August 25, 2010

KM for South African Parliament

We were delighted to receive from the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa a request to submit a proposal for the development of a Sector Knowledge Management Strategic Framework.

The document runs to 78 pages but essentially describes a desire by the Parliament to introduce knowledge management to the Parliament and all of its nine Provincial Legislatures. The aim is to have a common framework that will apply to all. By optimising how knowledge is managed it will strengthen decision making as well as facilitating easy access to information and managing knowledge resources and intellectual property.

The scope of work includes a gap assessment, framework development and implementation planning. Workshops to engage the wide spectrum in the benefits of knowledge management have also to be held.

The lead that the Parliament is taking in this is to be applauded.

Knoco Ltd

August 20, 2010

Knowledge Capture and Re-use

A lot of discussion /questions this week seem to be focused on knowledge capture /retention / harvesting. A lot of people seem to be asking things like ‘how do I do this’ or ‘how do I encourage people who are about to leave the company to share their knowledge’.

Many of the responses are of high quality and read as if they come from someone who has actually been involved in doing work like this rather than someone who has read a book about it. But they focus on the capture and very little about re-use of what has been captured.

In some instances the purpose of why the knowledge is being captured seems to have been lost. There also seems to be potential confusion as to what ‘knowledge sharing’ entails.

I was asked to benchmark on one organisation’s knowledge management processes and was immediately taken by the very high level of senior management support that it had. ‘Knowledge sharing’ was a mantra that was repeated by senior management in speeches, publications, in their day to day interaction with the workforce. It was impressive.

Their knowledge bank was brimming over with high quality material. Their internal KM team had put a lot of effort into marketing the knowledge bank and its existence was well known in the organisation. Almost everyone that I spoke to had submitted material to the knowledge bank and many had ‘knowledge sharing’ written into their personal objectives.


However the words ‘knowledge sharing’ were being heard as ‘I will share my knowledge with you’, the re-use of what was already there was missing.

Knowledge capture is but one part of the equation, you also need to include the other part, knowledge re-use.

Knoco Ltd

Demographic Cliff

I was attending a meeting recently and for a reason that I can’t remember I started to do a mental calculation of the average age of the people in the room. It wasn’t a scientific exercise, I had to guess their ages but I ‘calculated’ that it was 52.6 years. Now it could have been that it was only ‘senior’ engineers or ‘senior’ managers that had been invited to the meeting but whatever the background, in that company it would tend to suggest that perhaps there is a potential retirement bubble just about to happen.

Now this experience isn’t an isolated on. I had written an article for Knowledge Management Review magazines on this very topic in 2006 (you can get a copy from the Knoco site) but just this week one of my colleges, Robert Flynn in Western Australia asked if I would work with him to write an article specifically for the local government sector in Western Australia.

Robert used the term Demographic Cliff to describe the imminent retirement of the Baby Boomer generation. I hadn’t come across this term before but for me it wonderfully describes what is about to happen in many organisations not only in local government but in the private sector as well.

In newspaper that was delivered to my hotel room today there is an article that forecasts that Germany’s mean age will rise to 53 and 40 percent of all Germans will be over the age of 60. You may be tempted to think that this is a first world problem but travelling as much as I do, let me assure you it isn’t. Governments and companies around the world are now starting to sit up and take notice of this ‘cliff’. In some ways it is like driving on a country road, you see a sign that indicates a sharp bend ahead. The prudent driver starts to slow down well in advance (that is their plan to deal with the sharp bend) whereas the less prudent driver continues at pace until they can see / feel the bend and then they take action. Is your government prudent and altering its actions in anticipation of reaching the Demographic Cliff or are they pushing ahead at pace assuming they will be able to react when the cliff is reached.

I have written in the past about checklists. If highly trained individuals such as astronauts make use of checklists then surely us lesser mortals can make use of them. There is an excellent book about trying to introduce checklists into surgical theatres so I was really pleased to hear this morning on the TV news that they are making a significant impact in surgical theatres around the world.

One of the really insightful things about the TV news report is that it showed the surgeon using the checklist to have the surgical team introduce themselves to the other team members. I just kind of assumed that they would have already known each other (now you know that your next operation is going to be performed by a group of strangers!) but apparently not.

I also love the language…………..’avoidable adverse event’ Translated that seems to mean something went wrong that was entirely avoidable. Existing knowledge was not re-used and the patient suffered as a result of it. So the next time you come across a situation where existing knowledge isn’t reused, you have an ‘avoidable adverse event’.

The surgeon also said that using checklists helped to build team cohesion as people felt much more comfortable talking out if they saw something that wasn’t right. They didn’t have to say “sorry but you are doing something wrong” but rather comment that they had deviated from the checklist.

So if you think checklists would be applicable in your environment, perhaps it’s time for a rethink, after all the World Health Organisation thinks they are applicable to surgery (and we all know how high a pedestal surgeons are placed on.

I don’t have a link to the TV news report that I heard this morning but you can find out more here.

Knoco Ltd

August 11, 2010

How to Successfully Hunt Whales

My ancestors earned their living from the sea and today I was going to follow in their footsteps; I was going whale hunting!

As the trip progressed I watched in fascination as the crew practiced the same skill as my ancestors had all those long years ago. They knew the routes that the whales followed; indeed their charts were marked up with the routes and types of whales. Shallow and deep areas that they frequented were also identified. Sure they now had the benefit of radar and sonar but the knowledge to put us in the approximate area where they expected to find them was the same knowledge as they used all those years ago.

The captain had heard of my background and extended to me the great honour of taking the wheel of the ship as we tracked our prey. It is hard to express in typed words the sense of destiny as I laid my hands on the ships wheel. I could almost hear the voice of my ancestors whispering in my ear, “Steady as you go Tom, watch the compass, watch the horizon for any signs and keep an eye on the weather.” The hunt was on and I was loving it.

And then it happened………………”whale”, rang out. Immediately all eyes were directed to where the crew member was pointing. I just caught sign of it disappearing below the surface but we had one, all that remained now was to get within range.
I asked the skipper if he wanted the wheel with more than half of me hoping that he would say no, you take us in. With a rye smile he said he would take the wheel and I better get ready as we might only get one shot at it.

I rushed outside and helped to get the equipment ready. At a steady pace we closed not on the point of last sighting but where the skipper thought it would resurface. All of a sudden, without any warning the whale broke surface. “Now” was shouted from the wheelhouse and a dozen or more cameras flashed and whirred. The moment was caught on digital cameras for prosperity.

Sure we were using knowledge of how to hunt whales but this time we weren’t intent on killing them but rather capturing their antics on film (for the purists, we were capturing an imagine on a digital camera and not on film). The skipper of the boat was using old knowledge but within a different context. The knowledge of how to track and find whales had been handed down from one generation to another. It had been written down in charts and notebooks. It was still being used and added to even today. But the context had changed and whales were no longer killed for food and that knowledge had not been passed down. New knowledge had been created; how to position a boat to get the best pictures.

Sometime we need to put knowledge behind us knowing that the context in which that knowledge was created and used in no longer in existence. But sometimes knowledge that we don’t think will be of any value in the future can be retained and applied for commercial benefit in a different context.

What knowledge that you currently think has no commercial value could be valuable if applied in a different context?

Knoco Ltd

August 10, 2010

Lessons Identified

One of the things we have been advocating for some time is to use the term 'lesson identified' rather than lesson learned. 'Lesson identified' indicates that it is an interim state and that the learn hasn't yet been embedded in the work practices, procedures and standards of the organisation. Until that has happened the 'lesson identified' is an interim step.

It was therefore interesting to read that Deloitte's also think the same thing.

Knoco Ltd

The Three Eras of Knowledge Management

I first came across Nancy Dixon in the mid 1990's when she was invited to observe the work we were doing as an in-house knowledge management team. Delightful lady. Our paths have interwoven over the years so it was delightful to read her summary on The Three Eras of Knowledge Management. Well worth a read.

Knoco Ltd