Thursday, 14 January 2021

The concept of the Knowledge Supermarket, and how to apply it

Your knowledge store should support people who browse as well as people who search. It should be like a shopper-friendly supermarket.

Image from wikimedia commons
Some shoppers know exactly what they want. They walk into the relevant store, ask an assistant where to find the item, and buy it. Others are open to serendipity, and prefer to browse. They don't always end up with what they went into the store to buy, but often end up with a better purchase.

You can see similar behaviour among the customers of online knowledge bases. Some know clearly what piece of knowledge, or document, they are after, and use targeted search to find it. Think "Google".

Others are not so sure where the knowledge lies, and prefer to browse. Think "Wikipedia", with its ability to follow links to find what you want. 

We need our knowledge bases to cater for both types of customer. We need good effective search for the people who know exactly what they want (implying that content needs to be well tagged), and we need a browse-friendly structured site so people can find what they need, even if they didn't know it existed.

Here a bricks-and-mortar grocery supermarket is a good model. I say "bricks and mortar" as many people find online supermarket grocery shopping to be a very different experience.

Bricks-and-mortar supermarkets rely on people browsing to the content they want so they can buy it. They also give a lot of thought to pointing the customers towards other products, which they might not have known they needed. Every aspect of a store’s layout, from the flower display near the entrance to the chocolate by the check-out is designed to stimulate "shopping serendipity".

  • Flowers, fruit and vegetables at the entrance make the store smell and look good
  • Quick-use "grab and go" items such as snacks and bottled water are at the entrance, for people who want to shop quickly
  • Promotional items are at the aisle-ends, so are in plain sight 
  • Products are grouped by type (pasta, tins, cheese, butter) to make them easier to find
  • Popular high-value items are displayed at eye-level
  • Often there are themed displays - a Mexican section with sauces, tacos, tortillas, refried beans for example, or an Indian section with curry spices, sauces, poppadums and Naan bread - so you can buy all you need for a single meal
  • Warm colours attract people to a store, hence the warm brick exteriors. Cool colours inside encourage more contemplation and higher sales
  • Loyalty cards are used to track customer activity, and to learn more about customer behaviour. 

Can we use similar principles to encourage users to browse our knowledge bases? 

We could try 
  • similar approaches to colours for example, or 
  • putting the high value items in the high-visibility page space, 
  • promoting new knowledge where it is most visible, 
  • grouping and associating content in folders or on index pages so that all knowledge related to a particular process or activity is found together (see here), 
  • placing the "grab and go" items on the front page, and
  •  using web metrics to understand the behaviour of our knowledge customers, so we can improve the design of the knowledge base.  

If we make our knowledge bases a little more like a grocery  supermarket, we stand a better chance of attracting and keeping the browsing customers, and helping them to find knowledge that they didn't even know they needed.

Friday, 8 January 2021

The importance of Conversation Management in KM

Why do we hear so much about Content Management in Knowledge Management, and so little about Conversation Management?

Image from wikimedia commons
CC licence
Attribution Dean Calma, IAEA

Happy New Year to all readers of this blog.
I have been blogging about Knowledge Management topics on an almost daily basis since early 2009 (weekdays that is, excluding holidays, and times when I was in China with no access to Blogger). As a result this blog has nearly 3000 posts, and it's beginning to be really difficult to find something new to say.
So from this point on, I will blog on a weekly basis, and many of the posts will be a reworking of older themes.
Today I want to talk about the Content/Conversation dimensions of KM, or  Collect/Connect as it is often known, or Codification/Personalisation as the old HBR article described.
I want to ask the following question:

If the subject material of KM is both Content and Conversation, why do we hear so much about Enterprise Content Management, and so little about Enterprise Conversation Management? 

We know that knowledge is either tacit or explicit - either in the heads, or codified. We know also that there are two parallel approaches to KM - the connect and collect approaches (connecting the people, collecting the knowledge). We know the means of knowledge transfer through connect and collect are conversation and content.

Yet increasingly the content gets the lions share of the attention. 
Why does the content get so much more attention than the conversations?

I think its possibly because content is far less messy to manage than conversation, and so much easier to automate. Also there are far more vendors working in the content space than in the conversation space, and you can do fancy things with content analysis. Conversation on the other hand is difficult to automate, and there are fewer vendors in this area. It often needs human facilitation or moderation to work well, or even to set up the conversations in the first place. Conversation management is harder and needs more human resource.
However conversation is as vital as content in KM, and in some cases, more so. 
  • It is generally accepted that the amount of tacit knowledge within an organisation outweighs the amount of explicit knowledge (figures of 80% tacit, 20% explicit are often quoted), and conversations are one of the most reliable ways of accessing tacit knowledge. If you manage content only, you only manage 20% of the knowledge. 
  • The classic study of  Haas and Hansen showed that for a bid team to reuse content from other teams was helpful in one one out of the 4 scenarios they described and actually harmful in the other three, while a conversation with experienced colleagues was helpful in 3, and harmful in only 1 of the 4 scenarios. 
  • If you use a few common dictums or principles, you can conclude that transferring knowledge through conversation is 14 times more effective that transferring it in written form. (Having said that, conversation is probably at least 14 times less efficient than use of content, but KM is not all about efficiency).
  • The remote working forced on us by COVID 19 has already shown that the impossibility of informal unplanned workplace conversations is most likely taking its toll on knowledge, with an impact on innovation capacity.
So focusing on content because it is easier to handle is rather missing the point. You ignore 80% of the knowledge, add value only in 25% of the cases, and are 14% as effective. It's the "Streetlight effect"; doing something because its easier rather than better, named after the old story of the person seeking for their lost car keys under the streetlight, not because they lost them there, but because its easier to look.
Conversation should therefore as much at the heart of our KM frameworks as content.  For example:
  • Conversations within communities of practice, through which practices are discussed and shared, and problems solved - either online or face to face conversations such as Knowledge Exchange
  • Conversations between experienced and less-experienced staff, as part of coaching, mentoring, and job handover
  • Conversations within project teams to identify shared lessons, such as Retrospects and After Action Reviews
  • Conversations between one project team and other teams, such as Peer Assist, Knowledge Handover and informal one-on-one conversations based on knowledge needs and knowledge gaps, to ensure Projects operate from a state of "full available knowledge". 
These are knowledge-specific conversations, all of them dialogue-based, and therefore different from action-specific conversations such as briefing and reporting, and different from the typical broadcast notification traffic seen on some examples of social media.   It is through these dialogue conversations that tacit knowledge is brought to light, shared, and co-developed. Managing, structuring and facilitating these conversations - making them routine, efficient, powerful and deep -  is a crucial element of knowledge management.
Content and Conversation are the King and Queen of Knowledge Management - they rule together. Content is something to talk about, Conversation is where Content is born and where it is tested. As Knowledge Managers, we should focus equally on both.

Please don't neglect Enterprise Conversation Management - pay it as much attention as Enterprise Content Management as part of a balanced KM approach, especially now COVID requires us to plan our conversation far more than we used to.

Monday, 21 December 2020

Implementing KM as if you were a business start-up (video)

As my last blog post this year, please find below a presentation I gave last month to CIEDO in Barcelona.

Many thanks to CIEDO for inviting me to the conference, which was extremely interesting. I was honoured to be invited.

In the video I am talking on the topic of KM Implementation, and suggesting that you approach it as if you were a start-up launching a new product into a market (which in many ways you are). I then pick five of the common ways in which start-ups fail, and suggest how KM can avoid the same failures.

Be aware, this is video lasts over an hour. The introduction is in Spanish as are the questions at the end, but my part is spoken in English. 

Friday, 18 December 2020

KM accountabilities for the knowledge domain owners and SMEs

 I blogged earlier this week about the KM accountabilities for project managers. Here is the counterpart - the KM accountability for the knowledge domain owners.

  • KM within individual projects, and
  • KM across and between the projects.
Any project based organisation needs to consider both dimensions, and to make sure the correct roles and accountabilities are in place in both.  The KM accountabilities for the project and programme managers has already been covered, and the other accountability - the one that applies across projects - is usually held by the functional organisation and the subject matter experts.

The functional chiefs (chief engineer, head of sales, marketing director etc) already are accountable for developing a competent organisation. The chief engineer makes sure there are enough engineers, with the correct training and skills. And of course competence implies access to knowledge, therefore the functional chiefs have an accountability to ensure that the knowledge relating to their function is well managed. Functional chiefs on some organisations are supported by centres of excellence, and the chiefs may delegate some of the KM activity to these centres.

The functional chiefs will usually delegate KM accountability on specific topics to subject matter experts or knowledge domain owners, while retaining overall accountability for KM in the knowledge domain. The KM accountabilities for these domain experts/SMEs is as follows:
  • To ensure there is a sufficient body of documented knowledge in their domain or area of expertise to support the practitioners in their work. They may delegate specific areas of content to others, but retain overall accountability for completeness, accuracy, currency, findability and usability of the knowledge.
  • Receive and validate new lessons and new best practices within the practice area, and ensure the body of knowledge is updated as a result (knowledge synthesis) 
  • Publicizing and broadcasting updated practice documentation. 
  • Publicizing and broadcasting any other new developments within the practice domain (for example on a CoP blog) 
  • Develop, and agree with management, any company corporate standards for their specific practice area.
  • Monitoring use of the body of documented knowledge, and continually improving its application and effectiveness.
Where the organisation is large enough to support communities of practice, the SMEs or knowledge domain owners may be given additional accountabilities, as follows:

  • Ensure a CoP relevant to their knowledge domain is launched, built and sustained. This includes 
    • defining the goals and objectives of the CoP, 
    • negotiating and acquiring any required CoP resources, 
    • ensuring effective discussion among the CoP members, 
    • ensuring results from discussions are included in the body of documented knowledge
  • Define and measure the CoP’s benefits and progress, and report this on an agreed timeframe
  • Seek out, format, report and promote success examples within their domain

Thursday, 17 December 2020

CKOs (or KM team leaders) are generally appointed from within the organisation. here's why

It is becoming increasingly common to appoint your CKO internally, from within the organisation.

A common question when implementing Knowledge Management  - should your KM team leader, or CKO, be an internal appointment, or should you look externally to fill the role? I posted on this topic in 2019, but include some additional survey detail here. 

There are advantages and disadvantages to both options, as I explain below, but the majority of organisations appoint their CKO internally. As the pie chart shows, 83% of organisations in our three KM surveys (2014, 2017, 2020) appoint the leader of their KM program internally, as opposed to 12% who appoint externally. The remaining 5% have no such role.

Not only this, but the trend of appointing internally seems to be increasing. In the 2014 survey the percentage of internal appointments (the red sector in the bar chart) was 79%. In the 2020 survey this was 86%.

The advantages and disadvantages of the options are listed below (this text is copied from my 2019 post)

Internal appointment

As we have often said, Knowledge Management is a simple idea, but very difficult to do in practice.
The idea - that people should share knowledge with each other and learn from each other - is not a complicated idea. The complicated thing is getting it to actually happen. Implementing KM is primarily about culture change, and culture change is both difficult and highly politically charged.

The primary value in having an internal appointment (and not just an internal appointment, but an internal change agent), is that they know the politics. They know how to get things done in the organisation; they know how to drive change. And that, as we know, is the difficult part of KM implementation.

The internal appointment has existing networks they can use, they know the business priorities, and the way the organisation works.  They should have credibility within the organisation. They may also know the real reasons why previous KM attempts failed.

The disadvantage is that they might not know much about KM, and will need external mentoring and coaching in the details of KM and its implementation.  There also might be a relatively small pool of change agents available within the organisation. And in addition, if the organisation has already tried KM with little success, an internal appointment may be too linked to, and influenced by, the approaches of the past.

There may feel like a lack of urgency if the appointment is internal, and the internal appointee may already have rivals at the firm, and if priorities shift, they can also find themselves transferred out of the role as quickly as they were transferred in.

External appointment

It will be easier to find an external person with a history of KM success in other organisations, and very often a new appointee, with a clear view on KM and a wealth of experience of what "good KM looks like," can be a breath of fresh air. It may be difficult to find such strong and passionate change agents within the organisation.

They will have experience in KM, a repertoire of interventions, and some good success stories to share.  An external appointment might be on a fixed term contract of a few years, which gives KM an urgency, a project-like structure and a clear cost-benefit equation.

The disadvantage is that the zeal with which an external appointee will bring to KM may be met in equal measure by internal resistance. Organisation often reject "foreign bodies", and the best change always comes from within. The external appointee will not know the "language" of the firm, or the key players, or the unwritten rules and assumptions. They will need strong support from the CEO, and to surround themselves with mentors and coaches with decades of tenure at the organisation, to help steer the CKO through the political maze.

There may be a higher threshold to get started for an external appointee, and if they are on a fixed contract, they will still need to find an internal person to whom to transfer the accountability for KM when the contract ends, otherwise KM may wither and die at that point.

Our recommendation is as follows:

If you can find a good, experienced change agent within the firm who "gets" the vision and the opportunity KM can bring, then give them the CKO role, supported by coaching and mentoring from external experts. Their knowledge of how to change the organisation is more important that their lack of knowledge of KM.

If you cannot find such a person, or if KM exists but needs a shake-up, then look to hire someone external, and give them a wise "chief of staff" who knows the organisation inside out and can help navigate the politics associated with change. And if you are hiring your CKO externally, follow this piece of advice from a Knowledge Manager I interviewed:
If I was recruiting somebody external and I had an interview and I asked "do you think you were successful (in your last KM implementation)" and they said "yes we were absolutely successful" I would instantly be suspicious, because knowledge management is not straightforward. I want practical evidence that it was painful. I want to see the blood and the guts".

Internal appointment is far more common, and has big advantages, but ensure you get strong external mentorship from KM consultants with proven KM implementation experience.


Tuesday, 15 December 2020

KM accountabilities within projects and programmes.

 In a project based organisation, project managers bear much of the accountability for KM within the projects. 

  • KM within individual projects, and
  • KM across and between the projects.
Any project based organisation needs to consider both dimensions, and to make sure the correct roles and accountabilities are in place in both. Below is something I recently found in my files which I think is a nice description of the KM accountabilities in the domain of projects and programmes.

The project/programme manager carries single point accountability for KM activity at project/programme level. This includes accountability for:

  • Identifying knowledge deliverables for the project/programme consistent with those required by the organisation;
  • Ensuring that required knowledge deliverables are created and shared appropriately;
  • Ensuring the team(s) seek and re-use existing organisational knowledge wherever appropriate, and 
  • Ensuring that appropriate KM processes and systems are in place for the project to manages its own tacit and explicit knowledge though the life of the project; 
  • Ensuring that required KM activities are included in the project/programme plan and resources assigned accordingly; and 
  • Monitoring to ensure the required KM activity is taking place.  

A programme manager can, if required, delegate accountability for KM within component projects to the relevant project managers, while still retaining accountability at programme level. 

A project manager can, if required, delegate accountability for KM within component sub-projects or workstreams to the relevant sub-project or workstream managers, while still retaining accountability at project level. 

Responsibility for specific KM activities can be delegated within the project team as needed.

In larger projects the project manager can consider assigning KM coordination duties to a named individual e.g the project controller, project risk manager, project quality manager or project services manager.

Project/programme performance against KM requirements will be assessed at stage gates as part of the project/programme review process.

Use of a project/programme knowledge management plan may be considered, to aid monitoring and clarify KM responsibilities and activities at project/programme level. 




Monday, 14 December 2020

Loss Aversion, and the dis-incentives for KM-based change

The risk of loss of the status quo can be a powerful disincentive for change, and can be a powerful factor working against knowledge management implementation.

There is a very apt quote from Machiavelli (The Prince, 1532), which applies to Knowledge Management as it does to any change initiative:
“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things, because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.” 
As Machiavelli points out, the status quo is a powerful factor. Introducing something new, such as KM, disturbs the status quo without yet providing anything tangible to replace it. Sometime in the future Knowledge Management will deliver rewards, but people are always more unwilling to lose tangible benefits in the here and now, in return for potentially bigger but intangible benefits in the future.

This is known as "loss aversion".

Wikipedia tells us that in economics and decision theory, loss aversion refers to people's tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Most studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains.  This is reflected strongly in Machiavelli's quote.

Implementing KM involves change, all change involves loss, and all loss leads to aversion. Therefore you will make enemies of anyone who sees that they will lose something - power, prestige, profile - as knowledge management is introduced.

Elon Musk, as reported on the Farnham Street blog met a similar loss aversion from the regulators when proposing a re-usuable space rocket.

"There is a fundamental problem with regulators. If a regulator agrees to change a rule and something bad happens, they can easily lose their career. Whereas if they change a rule and something good happens, they don’t even get a reward. So, it’s very asymmetric. It’s then very easy to understand why regulators resist changing the rules. It’s because there’s a big punishment on one side and no reward on the other. How would any rational person behave in such a scenario?"
So how do we tackle loss aversion when implementing Knowledge Management?
  • Wherever possible, we make a case for change by maintaining that the status quo is undesirable. Maybe not sharing knowledge, or not learning from others, can be shown to put the profitability of the organisation at risk. Maybe failing to retain knowledge means that in 5 years time the organisation cannot compete.
  • Secondly we paint a picture of the KM-enabled future. We do this through proof of concept activity and piloting, so people can see for themselves how KM works, and can hear from their colleagues about the benefits it brings.

These two approaches allow people to re-set the loss aversion equation, by reducing the value of the status quo and increasing the tangibility of the KM future. This makes it safer for people to make the change.

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