Monday, 5 December 2022

Why it's important to communicate the value of knowledge

The most important thing you can do for KM within your company, is help people to understand the value of knowledge. 

I often say that "knowledge management is how people would manage their organisations if only they knew the value of their knowledge".  If they understood the unrealised value of the knowledge assets they already hold, they would willingly invest in delivering that value through better KM. And if they understood the value of the knowledge they risk losing, they would invest in retaining it.

If you know what something is worth, you know you need to look after it. If you don't know what its worth, you don't treat it with due care.

Organisations which apply knowledge management really well, report huge value. Mars, with their billion dollars of knowledge-enabled value, Texas Instruments with their "free fabrication plant" through KM, Shell with their $200m value per year.

The value is delivered through giving people access to better knowledge, so that they can make better decisions. Knowledge can be transferred from good performers to poor performers, or carried forward from one project to another, in order to improve business results. If you know the value, you can justify the investment.  Sometimes people estimate the value of KM by assuming how much time will be saved if people can find knowledge better, but this underestimates the value by a couple of orders of magnitude and therefore does not make the case for the sort of budget you need. Better to focus on the value of finding better knowledge, than on finding kn9owledge better.

In one drilling program, we anticipated that KM could save in the order of $100m (in the end, we saved $83m). So when management challenged investment in three full-time learning engineers, the KM team were able to justify this investment by pointing to the scale of the potential savings.

So an early exercise for you to undertake in your KM program is to estimate the "size of the prize" that KM could bring.
  • Can you estimate the current cost of lost knowledge?
  • What risks and costs would you face if critical knowledge were lost?
  • Can you look at performance across the organisation, and estimate the value of bringing all performance up to the standard of the best?
  • Can you calculate what it would be worth to accelerate your learning rates in new areas of business?
  • What are you spending on rework and duplicate work, dues to a lack of KM?
  • Look at some of our value stories. Do they provide analogues for you?
  • Can you use our Bird Island exercise to help people feel the value?

Once the senior decision makers understand the value that KM can bring, and the size of the potential prize, you will find it far easier to get their money and support!

Monday, 28 November 2022

Should you treat knowledge as a relay baton, or as a rugby ball?

Do you pass knowledge forward, as in a relay race, or do you pass it backward, as in a rugby match? 

 The metaphor of a relay race is often used in Knowledge Management. Knowledge is seen as a baton that is passed from a runner (project team), after they have finished their leg (project) to another runner (project team) that is just starting.

Knowledge transfer is serial - from one, then to the next, then to the next. This is what I refer to here as "serial transfer" of knowledge. This is supported well by techniques such as knowledge handover (which Pfizer called "baton passing" in a direct reference to the relay run).

Nonaka and Takeuchi contrast this with the Rugby metaphor, where the whole team runs forward, passing the ball from hand to hand between them. In Rugby the ball cannot be passed forward, and when one player meets an obstruction they seek to pass the ball to another player behind them who tries to find a way through.

By sharing small advances, the whole team moves forwards and eventually one player with the ball crosses the winning line.

In some ways this is a much better metaphor for knowledge transfer in many organisations, where the aim is to make progress on all fronts, and where knowledge is shared between the different divisions and the different teams like a rugby ball, where small gains in knowledge from one part of the business are combined with small gains from another part, so that everyone advances together, rather than in series.

This is particularly true in Pharma organisations or in research organisations, where few projects succeed in developing a new product and success comes from knowledge which passes through many hands and is accumulated through many projects. Rather than the knowledge being lost or archived when one project is closed, it is far better if the knowledge is passed on and "kept alive" - built up over time through the experience of many projects.

The ball in rugby is always passed backwards - from leader to follower - but the roles of leader and follower are always changing, depending on who made the breakthrough. In knowledge terms I referred to this as "synchronous transfer", and this is supported by communities of practicelessons learned systems,and knowledge exchange and by "learning while doing" rather than "learning after doing".

And who owns the knowledge, and who owns the win?

In the relay example, the knowledge is held by only one person at a time, who may be considered the "knowledge owner". But in the rugby example, everyone who touched the ball has a stake in the progress that is made, and has a hand in the eventual win. In rugby, the ball is a collective asset which every player takes care of on behalf of the whole team. 

Which is, of course, how it should be with knowledge in an organisation. Knowledge is a collective asset which every team and every knowledge worker takes care of on behalf of the whole organisation or whole community. 

If you are unfamiliar with rugby, see the masterclass demonstration below, which demonstrates the principle of passing the ball from hand to hand until the breakthrough is made (particularly clear in the overhead shot). The match was in 2002, England (in white) were playing Ireland (in green), and the ball was passed from player to player as each in turn met an obstacle, always passed backwards, involving almost the whole team, until finally the winning line was crossed.

If only we could do this in our organisations, with knowledge rather than with a rugby ball


Monday, 21 November 2022

11 things that a KM champion needs to understand

Here are ten things a KM Champion needs to understand in order to do their job well.

Image from wikimedia commons
The role of KM Champion within a business unit or department can be an important one. The KM Champion acts to promote and support the application of KM in their part of the business, and works at the intersection of normal business and KM. To do this role well, there are 11 things you need to understand.

1. Understand the value proposition for KM. 
You need to understand how KM will support your part of the organisation, and have a good idea of the outcomes needed from KM, if this support is to be recognised. 

2. Understand your role
Discuss this with the KM team until you have a clear idea what your role as Champion entails. It may contain elements such as the following:

  • Development of KM strategy for your part of the business 
  • Deployment of a KM Framework (Roles, processes, technology and governance)
  • Promotion of KM behaviours and culture (Communication, Support, Coaching and Facilitation) 
  • Measurement and reporting of KM Activity and benefits

3. Understand your stakeholders
Find out what management need from KM, what you need from them, and the value proposition for management. Also find out what the knowledge workers need from KM, what you need from them, and what their value proposition is.

4. Understand your scope of work
What is in scope, and what is out of scope?

5. Understand the critical knowledge
Find out the critical knowledge for your part of the business, so you can focus only on the most valuable knowledge - the 20% of knowledge that will make 80% of the difference.

  • Is it new knowledge, where the focus is on rapid learning? 
  • Is it knowledge spread among many people, where the focus is on sharing good practice? 
  • Is it old knowledge which should be standardised? 
  • Is it knowledge of an expert, which should be captured?

6. Understand the KM Framework 
This is the framework of roles, processes, technology and governance that defines how knowledge will be managed in your organisation. You need to make sure you understand this completely, as this is what you will be trying to implement in your own project, department or division.

7. Understand the core KM tools and processes
You need to understand these, as you will be coaching people in their use, and facilitating some of the processes. These will include:
  • Tools and technologies for knowledge discussion, such as Peer Assist, Knowledge Exchange, and community forums 
  • Knowledge capture tools and processes such as After Action review, Retrospect,  lesson management systems and blogs   
  • Knowledge synthesis tools and processes, such as Knowledge asset creation and update, knowledge article creation and update, wikis and knowledge bases,.
  • Knowledge access and re-use tools and processes such as KM planning, and the use of search tools and people-finders.
  • Knowledge creation tools and processes, such as Deep Dive. 
8. Understand communities of practice
If communities of practice are included in your KM Framework then you need to understand how these work, and the roles, processes and technologies involved.

9. Understand the issues of implementing KM in your part of the organisation
Understand the barriers to KM and how to overcome them, and the enablers you can use. Understand the use of pilot projects and "proof of concept" activity.

10 Understand how to sell KM, and react to objections
Understand the influencing techniques you can use, and the use of social proof, in selling the concept of KM internally.

11. Understand KM Governance
This includes the elements of KM expectation, metrics and rewards, and support. Governance is the issue that will be most powerful in reinforcing KM behaviours, and you need to be able to explain your stakeholders how it works.

If you understand all of these, it will help your role considerably. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2022

The 4 main (internal) stakeholder groups for KM

 There are 4 main stakeholder groupings for internal-facing Knowledge Management, and you need to create value propositions for each of the 4. 

FIGURE 09.1 Goals per stakeholder and a shared goal from the manager

Implementing Knowledge Management is a change process; changing hearts and minds, attitudes and beliefs, and work patterns across the organisation. In many ways, the role of the KM team is to act as change agents, influencing the stakeholders to understand, try, and adopt KM. But who are the stakeholders?

Here are the 4 main internal stakeholder groups you need to work with, that will apply in any organisation wishing to improve the internal flow of knowledge. 

Please note that not all organisations focus internally. Some focus on providing knowledge for external parties (the WHO for example, or the major development banks, or the customer service departments of some retailers), and for them there is a 5th stakeholder group - the external knowledge customers.

For now, lets look at the internal stakeholder groups.

1. The senior managers
The number one barrier to KM, and at the same time the greatest enabling factor is the level of support from senior management. Without this support, you will struggle. With support from the top, you will succeed.

The senior managers need to understand the benefits that Knowledge management will bring to the organisation (the cultural and reputational benefits as well as the financial benefits), and need to be reassured that KM will work, is doable, and will not cost more than the value it delivers. You need to make the business case for KM, and show that KM will deliver greater efficiency, greater effectiveness, faster growth, bigger market share, faster time to market, and happier customers.

This blog contains much advice about gaining senior management support (see here for example, and also here), or contact us for further advice.

2. The middle managers
Middle management can form an almost impenetrable layer to knowledge management in many organisations. These are the people who have tough choices to make. They have demanding customers, tight budgets, and tighter deadlines, and you are asking to divert the attention of their people away from what they see as the Day Job, and onto KM. Every penny they spend on KM is a penny less to spend on operational issues.

KM, for them, is two steps away from operations (the first step is that operations requires knowledge, the second is that knowledge requires management). The result is that these are the people for whom KM is the toughest sell - the people who won't be swayed by high level arguments or appeals to emotion. Make sure your stakeholder management plan clearly addresses the middle managers as a core group, and that you have a well worked business case that addresses their concerns. Without this, they can derail the whole program, so convince them that KM exists to increase the productivity of the knowledge workers in their teams and projects.

3. The knowledge workers
These are people who need to use knowledge and judgement in order to do their work. The better the knowledge we can supply them with, the better the judgements they will make. Some of the managers mentioned above are knowledge workers as well. They too make judgements and decisions, and need knowledge to do this well. The value proposition for the knowledge workers is simple -
"When we have a functioning Knowledge Management framework in place, it will make your life easier. It will provide you with easy access to reliable knowledge that will save you time, will reduce your risk of failure, and will make your results better".

4. The Experts
The experts form one of your core stakeholder groups in KM, and your change management approach needs to explicitly address these people. For many years they may have acted as sole sources of much of the knowledge, and their personal status may be tied up with their own knowledge. They may be the people with the most to lose through KM. KM needs to offer them a new role, which can be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat. They will take leading roles in the management of knowledge in their areas of expertise, becoming the stewards and custodians of knowledge rather than the sole holders. Make sure these new roles are clear, made explicit and built into their job descriptions.

There are other stakeholder groups in some organisations - Research and Development, for example, may need consideration, also HR, also the customer service agents, sales staff and so on. There may be external stakeholders - it may be important to your main customers that you have a reputation and capability for KM, for example.

However the 4 groupings above will be present in almost every organisation, and you need a strategy and plan to address each one. 

Monday, 7 November 2022

10 reasons why a KM Strategy is important

You need a strategy if your KM introduction and deployment is to be successful. Here are 10 reasons why.

StrategyImplementing (or Introducing) Knowledge Management without a strategy is a risky endeavour. As Sun Tzu is reputed to have said said, in "the art of war",

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before the defeat.” 

Lots of books and articles on strategy come from a military point of view or from game theory, and are strategies for competing and winning. So should we think in terms of winning and competing, when implementing Knowledge Management? Surely it's a Good Thing to do - it's a win-win for everyone?

But as leader of the KM program, you are in competition. You are in competition against other programs and initiatives, for internal resources (money, people, time) and you are in competition for internal attention (management support). If you do not have a good strategy, then good tactics are not going to save you.

 We are constantly hearing of yet another KM program closed, and yet another KM leader looking for a job, as the company sought to cut back on expenditure, and found KM to be too far from the front-line delivery - too non-strategic - and thus an easy target.

So what can a good Knowledge Management Strategy do for you?

  1. Your strategy will help you define where you heading, and what the end point should be.  It will define the vision, and the desired outcomes for knowledge management within your organisation, and allow these to be discussed and agreed up front, before you start on the planning.
  2. Your strategy will provide a set of principles or ground-rules to guide your actions, and guide your decision making during knowledge management implementation, in order to deliver the greatest chance of success. Don't forget that 80% of knowledge management programs fail (depending on what you mean by “knowledge management program” and what you mean by “fail”). The reasons for KM failure are well known, and a good strategy will be designed to avoid these reasons.
  3. Your KM strategy will be closely linked to business objectives, business strategy, and business results,  if it follows the principles mentioned above. This protects you from being seen as peripheral to the business, and an easy target for downsizing. 
  4. Your strategy will clarify the stakeholders for KM, and the scope for KM. It will tell you who the interested parties are for KM, what they need from KM, and which areas of the business (and which areas of knowledge) are in scope, and which are out of scope.  It defines your area of interest, in both human, organisational and topic terms.
  5. Your strategy will form the framework of constraints for planning purposes. It will define the areas to focus on, the risks to be addressed, and the allies to work with.
  6. Your strategy will guide you in deciding what not to do. If a tactic is outside the constraints, or in opposition with the principles, or outside of the defined scope, then it is not strategic, and a waste of resource.
  7. The strategy also looks at implementation priorities and issues. It’s not just a vision; it’s a high level approach for how the vision will be realized. 
  8. Your strategy allows managed flexibility. As your business context changes, your organisational priorities, or the competitive or technological landscape, so your knowledge management strategy should also evolve over time, but will need to be renegotiated with your steering group. This is your "Management of Change" process for the KM implementation.
  9. Your strategy is a public agreement with your leadership. It represents agreed ground rules for knowledge management implementation, and should have leadership blessing and support. If over time that support does not materialise, then you should be able to go back to the strategy, remind them that it was agreed, and claim their support (or else renegotiate the strategy). The strategy is therefore a key decision point for the organisation.
  10. Your KM strategy paves the way for a KM Policy. There will come a time when you have introduced and deployed a KM management system that works for you, and that is embedded into normal operations. This is the stage where KM becomes an issue of policy rather than an issue of strategy. Instead of leadership agreeing ground rules for KM introduction, leadership create and endorse a Policy for KM, that says "this is the way we will work from now on". The role of the implementation strategy is over, though you may still have strategies for how to comply with, and operationalise, the policy.
The most important thing for you, therefore, is to get a good strategy in place from the start. 
Contact us at Knoco if you want a copy of our guide to KM strategy.

Monday, 31 October 2022

What if we treated organisational money in the same way we treat organisational knowledge?

What would it be like if organisations treated their money the way they treat their knowledge?

This is a simple thought experiment, which you can use with your senior managers to get them to think differently about knowledge. 

We know knowledge is an asset, we know it has value to an organisation, but compared to a different asset - money - we treat knowledge in a naïve and unthinking way.

If we treated money in the same way we treat knowledge -

  • We would allow people to hoard company finances and not share company money with others, just as we allow them to hoard knowledge;
  • We would have no single company bank account, just as we have no single knowledge base;
  • Even if we had an account, nobody would manage it or monitor it;
  • If we wanted to draw on company money, it would be as hard to find as company knowledge;
  • People would treat company earnings as their own property, just as they do with knowledge;
  • We would not create any budgets for our activities and projects, just as we do not do any knowledge budgeting;
  • If we wanted money for our projects, we would assign rich people, in the same way that we assign knowledgeable people as the default way to access knowledge;
  • If we created new income from a project, we would leave it in the pockets of the project team, just as we leave new knowledge in their heads;
  • If someone left the organisation, they would take a whole stack of company money with them, and there would be no attempt to retain this money, just as there is no attempt to retain the knowledge;
  • We would see it as a sign of weakness to ask for funding;
  • In fact people would be suspicious of money from others - "Not Earned Here" as a parallel to "Not Invented here";
  • We would not report any financial data to senior management, who as a consequence would have little idea of the financial wealth of the organisation (do they know the intellectual wealth?);
  • People would say "we don't have time for budgeting or financial reporting", just as they say "we don't have time for KM";
  • We wouldn't audit our finances, just as we don't audit KM;
  • We would have no roles specifically for the management of money - no financial departments, no CFO, no accountants, no budget-holders;
  • We would have no processes for managing money - no planning, forecasting or accounting;
  • We would have no technology for tracking money;
  • We would have no financial policy, or guidelines, or rules, or expectations;
  • In short, we would have no financial management at all.

Once you have gone through this experiment, ask your managers how much value would be lost if we treated money in the same way we treat knowledge. 

Then ask them how much value is currently being lost through unmanaged knowledge.

Then ask them - 

"isn't it time we treated knowledge management with the same level of attention we treat financial management?"

Monday, 17 October 2022

The 4-question knowledge audit used by Winston Churchill

Sir Winston Churchill, the famous politician, used a 4-question Knowledge Audit to analyse the knowledge flow when things went wrong.

Image from wikimedia commons
Sir Winston Churchill hated being surprised, particularly by bad news.  He expected to receive an efficient flow of information and knowledge, and when he did not get the knowledge, he used a 4-question knowledge audit to determine where the knowledge flow was blocked.

According to Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe,  the authors of "Managing the Unexpected",

"Winston Churchill provides a good example of ... self-conscious auditing. During world war two, Churchill made the terrible discovery that Singapore was much more vulnerable to a Japanese land invasion than he first thought. Reflecting on this unexpected discovery, Churchill commented in his history of the war, “I ought to have known. My advisers ought to have known, and I ought to have been told, and I ought to have asked”. Churchill’s audit consisted of four questions:
  • Why didn’t I know? 
  • Why didn’t my advisers know?
  • Why wasn’t I told?
  • Why didn’t I ask?”

This concept of a leadership Knowledge Audit is a very powerful one. This blog has often discussed the knowledge bubble that leaders can get into, where they hear only what they want to hear, and are told only what people think they want to be told (Vladimir Putin springs to mind). This can be a disastrous situation for a leader. 

Even more of a risk is that a leader can create systems in the organisation which are almost designed to create nasty surprises.

Weick and Sutcliffe quote the example of the ferry boat “Herald of Free Enterprise” which sank offshore Belgium in 1987 with the loss of 193 lives. It sank because the bow doors had never been closed, it had not been ready for sea, but had put to sea nonetheless. Somehow the message "Do not leave the harbour; the bows door are open" had never reached the vessel's Master. Let's analyse why not.

 The standing orders for “Readiness for Sea” were as follows.
“Heads of department are to report to the Master immediately if they are aware of any deficiency which is likely to cause their departments to be unready for sea in any respect at the due sailing time. In the absence of any such reports the Master will assume, at the due sailing time, that the vessel is ready for sea in all respects”. 
Weick and Sutcliffe notes that this order fails Churchill’s knowledge audit in two ways.
  • Firstly the heads of departments weren't required to be aware that the vessel was seaworthy, only to report if they know that it wasn't ("Why didn't my advisors know"?). 
  • Secondly, if the Master heard nothing, he didn’t ask “where’s the report” - he just put to sea ("Why didn't I ask?"). 

In fact the person in charge of closing the bow doors had fallen asleep, and the reporting chain (which relied on reporting unreadiness, not readiness) had failed.  The advisors didn't know, and didn't ask. They told the Master nothing, and the Master didn't ask either. The Master was in an knowledge bubble - and the result was disaster.

For those of you concerned with the effective transfer of knowledge up the hierarchy - up the chain of command - consider Churchill’s Knowledge Audit, and audit each person's knowledge supply using the four questions

  • Would I know? 
  • Would my advisers know? 
  • Would I be told? 
  • Would I ask?”

These 4 questions could just avert leadership disaster

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