June 30, 2010

Do I Want Them To Share Their Knowledge

I found myself wondering recently whether I really wanted someone to share their knowledge with me or whether I was glad I had just found out by accident what they hadn’t told me.

I was driving my car which is just over a year old when the radio stopped working. I pressed button after button but nothing happened. I drove to my destination, parked, did what I had to do and went back to the car. Pressed the key fob to open the door and nothing happened. Pressed it again and still nothing happened. Being of the generation where car doors had locks in them I decided to open the door using the mechanical key.

Now it’s not a Ferrari or Porsche but it does give a reassuring engine sound when it starts up. Normally that is but not that day. There was a dull thunk. Car’s don’t normally go, thunk. I can tell you, thunk in a car is an unnatural sound, it’s a sound you just don’t want to hear. I heard it that day. Thunk.

I called the emergency services and they got the car running. A natural engine sound emitted from it but would it start again if it stopped. So here was the challenge, how could it get the car home without stopping. I didn’t want to risk stopping at traffic lights and the engine dying on me so using Mark 1 Tom Young navigation system I headed off planning a route that would minimise the risk of traffic lights. Excellent example of local, tacit knowledge in action.

Took the car to the local dealer. Initially they thought it might be the engine immobiliser that had a fault but a couple of hours later they telephoned to say that the radio had a fault and as a result had drained the battery. They would need to order a replacement but I could collect the car any time.

The radio is an integral part of the dashboard so I wasn’t surprised they would have to order a replacement in, I expected a day, perhaps two at most. I almost fell off the seat when he said it would take 3 months. The story was that the original manufacturer went bust and the new supplier was filling back orders first and it would take 3 months to get to me. I then found out that there were six other cars of the same type in this local dealership waiting on replacement radios.

Could it be that there was a generic fault with this car but as they didn’t have replacement radios they just waited until you parked your car and found that it wouldn’t start again before they told you there was a fault with the radio? Would I have preferred to drive along unaware of this potential fault, just driving and driving until it eventually failed? Perhaps they were hoping that the new supplier would be able to create an inventory and then they would start recalling the cars? In some ways I felt sorry for the guy in the car dealership, telling people they would be without a radio for three months isn’t what they want to hear.

My colleague, Nick Milton, recent wrote in his blog about peer assists. I have always thought of peer assist as a ‘learning before’ tool so it was very interesting to hear from the Statoil delegate at the Collective Intelligence in Energy Conference that they regard it and use it as a learning during tool. You live and learn as they say. It was a good conference with great presentation from the likes of Scottish Power, Anglo American, EDP (power utility head quartered in Portugal but with global span), BP and ENI. The conversation was excellent and i truly enjoyed chairing the conference.

Knoco Ltd

June 21, 2010

600 Helping Hands

I was recently conducting a knowledge harvesting exercise with a project. The project had been very successful and the senior management were keen to understand why so that it could be replicated in other projects. To give you an idea of how successful they were, they had completed the phase of the project in 18 months whereas a similar project had taken 36 months to complete a the phase. No matter the size or complexity of your project, irrespective of what industry you are in or even if you are in a not for profit organisation, being able to do something in half the time is of interest.

The reason that the project was so successful was that they decided not to do something that had already been done by someone else in the company or even someone else outside the company. It became a mantra, “can we learn from someone who has already done this?”

As a result they had 600 lessons from other parts of the organisation or from outside the organisation. As one of the guys put it, “We had 600 helping hands”. Now some of the lessons were very small, very technical in nature whereas others were very high level, strategic in nature. Each of the lessons was assigned an owner and was tracked until it was used by the project.

So if you want to achieve breakthrough performance, look for those helping hands.

Knoco Ltd

June 12, 2010

Knowledge Harvesting or IP Rip Off

Many of the knowledge management forums that I participate in focus on the operational aspects of knowledge management. For example, on one of them there is a lot of discussion about ‘best tools to use in knowledge harvesting’. The unstated assumption is that knowledge harvesting is a good thing to do.

From a company perspective knowledge harvesting makes a lot of sense. It is part of the process to ensure that key knowledge is identified and managed. It isn’t a last minute thing but something that is proactively managed as part of the overall knowledge management activities of the company. Waiting until an announcement has been made that someone is leaving (either voluntarily or not) isn’t the way to go about it. I have already written at length how I think this should be done. You can get it for free from the Knoco web site.

While there is lots of stuff written about how to do knowledge harvesting, it isn’t very often that you read things from the perspective of the person who has the knowledge which made the following that much more interesting.

I was alerted to a thread in a construction forum that gave the participants view of knowledge harvesting. It didn’t make very pretty reading. Was their knowledge being harvested or was their IP being ripped off. The post started with someone expressing concern that their current employer was going to suck their brain for their experience. The concern seemed to be that while the contract required them to participate, they thought that they were going to participate in an informal chat, not a two hour structured interview. They expressed that they didn’t mind sharing the ‘what’ and ‘why’ but not the ‘how’. The fact that the person had only been there for three months seems to be a major contributor to the irritation.

One of the contributors mentions a rather well known organisation (I won’t mention the name as I have no way of verifying what the contributor says) who wanted to hire them not just to do the job but to share their knowledge of how to do the job. They would then create an in-house university based on their knowledge. The contributor seemed to be happy being hired to do a task but not have his knowledge used to create an in-house university.

The posts then change to giving advice to participate in the knowledge harvesting exercise but keep it high level and not provide the details. They suggest as the people weren’t involved in the work they won’t be able to tell if they are getting the appropriate level of detail or not.

Reading the post was an object lesson in how not to manage knowledge and how not to have an engaged workforce.

For all of us involved in knowledge harvesting exercises it is a warning. We need to ensure that there is a balance between the benefit to the company and to the individual.

Knoco Ltd