July 16, 2015

I Already Know About That

Many years ago when I first started to facilitate Peer Assist meetings I became aware of something that appeared to be operating at a sub conscious level within the home team participants, the guys who had called for the Peer Assist.  It wasn’t something that was very obvious, more a feeling to begin with.

For the purpose of this blog lets describe it in very black and white terms as

“We have some of the best people in the company in this team, they have lots of experience doing similar activities to what we are planning to do, the risk assessments have been done, we know what we are doing, the purpose of the Peer Assist it to comply with the Project Management Manual”

So given that this was something that I suspected, what could I do about it?

I decided to put an extra step into the standard Peer Assist work flow that we were using at that time.  So now I used the following agenda;

  1. General introductions by everyone present – name, rank, serial number; basic stuff
  2. Project team outline the challenges that they are facing and what they propose doing about them
  3. The visitors re-introduce themselves highlighting the relevant experience that they have in the areas outlined during step 2
  4. Conversation
  5. Action planning

Step 3 highlighted why the home team should pay attention to what the visitor might suggest.  Just think of all the experience you have gathered over your career, if someone asked you to introduce yourself during step 1, what would you highlight, how would you know if it was relevant to the challenges facing the home team?  By allowing the visitor to better understand the challenges facing the home team, it allows the visitor to highlight the experience that will be most relevant during the forthcoming conversation.  I sometimes refer to this step as the “why should you listen to me” step.
I tried deleting the introductions in step 1 but constant feedback was that participants were uncomfortable starting a meeting without knowing who was present.

It’s very easy to think you know everything about a given topic and that there isn’t really anything that you can learn from others.  Let me give you a very simple example of how you can trick yourself into thinking you already know about a given topic.

The 6 July 2015 edition of the Time magazine is entitled “The Answers Issue”.  There are lots of interesting facts that I wasn’t aware of eg there are 3317 da Vinci surgery robots installed around the globe as of 31 March 2015 (I was aware that surgery robots were in use but no idea there were so many of them) and that if I stopped driving a car and eating meat, my carbon footprint would be dramatically reduced.  I also learned that if I lived in USA, at my age my top risk would change from cancer to heart disease and that my risk of death by accident is now almost negligible.

The one example where I thought I knew the answer (well I almost did) was in the world’s deadliest creature.  I knew that even although “Jaws” change how we viewed a dip in the ocean, that sharks weren’t the deadliest creatures.  I turns out that they killed 3 people worldwide in 2014.  I was pretty certain that the deadliest creature would be the mosquito and I was correct, they kill 755,000 people per year, yes an incredible 755,000 people are killed each year by the mosquito.  What I didn’t know was that 200,000 people per year are killed by snails!  “Freshwater snails in tropical and subtropical climates can carry schistosomiasis, a deadly parasitic disease”, according to the magazine. 

So if you are about to start an activity in your business (or even your private life) assuming that you know everything about that topic can be a dangerous assumption.  Sometimes you need to listen to the visitors that are participating in your Peer Assist, assuming of course that you called for a Peer Assist in the first place!

June 29, 2015

Time To Reflect

We all understand, or I hope we do, the need to take time to reflect on what we have learned but how many of use actually take the time to do it?

My favourite way of reflecting on what I have learned is with fishing rod in hand on the side of a Scottish Loch.  No mobile telephones, no road traffic, no people, no disturbances (don’t get me started on the negative visual impact that onshore windfarms have had on our landscape!), just time to think and reflect on what I have learned as an individual and what I have learned about assisting organisations to learn.

It takes time to reflect, it just doesn’t happen on its own.  You need to put time aside and make it happen hence it was with considerable interest that I read in a recent edition of the Time magazine (1 June 2015) an article on the vacation habits of Americans.

The article mentioned how a growing number of American’s are taking less than their entitlement to annual vacation and how even amongst those that do take vacation time, the growing trend to interrupt their vacation time doing emails or responding to requests from colleagues back at the office.  Some of the things that jumped out at me from the article were (remember this is about American experience as reported in the article but it might also be true of your location);

  • American workers typically accrue paid vacation of 10 days (after 1 year), 14 days (after 5 years), 17 days (after 17 years) and 20 days (after 20 year)
  • The average number of unused vacation days in 2013 was 4.9 days
  • In 1980 the average number of paid vacation days used by employed adults was 21 days but in 2014 it was 16 days
  • 61% of employed vacationers planned to work during their time off, doing task such as
    • 38% emailing
    • 32% accessing work documents on a computer
    • 24% texting
    • 30% telephoning
    • 20% fielding requests by boss, client or co-workers to do work
  • As a comparison; Luxemburg guarantees workers 35 paid days vacation, Norway 29 days and Switzerland 28 days
  • Luxemburg, Norway and Switzerland were higher up the OECD league of economies than America in 2013 in terms of gross domestic product per capita (according to the article this is the favoured metric for workforce productivity)

How are you going to reflect on what you are learned if you are constantly, even while on vacation, responding to day to day activities of your organisation?

Perhaps we should all learn from a previous colleague of mine who blocked out each Thursday afternoon in his diary.  His diary was available online to the other members of his department which allowed them to check on his availability and booked him into meetings.  Each time they tried to book a meeting on a Thursday afternoon they found that he wasn’t available, he was already in a meeting.  What was he doing; he was reading magazine articles, updating his professional competence, exploring areas that might be of interest in his job and reflecting, yes, reflecting.  He took the time to systematically reflect on what he had learned.

Perhaps you don’t feel you need to reflect each Thursday but perhaps we can all learn from his systematic approach?  For me, I will continue to rely on my time spent fishing.

June 25, 2015

What Are You Doing With Your Lessons?

What are you doing with your lessons?

You might be puzzled by this question but what would be the answer if you were to be asked it?

The belief that managing lessons or that lessons have to be learned seems to be fairly universal.  You would have to travel a fair distance to find a company that would agree to the statement “We don’t want to learn anything from our lessons” either in private or public.  If that is the case then why do companies focus on the identification and capture of lessons rather than the learning from that experience?

A recent survey found that 80% of companies either had or were planning to have a process to capture what they had learned eg capture their lessons.

Congratulations, you have captured what you learned.

But what have you done with it?

Common responses might include;

·        It’s in the database

·        It’s in the project report

·        It’s in an Excel spreadsheet

Less common responses might include;

·        We have assigned actions and are tracking them to ensure that the learning is embedded in the organisation

·        We have someone who is accountable for ensuring that the learning is distilled and broadcast to those that can use it

Rather than saying that a lessons has been learned we should be saying a lesson has been identified.  Learning doesn’t happen within an organisation until something has been changed.  A caveat to that is where there has been noncompliance with existing procedures and standards.  In that case the focus should be on understanding why the existing procedures and standards weren’t complied with rather than making changes to them!

A lesson is a valuable thing, don’t lose the value by just letting it sit on the shelf.


June 23, 2015

IPO Needs Knowledge Retention

It is frequently assumed that knowledge retention only applies to established companies and especially when someone is about to leave the organisation, frequently due to retirement.  I would like to suggest to you that knowledge retention also applies to start-up or growth companies as the following case study will illustrate.

Knoco was approached by a company that had been in existence for a couple of years who were in discussions with a group of investors about receiving additional funding.  The discussions had proceeded well and the investors had agreed to provide the requested funding.  As part of the due diligence process the investors had asked “what is your knowledge retention strategy?”

Now this was something that the company had never considered before so they didn’t know how to respond or even do something about it.  They did a Google search and found Knoco and called me.

During our discussions we started to create the diagram below to illustrate what had to be done.

Their initial thoughts were that all they had to do was in some ways document what the existing staff already knew and that would be sufficient to satisfy the investor needs but that was an over simplification.  They needed to understand;

·        The knowledge providers were the existing staff and they fell into two broad categories ie technical and commercial.  They didn’t think that commercial was required but it was, they needed to be able to demonstrate that they knew how to run a business as well as coming up with the smart technology ideas

·        The knowledge users went beyond the investors.  It also included the existing staff (it standardised the approach to activities) and new staff (it reduced the number of times senior staff had to answer the same question from new hires).  They also identified that customers would want access to the company’s knowledge before they bought the products.

·        The material that would be produced would need to be tailored to the needs of each group.  A wiki might be appropriate for in-house use as it would allow continuous update as new things were learned whereas a brochure or portal detailing ‘how-to’ might be the appropriate vehicle for sharing knowledge with customers.  Flyers or briefing notes might be the appropriate way to present things to the investors.

·        The key knowledge would come not solely from the technology people but also the commercial people, after all  the investors would want assurance that the company would be run in a prudent fashion

·        The priority for collection would have to be agreed as like any organisation they had limited resources both in terms of time and money.

The company subsequently built on this map and created a detailed project plan, timeline and resourcing model to provide the material to the various groups in the style that was most useful to them.

Knowledge retention just doesn’t apply to well established companies, it also applies to those at the very early stages of their existence.  Sure the reason of doing the knowledge retention is different, but it is still knowledge retention.

June 1, 2015

Preparing the Ground For KM

It is sometimes assumed that every company is ready for knowledge management, all you have to do is get started.  That assumption isn’t always correct however and sometimes you have to prepare the ground before you plant the seeds.

Let me try to illustrate this with the following case study.

The manager had been able to hand pick the people from two companies to work on the new joint venture.  These people were all high performers and destined for high office within their respective parent company.  The problem the manager had was that they weren’t performing; knowledge wasn’t being re-used or transferred.  Something was very wrong but the manager didn’t know what it was and hence how to resolve it.  I was asked to meet the team and see if I could identify what was wrong and then solve it.

At the beginning of the workshop I asked the attendees to identify what their greatest fears were in relation to being involved in this joint venture.  This was a prime joint venture to be involved with so my expectation was that there would be few fears and we would focus mainly on positive desires or outcomes.  To my surprise fear of failure of the joint venture was almost endemic; these high fliers were genuinely concerned that failure of the joint venture would permanently damage their career.

To try to get to the bottom of this fear I asked them to identify what could potentially cause the failure of the joint venture, I was very careful to focus the conversation on what might cause it to fail rather than what would cause it to fail.  I wanted them to focus on perceptions rather than facts because at that stage it might be difficult to identify and get agreement on what the facts might be.

The main driver behind the fear of failure seemed to be lack of commitment of the other team members to the joint venture.  When I asked them what might create a perception of lack of commitment, a number mentioned something really, really surprising and it was lunch.

It transpired that one group would sit at their desk, eat a sandwich while continuing to work while another group would leave as a group, visit a restaurant and eat a meal. 

The facts were;

  • One group had sandwiches while at their desks
  • Another group went to a restaurant for a meal

The perception was

  • The group that went to the restaurant weren’t committed to the success of the joint venture
  • The joint venture will fail
  • My career will be damaged
  • I will be seen as a failure in my parent company
  • I wont get the top jobs
  • News of the failure of the joint venture will get out into the industry
  • I wont be able to move to another company
  • My family will impacted
  • Etc, etc downward spiral

What they hadn’t taken time to understand was the social norms of the company that they had come from.  In one company, the norm was to eat lunch at your desk, whereas in the other company, the norm was to leave the building and eat at a nearby restaurant.

Once they understood that the lunch behaviour was nothing to do with commitment to the joint venture, just reflections of their parent company norms, we were able to identify possible solutions.  In the end the group agreed that two days a week everyone would eat a sandwich at their desk, two days a week they would all go out to restaurants and on the day before the weekend, a buffet was served in the conference room to which everyone was invited.

Alignment had been achieved.

Now that they had alignment they could move onto understanding how they could share best practice from their parent company and build a high performing team.

If you plant your KM activities in soil that hasn’t been prepared, you might be disappointed in the results.


May 12, 2015

A Positive Lesson – An Endangered KM Species

When designing our LMH (Lesson Management Hub) software we decided to do our best for that KM endangered species, the positive lesson.  When a lesson is mentioned eg “We must learn the lessons from this”, it invariably is about something that didn’t go the way that was expected, a mistake.

In many instances value is being lost because things that went better than expected are not being exploited.

Within LMH, the user can tag a lesson with one of the following

  • Negative lesson – something that didn’t go as well as expected.  This lesson contains advice on how to avoid that happening again.
  • Positive lesson – something that went better than expected.  This is a lesson contains advice on how to replicate that success in a consistent manner.
  • Non compliance – this lesson isn’t really a lesson but rather something that happened because someone didn’t follow the guidelines already in place.

The functional lead can distribute the positive lesson, giving due recognition to the source, and encourage its adoption across the organisation.  Wouldn’t it be better to encourage people to do something that will save them time, money, effort rather than constantly telling them “ don’t do this” or “he is yet another example of how we got it wrong as an organisation”.

The non compliance lesson is particularly interesting as it is telling you that someone didn’t follow the current procedures for that task.  So the action arising from that ‘lesson’ is about understanding why someone chose not to follow the current company procedures and not changing existing procedures.

May 5, 2015

Video Capture In Knowledge Transfer

The use of video is becoming widespread in our society so I would like to share with you some of the things that I have learned about video in the context of knowledge transfer and re-use.

My rule of thumb is 30 seconds is perfect, 60 seconds is good, 120 seconds is 60 seconds too long.  If you are sitting in an office, then you want something that is short and to the point.  Use the video to highlight some aspect that you think is particularly important to get across in the video rather than general education.  I have come across a couple of instances where conferences, workshops or presentations have been captured on video but evidence suggests that people don’t have the time to sit through a long video, they just want the highlights.

Think carefully about the impact of lighting and how the finished article will appear on the screen.  If the light is behind the head of the person being interviewed, their face will be in shadow and the video will add very little beyond that which text would deliver.  If the light is directly above their head it can cause shadows under eyes and give a ‘unhealthy’ or ghost like appearance.  Having the light shining on their face (not a spotlight as they will appear very pale) will probably give you the best results.

I always use a clip on microphone to record the audio as the microphone on the camera can pick up background noise that you might not be aware of.  This might include hum from fluorescent light fittings or sound of air conditioners.

Think about location, I prefer an office with a door that can be closed to keep out noise and distractions.  I once did an interview with someone sitting outside on a bench.  It was only after I started to edit the clip did I discover that you could see the image of people walking past on the lens of the interviewees spectacles.  To say that it was distracting would be an understatement.
I position the camera about half a metre to the right of my right hand.  The edited image will appear on the screen as if they are talking direct to the viewer and not the interviewer.  If you position the camera directly in front of the interviewee you risk the danger of their hands appearing huge if they lift their hand during the interview.
Before I start filming I explain to the interviewee the questions I will put to them so that there are no surprises.  I don't let them write anything to prevent them looking down during the filming.  I brief them on the question, let them think about their response, ask the question, record the clip, let the camera run for 10 seconds, stop, brief them on the next question, let them think about their response, asks the question, record the clip, let the camera run for 10 seconds etc.  The reason that I have a silent gap at the beginning and end of the recording is so that I can get good 'still' image of them on the screen and not one where they have their mouth open or eyes closed.  I also ask them to start their answer by repeating the question, that way the viewer doesn't have to guess what question was put to the interviewee.

Before you put a lot of effort into creating video clips, create a ‘test’ clip and give it to your IT Dept to allow them to verify that your IT infrastructure can host the clips you are going to create.  Video clips are not simple things like Word or Excel documents, there can also be a limit on the size of the clip that can be hosted.

This may seem like a strange point but check that your video editing software is compatible with the file type that your camera will produce.  I bought a particular type of camera with a socket for the external microphone only to find out that the video file that it produced couldn’t be read by my existing editing software.

Always, always, always send the clip to the interviewee to approve before you release it.  It’s not unusual to find that people don’t like what they say or how they say it and will ask for it to be re-edited or even re-created.