I dont know if you recall that excellent document "the nonsense of knowledge management"? The author of this document takes a good look at a number of KM articles and concludes that

"The review of journal papers, the review of consultancy Web sites and those of
the business schools, suggest that, in many cases, 'knowledge management' is
being used simply as a synonym for 'information management'. This has been
referred to by David Weinberger, citing Adina Levin as the originator, as
'search and replace marketing'"

I think we have a certain number of search and replace definitions in our list. Take, for example, "Knowledge Management is the efficient collection and dissemination of information across the organisation, and between the organisation and its customers". What if we replaced "Knowledge management" with "information management"? Would the definition make sense if it said "Information Management is the efficient collection and dissemination of information across the organisation, and between the organisation and its customers".

Personally, I think it makes a lot more sense that way!

So we have some search and replace definitions (what I call cat and dog definitions), and we have some definitions of information management in there, probably 24 of them, mixed up with our definitions of knowledge management.

Does this matter? I think it does matter. Knowledge management and information management are different. If somebody is working with information alone, and thinks they are doing knowledge management, then they are missing a huge opportunity. You cannot match the performance improvement benchmarks set by KM, from working only with information.

In the Nonsense paper, the author looks at this rebadging of information management as knowledge management and concludes that "The inescapable conclusion of this analysis of the 'knowledge management' idea is that it is, in large part, a management fad, promulgated mainly by certain consultancy companies, and the probability is that it will fade away like previous fads".

That's another disappointing and dismaying side effect of this confusion - it devalues the whole KM field.

Definitions do matter. I have no problem with the diversity of definitions of knowledge management - the ones that refer to knowledge, know-how, experience etc - but what I think can cause real problems is when you find definitions of information management masquerading as knowledge management definitions. Thats when the problems start, and people start to see KM as IM rebadged, and consequently only a fad.

(PS - find our Knoco definitions here)

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Culture in KM, input or output?

culture is not a crime
Originally uploaded by Dawn Endico

When we were working with BP Major Projects in 2004/2005, developing the KM framework and guidelines for project activity, we found ourselves at one point having a discussion on the key enablers for sustained Knowledge Management.

We all understood the enablers of People, Process, Technology - that was not an issue - but we also knew that there was something else as well. You can have the best technologies, the most robust processes, and the clearest role descriptions, but still knowledge will not necessarily get managed. It's that "build it and they won't come" - no matter how well you build it, they still won't necessarily come and use it. If people don't want to share and re-use knowledge, or don't care two hoots one way or the other about share and re-use of knowledge, then the roles, processes and technologies will remain unused and unfufilled.

So then we started to discuss, what's the missing element? What should we add to People, Process, Technology?

The first thought was to add "Culture". If the Culture is right, then the tools will be used, the processes applied, the roles adopted.

But then, we we went further down the 5 whys, we realised that to say "Culture" was too superficial. Culture is not a thing that emerges spontaneously - culture is created, and co-created, in organisations. Culture is an output, not an input. Culture is an effect, not a cause. There are input factors that cause culture, and we need to know what they are, if we are to effect the output of the culture change that Knowledge Management needs. We decided that there were three main factors that drive culture.

1. Expectation.
People do what they believe is expected of them. People are generally good workers, they want to do a good job, and if something is expected of them as part of the job, they generally do it. Expectation can be explicit or implicit - written or unwritten. Expectation comes from leadership, and from peers, and these two sources of expectation need to be aligned to be effective (there is no point in the boss saying "I expect you to have a work life balance" if all your peers are working to 10pm and expect you to be part of the team). So knowledge management needs to become an expectation, from management and from peers. It needs to be a written and unwritten expectation that you will seek, share and re-use knowledge.

2. Feedback and reinforcement (or, if you prefer, "performance management")
People do what they are recognised and rewarded for, and don't do what they are not rewarded for. I don't just mean money when I say "rewards" - I mean other more subtle rewards such as praise and acknowledgement, "fitting in" and not being teased, all sorts of things. This feedback and reinforcement comes from leadership, and from peers, and these two sources of feedback and reinforcement need to be aligned to be effective (if the community of practice is saying "well done for helping out with that problem" while your manager is saying "I want you to spend less time on that community stuff", that just sets up unhealthy tension). So knowledge management activities need to be recognised, there needs to be positive feedback on them, and this needs to be linked to job rewards. And if people ignore or shirk their knowledge management expectations, there needs to be feedback and reinforcement here also - negative feedback from management and peers, and negative impact to your salary or job prospects (see my post on KM motivation).

3. Support.
KM at first is new, and people will need support. This support will come from leadership, and from peers. Support from leadership may take the form of training courses, support materials, and just allowing the time for people to do their KM activities. Support from peers will also be allowing the time and space, as well as helping each other with the tools and processes.

With clear expectation, feedback and reinforcement, and support, the Culture will change. These three are the inputs, culture is the output. These three are the causes, culture is the effect.

So when we finally decided on the enablers for KM, we added three more behind the People, Process and Technology, and collectively we refer to these three as "Governance".

If you work on these Governance elements, a part of your KM culture change program, and get them embedded into the business fabric, you will introduce the drivers that will make sure the people fulfil the roles, apply the processes and use the technology.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Performance Through Learning

I have just found out that you can order sections online from my previous book, Performance through Learning (Gorelick, Milton and April, 2004, Elsevier)

These are the chapters - I was author for 7,8, and 9, and co-wrote some of the others, like chapters 2 and 4

Chapter 1. The Knowledge Management Mandate - Performance Through Learning
Chapter 2. A Framework for Performance Through Learning to Produce Results
Chapter 3. Going Deeper - Elements of Knowledge for Action to Produce Results
Chapter 4. Creating a Culture for Learning
Chapter 5. Structures That Support Learning
Chapter 6. The Bottom Line-Measuring Knowledge Management Initiatives - Return On Investment
Chapter 7. British Petroleums Knowledge Management Journey - A Decade of Change
Chapter 8. Knowledge Management in the Aid and Development Sector - A Case Study in Implementation at Tearfund
Chapter 9. Knowledge Management in Business Performance at BP Well Engineering
Chapter 10. Implementing Knowledge Management Within De Beers - The Early Years
Chapter 11. Knowledge Fuel for Fighting Fires - Knowledge Capture at Ukuvuka, a Four-Year Government, Business, and Community Partnership
Chapter 12. Where Did We Start - Building Our Own Knowledge Park at Old Mutual
Chapter 13. Generating Capabilities in Communities of Practice - The Clarica Story
Chapter 14. Building a Membership Firm Through Practice Communities at Arthur Andersen
Chapter 15. Piloting Knowledge Management - Lessons Learned from the Small-Scale Approach to Design and Implementation at ETS
Chapter 16. Knowledge Management at Shell - Innovation and Integration
Chapter 17. Assessing Readiness to Successfully Implement a Knowledge Management Strategy - Back to Basics at Debswana

Knoco July newsletter

The Knoco July newsletter is available for free download from our newsletter page

Another great post from Nancy Dixon

Another brilliant post from Nancy Dixon on planning a strategic knowledge capture program at NASA.

This for me is real KM - a critical knowledge-related business problem, and a pragmatic, people-focused approach to tackling it.

As Nancy summarises -

"This meeting was an excellent example of leveraging collective knowledge and illustrates the three elements that need to be in place to make use of the knowledge that resides in the minds of those doing the work, 1) joint sensemaking, 2) cognitive diversity, and 3) organizational transparency".

The Lessons Learned Handbook

My new book has been published at last.

This is "The Lessons learned handbook", available here.

The publishers blurb is as follows -

This book is a practitioner-level guide to the design and the mechanics of lessons learned processes. It takes a holistic approach, tracking lessons from identification to reapplication, makes the case for the assignment of actions for learning, and is grounded on successful applications in industry and military

The phrase “lessons learned” is such a common one, yet people struggle with developing effective lessons learned approaches. The Lessons Learned Handbook is written for the project manager, quality manager or senior manager trying to put in place a system for learning from experience, or looking to improve the system they have. The book is based on experience of successful and unsuccessful systems, and recognises the need to convert learning into action. For this to happen, there needs to be a series of key steps, and this book aims to guide the reader through these steps. The aim of the book is to provide a complete set of practical guidance to learning from experience, illustrated with case histories from the author, and from contributors from industry and the public sector.

Unfortunately I didnt get the top-class military case study I was hoping for (the guys were too busy to write it, and I can sympathise!), but there are some great stories and examples in there from industry.

You can find some snippets of the material covered in the book in these blog posts, which will give you a rough flavour of some of the content

The 3 steps of the lessons learned loop
100 ways to wreck organisational lesson-learning
More detail from the lessons survey

I hope you like it!

Lessons Learned definition video

Monday 5 July 2010

The failure to embed KM

Stephen Denning has published an interesting and thought provoking post, entitled "Why do great KM programs fail" where he concludes that

"even when an oasis of excellence and innovation is established within an organization being run on traditional management lines, the experience doesn’t take root and replicate throughout the organization because the setting isn’t congenial. The fundamental assumptions, attitudes and values are at odds with those of traditional management".

(my emphasis)

Stephen is absolutely right - KM is a major culture change, and culture change is very difficult to do. Organisations will reject anything that is countercultural - anything that is "at odds with traditional management". So yes, great KM programs often fail when they are not treated as culture change programs, or not given the required time to make the change. I was part of the BP KM team that he refers to - wound down prematurely as a result of the Amoco merger - and I have seen how long it has taken BP to come back into the KM game. I have seen similar premature wind-downs in De Beers, the BBC and many others.

However I have also seen sustained successes in KM, in Shell, Mars, Conoco Phillips, Buckman Labs, Fluor Daniel, and many more, not to mention the entire military sector. So KM can succeed, even though its difficult. The culture change can happen, the experience can take root and replicate. So KM doesn fail just because its difficult or countercultural, it fails because it has not been implemented with due recognition of it's difficult countercultural nature.

I would like to dig down one more level, and ask why some KM programs succeed where others fail. What do they do differently?

Stephen Denning himself gives us a clue in his article when he says "I watched it happen to a certain extent after I left the World Bank", which I will pursue along with the "take root" theme.

Lots of KM programs do not take root, because they have never been embedded in normal business. They are delivered by a strong team and a charismatic leader (such as Stephen himself, or Kent Greenes in BP, or Ian Corbett in De Beers) but delivered as something separate - not fully rooted in the work structure and management framework of the company. They are like a tree in a pot - well tended, well watered, but separate - and when the tender care is removed, the organisation tips back. KM needs to be like a tree in a forest - rooted in the fabric of the business.

So what does that mean, to be rooted in the fabric of the business? To answer that question, we look at change management programs that have succeeded, such as safety management. Safety is part of the normal business process, it is listed together with other project deliverables, its a target for management, it is reported in the annual report. It affects salaries and promotions; if you are habitually unsafe, you won't get far. Safety is fully embedded.

If an organisation wants Knowledge Management to be fully embedded, then KM needs to become part of the normal business process, it needs to be listed together with other project deliverables, it needs to be defined as part of the "minimum conditions of satisfaction" for management. It has to affect salaries and promotions; if you habitually don't learn, you have to see your career prospects suffer.

BP had not got this far in 1999, so when the strong team left, the pot plant withered. Now BP is embedding it - it's planting out the sapling of KM as a component part of the project management forest.

So my advice to the knowledge manager would be as follows

Once you have demonstrated some value from KM, don't rest on your laurels. You need to go to senior management, show them what you've delivered, sell them on the benefits, and work with them to embed Knowledge Management deep into the normal fabric of the organisation. Get those roots into the soil. Change the project requirements, to include KM. Change the minimum conditions of satisfaction for project delivery, to include effective lessons identification. Change the rules for project sanction, so a project gets no money if it hasn't done any learning. Change the job descriptions for the company experts, so that they are held acountable for stewardship of the company knowledge. Change the reporting requirements, the HR appraisal mechanism, change the incentive scheme to reward collaboration and discourage competition. Change the rules on timewriting. Notice the use of the word "change" there? Every such change is another KM root going down.

You, as KM leader, need to be able to let go of your KM sapling that you have been nurturing for so long, and watch it become subsumed and incorporated into the forest, and the senior managers have to help you plant it. That is it's only chance of survival.

The role of the note taker at a lessons meeting

Tapping a Pencil
Originally uploaded by Rennett Stowe

The Retrospect meeting is an effective and time-proven approach to identifying and capturing lessons from a project.

A Retrospect is an occasion where a knowledge and experience is brought into the open and debated in an intense round-the-table discussion. The Retrospect needs a facilitator, and (unless you are audio-recording the Retrospect) a note taker.

The role of a note-taker at a retrospect is a crucial role. There may never be another occasion where this knowledge is made explicit. It is a demanding role, and requires a lot of concentration.

The output from a retrospect will be a performance history, or the start of a knowledge asset. Experience over several years has shown us that best way to store and transfer knowledge is in the words of the participants. The power and context of the knowledge is retained in it is kept in the verbatim voices of the people who were involved. This means that we must record verbatim quotes and stories from the retrospect itself, and make sure that these are attributed to the people who spoke.

The structure of the retrospect, and the role of the note taker, is as follows.

The objectives of the project
It is important that you record, as closely as possible, the participants' common view of what the objectives of the project were. This will include personal objectives.

The achievements of the project
in this part of the meeting, there may be much discussion of "what actually happened". This can be an important source of anecdotes and war stories. Please try and capture the gist of these, as closely as possible using the words that were spoken. Please make sure that each of these quotes and stories is attributed to the speaker. At if the facilitator manages to draw out any lessons from the future, please make sure that these are recorded, and justified by including the stories and experiences behind the lessons.

What went well
in this part of the meeting, each individual will have the chance to discuss things that he or she identifies as success factors. It is important, not only to identify the success factors themselves, but also to capture, in the participants own words, the stories, examples, and reasoning behind the success factors.

What did not go so well
please treat this as the previous part of meeting. As before, the important things to record are the recommendations for the next project, and the anecdotes, illustrations and stories (attributed) that illustrate these.

Lessons and actions
Here it is vital that you record these accurately. If you aren't sure, read back what you have recorded, and make sure people agree with it.

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