Friday, 18 January 2019

Fully embedded KM is when people can't get away with not doing it

Knowledge Management is fully embedded when refusing to do it is not an option.



He'll never get away with itLet me give you an analogy, from the world of Safety. A couple of years ago I was conducting knowledge management exercises at a gas plant in the Niger Delta.

In places like this, safety is a huge consideration; both personal safety (keeping individuals safe in a hazardous environment), and process safety (keeping the environment from becoming even more hazardous).

For example, it was mandatory to wear a hard hat and safety boots when on site, no matter how uncomfortable these might be in the African sun.

One of the engineers was giving me a tour of the plant, and we were on a high walkway when he spotted a worker who had climbed a tall tower and was sitting at the top, resting in the sun, without his hat and boots on. Immediately the engineer stopped the tour, and ordered this guy to put his safety equipment back on and report to his foreman about the break of safety regulations.

It did not matter that the worker was safe, and that nothing was about to fall on his head or his feet - it was that such behaviour - such a breach of the safety policy - was not permitted. One small breach for the sake of resting in the sun could lead to a larger breach, and then to something dangerous. There was zero tolerance, and everyone was involved in reporting breaches. Even out of sight on a tall tower it was not allowed, and anyone (like my engineer) who spotted it would take action. If this worker could get away with avoiding the safety rules, then others would know, and would copy, and soon there would be a reduction in safety discipline, and accidents would happen.

Now, if we truly want Knowledge Management to be embedded, then we will eventually need a similar attitude.

Imagine if lesson-learning were truly embedded in the project lifecycle for example.  Imagine that the leadership of your organisation had realised the cost of repeat mistakes and rework, and had made it clear in their Knowledge Management policy that they expected every project to identify, document and share lessons and knowledge for the benefit of the rest of the organisation.

Then imagine what would happen if people could get away without doing it.

As soon as one project manager realised that they could skip lesson-learning with no sanction, then the others would also realise, and would copy, and soon there would be a reduction in learning discipline, and repeat mistakes and rework would creep back in. This breach of the Knowledge Management policy, this neglect of lesson learning, could cost the organisation millions of dollars and put other projects at risk. It should not be permitted.

If you are serious about Knowledge Management, and if you want it fully embedded in your organisational practices and your organisational culture, then you need to aim, eventually, for a time when people cannot get away with not doing it.



Thursday, 17 January 2019

The problem with half-way governance for KM

KM Governance on its own is like a half-built bridge. It gets you nowhere.

Half built bridge
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © David Lally - geograph.org.uk/p/2266263

KM governance is a crucial part of KM, and much of the new ISO KM standard deals with issues of governance, such as leadership, support, and the creation of a KM Policy. However governance on its own is not enough, you have to go farther and tell people exactly how to fulfill the expectations set by the governance system. Let me give you an example.

I was working with a major company, doing an assessment of their knowledge management capability.

One of the things we always check for is Governance of Knowledge Management - whether people know what they are expected to be doing in KM terms, whether they have the resources to do it, and whether the incentive system is aligned with KM expectations (i.e. are they disincetivised, and could they get away without doing KM, and still avoid getting into trouble).  These are all elements within the ISO KM standard.

I was reviewing the alignment of project management and KM within this organisation, and particularly the habit of capturing knowledge from projects.

"Yes", they said. "We are expected to capture knowledge. It says so in our project guidelines".

When I checked they were absolutely correct, there was a line in there about "all projects will document lessons learned from their activity". However there was no guidance on HOW to do this.  As a result, there were a variety of approaches, the most common being for the project manager to jot some things down in a spreadsheet, and file it in the project files.

As regular readers now, this is far from being an effective lesson-capture process, and the lessons were sketchy, inconsistent, poor quality, and very hard to retrieve.

So the company had gone halfway towards having a KM policy for projects (albeit a sketchy one, hidden within the project management guidelines), but had not gone all the way in defining what actually needed to happen, not on quality-controlling the content, nor on ensuring that the lessons could be and would be re-used.

Governance is crucial, but needs to be accompanied by well-defined processes, roles and technology if it is to fully span the KM gap.



Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The organisations for which KM is not important

There are a few cases where Knowledge management is not needed in an organisation, and where the organisation need not bother with KM.


Image from geograph.org.uk
These are as follows.

  • When you have a monopoly, so that normal business pressures do not apply to you. You do not need to worry about growth, or efficiency, or cost control, because you have no worriers. You command the market, and people pay your price.
  • When you are in a business that does not change. Where there is no change, learning is not an issue. If your product does not change, and your processes do not change, and your customers and your competitors do not change, then KM could be a waste of time and money. Until things change, of course.
  • When you provide only labour, not knowledge. There may be some organisations where no knowledge work happens - companies mass-producing hand-made clothing, perhaps, or non-skilled contract employment. If knowledge is not what you sell, then knowledge management may not be of value. 
  • When you are a one-person business, trading on Skill. This is another situation where knowledge is not so important and where KM may be a waste of time. I am not sure that Knowledge Management would add much to the career of a concert violinist, for example, or a famous artist.
  • When there are even bigger problems. They need to be pretty big, but there would be cases where KM is nowhere near the top of the priority list. Lehman brothers in 2008, Union Carbide in 1984, Facebook at the time of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
For the rest of us - those of us who work with knowledge, in a changing world, subject to competition and to constant change but not facing outright disaster, Knowledge Management is something we cannot manage properly without. 

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

The importance of "learning urgency"

How urgent is learning in your organisation?


Image from wikimedia commons
When I give my Knowledge Management Training courses, I start proceedings by presenting three stories from organisations who are doing knowledge management, showcasing some of the benefits KM can bring.

I then ask the class to discuss the stories, and to identify the success factors that lie behind each one. Often these are a mix of successful interventions, and successful cultural elements.

One of the success factors a recent class identified was a "sense of urgency". In each case, the protagonists in the story treated learning as Urgent - one of the first things to be done before leaping into action - and as a result, delivered great results.

This was a really good insight.

All too often, learning (and Knowledge Management in general) is seen as important, but not treated as urgent. In these stories, the urgency was there, and learning followed.

So how had the organisations in the stories created that sense of urgency?

  • In the first story, the organisation gave a high-profile task to an individual who had never done that sort of thing before, with clear instructions not to "screw up". A risky move, were it not for the Knowledge Management system which gave the individual all the knowledge they needed to succeed.
  • In the second story, the organisation challenged a team to improve on the past benchmark performance by nearly 20%. An impossible challenge, were it not for the access the team was given to all the lessons and knowledge from past performance.
  • In the third story, the organisation gave the same audacious goal to twelve different teams simultaneously. A crazy thing to do, were it not for the way they set up knowledge-sharing between the teams, so they reached the goal far faster collectively, then they did individually. 
There is a saying, by the Greek philosopher Epictetus, that "you cannot teach someone something they think they already know". This means that if you give people problems they know how to solve, they will not look for additional knowledge, and they will not think outside the box. 

Learning, for them, will not be urgent. They will use the knowledge they have, do what they have always done, and deliver the performance they have always delivered. Safe, but no improvement.

An organisation can really drive Knowledge Management by giving people challenges they don't know how to meet, or putting them in positions where they don't know what to do. This is not as risky as it sounds, once KM is in place. 

Once KM is in place and is trusted, KM and management work together in delivering breakthough performance. Management gives people challenges they don't know how to meet, KM provides the knowledge they need to meet them. 

Learning becomes both Urgent, and Easy. Everybody wins.

Monday, 14 January 2019

One way to decide how much effort to put into KM in your project.

How much of your project spend should be on KM?


image from wikimedia commons
That's an interesting question, and one way to answer it is to look at the value of the knowledge in proportion to the value of the project itself (please note this argument only really works for projects that deliver a value stream).

Take for example a large construction and engineering project - the first of its kind in a new location. The project will create two things -
  1. An income stream for the owner
  2. Knowledge, which can be used to reduce cost for future projects
Let's assume some facts for our imaginary project. Let's assume it's a big one but not quite a megaproject.
  1. Budget of $500 million
  2. Timescale 2.5 years
  3. Net Present Value (NPV) $1 billion
  4. Work-hour estimate 10 million
  5. 2 similar projects planned
  6. Conservative estimate of the value of the knowledge - $50 million (5% cost saving on 2 follow-on projects of the same size and scope through effective KM and lesson learning)
So if the value of the knowledge is $50 million and the value of the project is $1 billion, then logically you would expect the investment in KM to be in the same ration to the spend on the project - ie 5%. You would expect a total KM spend of $25 million (3% of $500m) producing lessons, guidance and other knowledge for the improvement of the two follow-on projects. 

Now a lot of the work on the main project would  be done by contractors, and you would need to make sure that they also were spending their share on KM.  Its also possible that you could discount the cost or materials, and instead look at time and labour costs.  The project management team itself might be, say 20 people, working 10,000 days over the life of the project. By the same logic, you would want 500 days (or 1 person full time) spent by the project management team on knowledge management. 

In most projects, the team would spend nowhere near this. They might have a one-day lessons learned meeting halfway through the project (1 day for 20 people is 20 workdays) and another one-day meeting at the end (another 20 workdays). That is a massive under-investment of time and resource, given the value of the knowledge. Instead they should spend 5% of their time on KM, or 2 hours a week.

For your organisation,you can do the math. Work out the value of the knowledge vs the value of the projects, and see what investment in KM would  be appropriate. 

It might surprise you - it surely will surprise your management, because in our (Knoco) experience, the vast majority of projects under-resource KM, compared to the value it delivers.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Top 10 blog posts of 2018

Thank you for your support for this blog in 2018 - here is a review of the year, and our Top 10 posts from 2018. More posts will follow in 2019


Support for this blog has been fairly steady during 2018, although trends suggest that it is now viewed more through Linked-In than through other channels

 The most popular posts from 2018  are listed below.  Most are from the fist part of the year, as the longer a post is online, the more hits it receives from online searches.

 If you missed any of them, then why not have a look now!

 1. Why "knowledge sharing" cannot replace "knowledge management"
Can we use the term "knowledge sharing" as better replacement for the term "Knowledge Management? This post suggests two good reasons not to do so.

 2. There are only 4 types of barrier to Knowledge Management
This post presents a great Boston Square which looks at the four barriers to KM in a generic way. It looks at the unwillingness and the inability that can affect both the knowledge supplier, and the knowledge user. Any combination of these is a block to Knowledge management.

3. What is a knowledge product?
The concept of a Knowledge Product is a common one in the development sector, and is used as a label for many types of document. But what makes a product a "knowledge product"?

4. Will AI replace KM?
I have been working in Knowledge Management for a long time now, and the history of KM includes examples of one technology after another claiming that it will replace KM or make it obsolete. Yet KM is still here. Will AI be the same story again?

5. Can you time-write KM activity?
A common question from clients in professional services, legal or consulting firms, which usually operate a strict time-writing regime, is "How do we Timewrite KM"?

6. The knowledge cycle as you have never seen it before
We are used to seeing pictures of knowledge cycles, but there is one cycle you never see, and it's very important. It starts with a Problem, and is a demand-driven cycle, unlike the common supply-driven cycles.

7. The shrinking half-life of knowledge, and what that means for KM
Knowledge has a half-life, and that half-life is getting shorter every year

8. How the Australian Emergency Services manage lessons
Taken from an online document, This post shares a great insight into lesson management from Emergency Management Victoria.

9. What would it take, to get you to share more of your knowledge?
This was a question Shell asked in an internal survey, several years ago, in order to understand the incentives and barriers for knowledge sharing. The top 6 answers are shown and discussed in this post.

10. Why you can't have AI without KM
This post suggests that the rise of AI in the form of intelligent agents requires the rise of KM to support it.


 In addition - 

The most visited post this year, as last year, was an old post from 2013 called "The illusion of confidence - test your overconfidence bias". 

There were few discussions on the blog, most discussions happening in LinkedIn instead.

Monday, 17 December 2018

End-of-year break

Image from wikimedia commons

This blog is taking an end-year break.


Happy Holidays to all our readers; normal service will be resumed in January

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