Wednesday 17 February 2010

KM "because we will"

Daniel Corso: DO IT AGAIN
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You can find may blog posts out there contrasting Knowledge transfer "just in time", versus "just in case".

"Just in time" knowledge transfer is transfer of knowledge to solve an immediate business problem. This can be done interpersonally through networks and communities of practice, or inter-team through peer assist or other similar team processes. This is classic "knowledge pull"

"Just in case" is the capture of lessons at the end of a piece of work, "just in case" someone should want to use them again. This is classic "knowledge push"

However we should not make the mistake of assuming all knowledge push, and all knowledge capture, is "just in case". Very often it is "because we will".

In other words, we do the knowledge push because we will do this task again, and we want to make the most of what we have learned. This is not "Just in case", because the reuse is guaranteed. It's not like taking an umbrella "just in case" it rains; it's like taking an umbrella because we know it will rain.

Let me give you an example from BP days (and I have a very similar example from much more recently which I can't share with you in detail, for confidentiliality reasons).

In 1997/8, BP Oil Europe, went through a massive merger. At the end of this merger, we conducted a full "learning history" exercise, along the standard MIT lines for learning histories, to discuss, agree, and document the stories and learning points. We knew that similar deals would happen again in the future, so this knowledge was strategically really valuable.

Then in 1999, it did happen again. BP merged with Amoco, in what was at the time the biggest industrial merger in history. Massive lessons were learned, and again afterwards we conducted a learning history, interviewing many of the top people in the organisation, to capture the stories and identify the learning points, the tips, hints and key points. We knew that similar deals would happen again in the future, but didn't know when.

The "when" was almost immediate. in 2000, BP decided to acquire Arco, and no sooner has we cut our first multimedia disc of learnings, tips and hints than it was whisked away to Chicago for the merger team to read and digest. Then again, after the Arco acquisition, we did the same (this time extending the exercise to look at Integration lessons as well). We knew that similar deals would happen again in the future, and sure enough, more mergers and acquisitions happened, and that disc again became much sought-after.

I would like to make two points from this story.

This was not "just in case" knowledge identification and storytelling; we knew this knowledge would be needed again; we just didn't know when.

Secondly, this was not an alternative to knowledge transfer through conversation, it was an addition. In each case the merger team spoke to people from previous mergers (and in several cases, team members moved from one merger to another), but the learning history acted as an index of things to talk about, it acted as an aide memoire to remind people of the details of their exercise (as you know, the human memory fades over time), and in many cases the people were no longer available for conversation and yet their stories and bits of advice were preserved.

Exactly the same happened with the second company (the one where I cant give the details), but there the gap between the mergers and acquisitions was greater; in the order of 2 or 3 years. Here the documented learnings and stories were even more critical in bolstering, triggering, augmenting, and (in some cases) replacing human memory.

So this is knowledge capture, if you like, but it wasn't "Just in case". It was "Because we will".

Because we knew in each case that we will do this again, and that we would like to learn from previous experiences. That's very different from "Just in case we ever do something similar again"

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