Tuesday 9 June 2009

There is a Killer Application in Knowledge Management – and it’s not what you think!

We often hear about a “Killer App” for KM, whether it is Lotus Notes, SharePoint, Facebook, or some integrated Web 2.0 offering. Some people are dubious of such claims, some people are enthusiastic.

I believe there IS a killer application, it’s one 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 list of value delivery through KM, I found that most of the 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.

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