Friday, 5 December 2014

The two forces that drove an 8-year KM Pendulum

This is a story about how KM activity and support, in one organisation, has fluctuated wildly on an 8-year periodicity. It is also a story about why this happened (with reference to predator-prey cycles) and how other companies can avoid it happening to them.

In the mid 80s, the company in question first realised that the various factories around the world were failing to learn from each other, and that there was a massive efficiency gain to be made by sharing best practice. They started a series of Global Practice Groups, and immediately began to deliver some quick wins in terms of business value. 

Over time, the members of the Global Practice Groups found that they were also getting personal value from being part of the group. The groups were seen as an excellent opportunity for personal networking, and membership grew and grew. New GPGs were formed, and they grew as well. After a while the management of the organisation began to think that people were spending too much time on the GPGs. They were seen as too many, too costly to the business, and too time consuming. Management closed them down in the mid 90s, and started a different system - Performance Improvement Teams. 

These immediately began to deliver some quick wins in terms of business value. Over time, the members of the PITs found that they were also getting personal value from being part of the group. The PITs developed into networks, and were seen as good value for money. New PITs were formed, and they grew as well. After a while the management of the organisation began to think that people were spending too much time on the PITs, which were seen as too many, too costly to the business and too time consuming. Management closed them down in the early 2000s, and started a different system - Communities of Practice.

These CoPs were a lot like the GPGs but initially there were fewer of them and they now had more effective processes, better KM systems and designated leadership teams. They immediately began to deliver .........you can guess the rest. Delivery of business value, declaration of victory, growth in popularity,  eventually deemed too expensive, too numerous and too time consuming. Management closed them down in the late 2000s and replaced them by Continuous Improvement Forums. The story continues.

So why did this happen?


These cycles happened on about an 8-year periodicity.  In a way, they are reminiscent of predator-prey cycles such as the one in the picture, where an increase in prey population causes an increase in predator population, which then causes a subsequent crash.

A predator prey cycle, and the KM cycles seen above, can both be thought of as a balance swinging between two extremes. In the predator/prey cycles the extremes are
  • many prey, few predators (growth)
  • many predators, few prey (crash)
In the KM cycle, the extremes are
  • much value to the organisation, less value to the members (growth)
  • much value to the members, less value to the organisation (crash)

This imbalance was referred to by Siemens as "the customer trap"; the need to balance the expectation of the business, in terms of delivery of the KM program, with the expectations of the user.

The GPGs, PITs, CoPs and CIFs started off small and focused, working on organisational problems. The members then found they also were gaining value, the groups grew, and the balance shifted from "value to the company" to "value to the members". The company saw costs growing and value diminishing, and restarted the cycle.  

How do you avoid this?

What we really need is a balance -

  • sustained value to the business
  • sustained value to the members

Setting this balance is a governance issue, which would result in long term stability.

Both the leadership of the groups and the KM leadership of the organisation need to ensure that the CoPs/GPGs are focused on both value propositions. They need to deliberately target, and regularly report, organisational value, as well as deliberately targeting support to the members. They need to balance the two value propositions, much as a gamekeeper or park warden would seek to balance the predator/prey population. The gamekeeper would cull the prey numbers or the predator numbers, the CoP leadership would concentrate the value focus on the members or on the business.

Without such governance, communities of practice in any organisation may suffer from the same problem of radically fluctuating support, and constant 8-year cycles of growth and crash. 

2 comments:

Cicilia Haryani said...

What kind of governance to balance The value for members and organization?

Nick Milton said...

The community charter, for a start, also the discussions between the community sponsor and community moderator, discussions within the CoP core team and then discussions within the CoP itself. Tracking and reporting stories of value delivered is also an important component.

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