May 31, 2013

My Brain Leaks!

This week I came across a great example of how my brain leaks knowledge.

Someone in my extended family is due to give birth and it was mentioned in conversation “will need to get the family crib looked out”.  Now this may seem like an innocent remark to you but to me it was a revelation.  “What family crib?” was my reply.

I was then informed that about 27 years ago a crib was made and has since been used by every child born into my extended family.  I was even informed that it sat at the bottom of our bed when our child used it.

I had no memory of the existence of the crib, nor that it had been used by my own child nor that it had been used by every child born into our extended family in the last 27 years.  No matter what they prompted me with to help me remember, I just couldn’t recall it.

The knowledge of the creation and use of the crib was gone.  It had to have existed, I was there when the crib was being used, but the knowledge of it was now gone.

When we conduct the knowledge management simulation exercise, Bird Island, we sometimes come across people who have participated in it before.  On one occasion we even formed a team of them to compete against those who had never participated before.  The outcome very, very, very clearly illustrated to all present that while the team who had participated before could remember the vague outlines of how to be successful, they couldn’t remember the detail and it was that very detail that made the difference between success and a less than optimum outcome.

If I ever need an example of the importance of documenting key knowledge (not everything) the episode of the crib brought it come to me, you can’t rely on memory alone.

May 30, 2013

Thinking Outside the Box

I am not sure of the origins of the story, it was sent to me from someone who had received it from someone else etc.  No matter its origins, it is an interesting story about identifying the real knowledge you need before moving into action.

A toothpaste factory had a problem. They sometimes shipped empty boxes without the tube of toothpaste inside. This challenged their perceived quality with the buyers and distributors. Understanding how important the relationship with them was, the CEO of the company assembled all of his top people. They decided to hire an external engineering company to solve their empty boxes problem. The project followed the usual process: budget and project sponsor allocated, RFP, and third-parties selected.

Six months (and $8 million) later they had a fantastic solution - on time, on budget, and high quality. Everyone in the project was pleased.

They solved the problem by using a high-tech precision scale that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box weighed less than it should. The line would stop, someone would walk over, remove the defective box, and then press another button to re-start the line. As a result of the new package monitoring process, no empty boxes were being shipped out of the factory.

With no more customer complaints, the CEO felt the $8 million was well spent. At the end of the first month, he reviewed the line statistics report and discovered the number of empty boxes picked up by the scale in the first week was consistent with projections, however, the next three weeks were zero! The estimated rate should have been at least a dozen boxes a day. He had the engineers check the equipment and they verified the report as accurate.

Puzzled, the CEO travelled down to the factory, viewed the part of the line where the precision scale was installed, and observed that just ahead of the new $8 million dollar solution sat a $20 desk fan blowing the empty boxes off the belt and into a bin. He asked the line supervisor what that was about.

"Oh, that," the supervisor replied, "Bert, the kid from maintenance, put it there because he was tired of walking over, removing the box and re-starting the line every time the bloody bell rang.”

May 17, 2013

Social Media Inhibits Learning

“Social media inhibits learning and I am telling our young engineers not to use it”.  It would have been very easy to dismiss the person who had said this as having had too much caffeine; we were drinking coffee after all but this was someone who was extremely well respected in his field and someone that people normally listened to.

I was enjoying the coffee and the conversation up until that point had been excellent so I was intrigued to learn what was behind his statement.

He went on to outline how in his opinion social media encouraged young engineers to ask their peers ‘how to do something’ but that peer had the same level of knowledge as the person asking the question.   “Sort of the blind leading the blind”, he said.  What he wanted to do was encourage young people to identify who really had the knowledge they needed and then ask them rather than just ask someone who happened to be on their speed dial or their social network.  He was concerned, in his opinion, that young people were afraid, uncomfortable, not encouraged etc, etc to approach senior people and talking with them, what he wanted to do was make conversation between the young and thesenior routine, the norm.  In that way knowledge would flow, knowledge that was based on experience, knowledge that could be applied for successful outcomes.

I was left feeling that while his initial statement was a bit ‘black and white’, what was behind it was very worthwhile, good quality conversation between young and senior engineers, or in any other aspect of life, is worthwhile and should be encouraged.