April 27, 2010

Knowledge Management in the Public Sector

The latest edition of the Knoco newsletter is now available and can be obtained here. This edition focuses on knowledge management in the public sector.

Technology is so ingrained in my life that in many respects it is invisible. It works. It works like a biro pen, you pick it up, it does what is supposed to do, no surprises, no shocks, it just does what it is supposed to do.

Sometime however it doesn’t work. That’s what happened to me some time ago. For a reason that I still don’t understand my email account on my desktop stopped remembering my password. At first it was just a minor irritation. I would describe myself as pretty computer literate, so I did what I thought needed to be done but it didn’t solve the situation. When I used my laptop everything worked as intended but whenever I used my desktop, the email account wouldn’t remember my password.

Like a stone in your shoe, the irritation grew until I had to do something about it. I booked a call with Microsoft help. We used remote access to share my desktop screen so that as they asked me to do something they could see the results on the screen. He was thousands of miles away but we acted as if he was sitting next to me. We could even trace where the signals were going as I pressed keys. The whole process was really awesome.

Now I would like to end this entry by saying that the problem has been solved but it hasn’t. There has been talk of handshakes, tokens, servers, keys and all sorts of other techno words but we still haven’t got it solved. The helpdesk guys are really enjoying it, the guy who calls sounds like a really nice guy, as it seems to be challenging their understanding of how things should operate.

I hope to be able to inform you early next week that everything is back to normal and that my desktop is now remembering my password. In the meantime I will be in Aberdeen presenting a paper at the Oil and Gas Knowledge Management conference.

Knoco Ltd

April 19, 2010

Business Strategy

My heart goes out to anyone caught up in the travel chaos that the volcanic ash has created. Anyone who has travelled as much as I have will have experienced the agony of delayed / cancelled / just didn’t turn up flights. The endless hours in an airport terminal, perhaps with little or no foreign currency, my heart goes out to you. But please be safe. The desire to do something, anything, can become overwhelming. I can remember on one occasion where I was contemplating driving a huge distance. As I think back on it now it was sheer stupidity but the desire to do something, get to that meeting, was clouding my thinking. I know it is very easy for me to sit here and type “do a risk assessment and understand the potential consequences of what you are about to do” but it is sound advice. Be safe.

I am currently planning a piece of work and as part of the preparation I was reflecting on how two different organisations were approaching their future.

The first organisation is in the public sector (government organisation). Their challenge is that funding will become very tight in future and they are projecting a lack of funds. To meet their obligations they offered staff redundancy packagers including enhanced pension accrual. They also said that anyone who wanted to go, could go. As a result many who were in their early to mid 50’s would be able to take the equivalent of a full pension. They also planned to combine jobs with typically three jobs being combined into one. As a result they were inundated with requests to leave for as one person put it, ‘would you want to do three jobs for the same money or would you like to retire on almost a full pension?’. So in the short term they will meet their objective and save substantial sums of money but have essentially taken out of the organisation anyone who had any leave of experience. They have no knowledge retention strategy or even ad hoc activities, people are just walking out the door.

In the near future they will have people doing the equivalent of three previous jobs with perhaps experience in one of those areas, and even if they do have experience it is likely to be a few years only.

Another organisation (non government owned) had just completed its strategic review and was starting to put in place the plans to deliver that strategy. During the discussions it became obvious that part way through delivery of that strategy they were going to lose a large number of people due to retirement. The initial reaction was that they would need to retain them but they started to question if they would have the expertise that was required as the company moved forward. As a result they started to review what know-how would need to be retained to deliver the strategy.
Stereotypes can be very dangerous and it wouldn’t be right to assume that the actions taken in these two examples is due entirely to one being a government organisation and one not, that would be too simplistic. Cutting to reduced costs can be very easy and can be shown to provide immediate impact. Investing to deliver something in the future requires leadership and confidence that it will in actual fact deliver in the future.

Knoco Ltd

April 13, 2010

Measuring Impact of Knowledge Management

I was starting to think about what I would include in my presentation for the KM conference at the end of the month. The focus is on how to unlock the investment that your organisation has made in knowledge management. As I was gathering my thoughts my mind kept drifting back to PETRONAS. They are doing some really good stuff in knowledge management. What they have been doing would make a good case study in my presentation. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them as MAKE award nominees or even finalists in the near future.

I know that some people think that knowledge can’t be managed so how could you possibly measure something that can’t be measured. I however take an alternative line. Not only do I think knowledge can be managed but have seen many examples of it being done so at a practical level. I also think that what is done can be measured. Focusing on the outcomes can be more beneficial than focusing on the inputs. For example does it really matter how many AAR’s have been conducted or web pages viewed? If you have 200 documents uploaded to the shared area this month rather than 100 does that mean that you were twice as effective or efficient this month? Does it mean that twice as much knowledge was shared; I think not.

I like to think more on business outcomes; did we increase market share from 6 to 9%? Did we reduce cost per item from $3.89 to $3.21? For me all knowledge management programs should be totally aligned to the business objectives of the organisation, otherwise why would an organisation invest in it? Why do we do financial management? Perhaps it is to ensure that stakeholders know that their investment is being soundly management and not being misdirected. If we didn’t have to provide that assurance to third parties, would we do financial management? Perhaps yes, perhaps not.

I haven’t finalised what I am going to say in the presentation but perhaps it will be to start with the business outcome that you wish and then build your measurement system to monitor the progress towards that outcome.

You can access Knoco resources here.

Knoco Ltd

April 9, 2010

Virtual Apprentice

I was chatting with someone about transferring learning. He knew he wanted to do something but the trouble was he wasn’t sure what it was or how to do it. As we chatted it started to emerge that in his field of work there were two types of learning; one could be described as ‘hard’ and the other ‘context’.

Hard learning was where the advice was instructional eg set the control to 7.9 or add the 200g of the mix to 1 litre of water. Nice clean cut instructions. You don’t need to understand why it is 7.9 and not 3.4, you just set the control to 7.9 and everyone is happy.

The other learning was more based on experience so we started to describe it as context learning. The example he gave me was that when setting the control to 7.9 you actually set it to 8.3, held it there for five seconds then turned it down to 7.9, that way the system was stable at 7.9 and didn’t oscillate. While he thought he could describe the difference between the two types he was struggling to find a way of transferring them.

I suggested he might think about a concept such as Virtual Apprentice. The idea was that when asking the person to document context learning you position it as ‘what would you tell and apprentice if you had them next to you when you were doing that activity’. He liked that idea, he could see how people would related to it and understand what he was looking to try and capture.

To get people to re-use the context learning, I suggested that he ask people to read it before doing the task to see if it had been correctly recorded or to see if they could add additional information for the Virtual Apprentice. This would get over the ‘I already know how to do the job’ problem he was having. By asking them to check to see if the instructions were up to date for an apprentice he felt there was a good chance that they would do it.

It will be interesting to see how he gets on with the concept of the Virtual Apprentice.

April 5, 2010

Send Me KM Resources But Don't Let My Boss Know

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will know that I think the word ‘culture’ is grossly overused. In some instances it is used as code for ‘that is too hard so I wont do it’. I have written frequently that in a company context ‘culture’ is a by-product or result of the expectations that management share with the workforce. If on observing that a company is driven by procedures and standards, I would bet that you will find someone at the top of that organisation who expects people to adhere to the procedures and standards that have been put in place.

I do however freely admit that national and geographical cultures do exist. I am Scottish and very proud of it. That heritage has allowed me to be welcomed around the world although I have to admit that some people find my Glasgow accent challenging, it’s not quite BBC English.

In the cultural context I find it interesting that a very large number of the people from India that visit the Knoco web site and request resources ask for it to be sent to their private email address and not the company one. At first I thought these were students looking for resources to supplement their lecture notes but on investigation I have found that they are senior people in very well known organisations.

So what makes them use their private email address rather than a company one when they are requesting knowledge management resources? When I ask the response i typically get is that they are learning for themselves and developing their own competency hence using the private email address. Now I would have thought that learning something that would then be applied for the benefit of the organisation that you are employed with would warrant the use of the company email but perhaps I am mistaken. I really don’t understand what is happening as it doesn’t seem to happen with other people who request resources from the web site. Sure we sometimes get a request from someone using their private email address but nothing like the level of consistency that appears to happen with people located in India. If anyone can share an insight to this phenomenon I would be delighted to hear from them.

Knoco Ltd