Friday, 25 November 2016

The closest thing to a KM Silver bullet

There is no silver bullet for KM, but there is one process that comes close - the Peer Assist.

Image from wikimedia commons
We often hear about a “Killer App” for KM, whether it is SharePoint, Yammer, or some impressive new software tool. And at the same time, we hear that KM has no "silver bullet".

However there IS a killerish application, a bullet of somewhat silvery hue, that is proven in practice and delivers results every time, if applied wisely. In some cases – multi-million dollar results. In fact, as I started compiling my collection of value delivery stories through KM, I found that many success stories related to this one application. And it is not a software application at all. It is an application of minds.

It’s the Peer Assist.

Peer Assist is the simplest thing possible in KM. It is a process for bringing knowledge into a project, or piece of work, at the outset. It is a meeting, where a project team invite a number of people with relevant knowledge and experience, which they bring to bear on the issues of the project. They apply out-of-team knowledge to the team's context. The team take this knowledge away, and apply it to improve their project planning and delivery.

So what makes Peer Assist such a powerful tool in Knowledge Management?

1. It is as way of dressing up, or legitimizing, the practice of asking for help. People don’t like to say “I need help”; they don’t mind saying “Lets hold a peer assist”
2. It is focused on learning, or Pull of knowledge
3. It is focused on Doing, or application of knowledge (thus bridging the Knowing/Doing gap).
4. It brings knowledge to the point of need, at the time of need, when receptivity is greatest and the chance of that knowledge being reused is highest
5. It brings knowledge in its richest form – in the heads of people with experience
6. If structured and facilitated well, it transfers knowledge in the most effective way – through dialogue
7. It is the easiest most natural process in the world (assuming you involve the right people, at the right time, with the right structure)
8. Learning is two-way. Both the assisters and the assisted come away with new knowledge
9. Again, if facilitated well and held face-to-face, it builds strong trust which eliminates “not invented here”
10. The trust and relationships formed at the assist can form the core of a future community
11. It creates reciprocity. If you are helped, you will help others.
12. The results are often easily measurable, in a short time
13. You can implement Peer Assist as a stand-alone process (though it works best as part of a KM framework)
14. It results in an action list, which results in action

Let’s look at an example.

An oil company was looking for innovative ways to cut the cost of the construction of gas stations world-wide, in order for them to meet their financial targets. They had set a target of 20% cost reduction, which was a big challenge. They held a Peer Assist in the early stages of the project, and invited peers from around the organization, including other divisions of the company, to share knowledge and experience. One of the invitees came from the part of the company where they build oil rigs, and he explained the concept of Alliancing – of working in an alliance with the constructor, with strong performance targets and equitable sharing of risk and value. Although some at the peer assist were skeptical, they took the action to explore Alliancing as one of the options for the project. In fact, this turned out to be the best option, and an Alliance was started with a building contractor which was hugely successful, and ended up cutting the cost of construction in half. A 50% reduction. And without the peer assist, this would not have happened, as there was no other way of ensuring that knowledge of the alliancing possibility could reach the people who needed to know it, at the time when they needed it and they were open to learning about it, in a form where they could discuss it and understand the potential, and then take action.

So are you serious about knowledge management? Do you want a killer application, that is cheap, easy, can be applied tomorrow, and delivers benefit every time?

Try Peer Assist.


Lisandro Gaertner said...

I concur but the gun needed to fire this bullet is trust. Without trust no real knowledge exchange is possible.

Telecom Tim said...

Your description sounds like a standard project kick-off meeting under a normal Project Management process. Where does the Peer Assist tool enter the picture? How is knowledge entered into the tool, and more importantly, how can it be reused? My idea of a silver bullet would be something that is intuitive to use, saves time, and doesn't require a massive team to maintain.

Nick Milton said...

Telecom Tim, a Peer Assist is not a standard project kickoff. Standard project kick-offs are focused on plans and actions. A Peer Assist is a conversation about knowledge.

A peer assist is not a technology or a tool, it is a process; a question-led and facilitated meeting. Knowledge is "entered into" the process by the peer assist visiting team, transferred through structured conversation, and reused by the receiving team. A peer assist is certainly intuitive, requires no maintenance, and saves far more time than it costs.

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