March 26, 2014

Re-use: The Orphan Of The KM Vocabulary

Sharing is the super star of the KM vocabulary while re-use is the orphan.

Just think of the number of times you have heard or read the following

  • “We want our people to share”
  • Knowledge sharing strategy
  • Chairman’s Prize for knowledge sharing
  • “Our focus in on getting staff to share their knowledge”

I prefer to use the terminology ‘knowledge sharing and re-use’.  The reason being is that in many occasions I have seen ‘knowledge sharing’ becoming ‘knowledge broadcasting’.  Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with knowledge broadcasting provided that you understand that is what you are doing, you are broadcasting, not sharing.  ‘Knowledge sharing’ is frequently in one direction eg from the broadcaster to an unknown and frequently untargeted audience.

Knowledge sharing can also become a bit of an ego trip; “Look at how clever I am; look at what I know” rather than a genuine attempt to pass knowledge that they possess to someone that can use it.  It can also get caught in the KPI or numbers game eg “We had 1,000 uploads this month, lots of people are sharing their knowledge”.  Bigger numbers mean better knowledge management, if only it was as easy as that.

I prefer to focus on re-use.  Re-use tells me if it has been of any use to anyone.  Has anyone been able to use it to improve their productivity?  Has anyone been able to use it to reduce operating costs?  Has anyone been able to use it to improve safety?  Has anyone……………well you get the picture.  You might have what you think is the most valuable piece of knowledge in your organisation and want to share it with everyone in the organisation but if it’s of no use to them, does it really have value?

So lets help the underdog, lets help ‘re-use’, lets champion it’s cause and work to make ‘knowledge sharing and re-use’ the norm.

March 19, 2014

Are You Focused On The Correct Knowledge

We all think we know the knowledge that is needed to support the core activities of our organisation but this study challenges us to question if we really do know what the core activities of our business are

I haven’t read the details of the report but it just brought the question into my mind; “What are the core activity of our business?”, the article headlines would suggest that perhaps in the context of hospitals it might not be ‘curing illness’ but something else.

If you don’t know what the true core activities of your business are, how can you ensure that you are properly managing the knowledge associated with it?  Your knowledge retention strategy could be focused on retaining the wrong knowledge?  Your rapid onboardingprocess to transfer knowledge to new hires, might be transferring the wrong knowledge.

Interesting questions to reflect on.

March 17, 2014

Learning Before Can Be Hard Work

I was about to start doing something that I haven’t done before, I have done similar things but not exactly the same so I thought I would do a bit of learning before.

First, was there anyone I could telephone who would be able to provide advice?  I couldn’t think of anyone so guess the answer was a no.

My computer has 126GB of ‘stuff’ on it, perhaps I could find something there?  Perhaps someone might have sent me an email or a document that I had forgotten about?  Again, a no.

The sequence in which I did my searching possibly gives you an indication of my age because I now turned to that very well known internet search engine, Google.

I typed in my search phase and 0.84 seconds later my results appeared.  I had only 123,000 results to pick from.  Now I could be lucky and the first result might entirely satisfy my needs or I might be unlucky and it could be the last one.  If I spent 30 seconds on each on it might take me 1025 hours to get to the end!

As I started to work my way through the results I was reminded of one of the video clips we use during our community launch events.  It is set in a stadium full of people with individuals coming into the stadium to ask a question, much like asking a question of a community.  What comes across is that only the people who ‘know the answer’ to the question actually respond, people don’t guess and people who don’t have experience in the topic don’t just volunteer a response to be seen to be helpful.  If you don’t know, you don’t respond.  In the video this is emphasised by people wearing the clothing that corresponds to the topic of the question.

As I continued to review the responses to my search I kept coming back to that video eg how many of these responses were computer generated verses how many were based on the experience of someone who had actually done it?  Perhaps it was a trust thing but I increasingly found myself wanting to know what was behind the advice being offered, why should I trust them, and what was the advice being based on?

I would like to write that my tale has a happy ending but alas no, I am still researching and almost but not quite at the stage of ‘ it would have been better not to try to learn before but just get my head down and do it’.  Not quite at that stage but I now appreciate better why people just go and do things.



March 10, 2014

Knowledge Capture and Transfer

A colleague and I were discussing a forthcoming project on knowledge transfer and capacity building.  The scope of work was in two distinct parts;
  • Transfer knowledge from experienced staff to young staff and,
  • Embed the capacity in young staff to be able to continually learn from experienced staff and hence do the knowledge transfer for themselves in future

One of the things we discussed was the need to ensure that the knowledge transfer was focused on the knowledge that the organisation would need and not just on the knowledge that the experienced staff thought should be transferred.  I recalled how on one similar project, the expert had come up with a list of things to be transferred that would have taken 30 days of effort to achieve it.  Some of the stuff he wanted transferred could more efficiently be transferred via a traditional classroom route while others were already very adequately covered by textbooks.  After a discussion with his line manager we adjusted the scope of work to focus on that which would be of most value to the organisation.

I like to start projects like these with a knowledge scan that looks at the organisation’s knowledge needs in the medium term and then in the long term and then prioritises the knowledge to be retained and transferred.  With one client, the business environment had changed so dramatically in the previous two years that a lot of what the experienced staff knew wouldn’t be of value to the organisation in the future.  Understanding the context within which the knowledge will be applied in future should be used to shape the approach to the knowledge capture and transfer.

By embedding the skills for the young staff to do the work of knowledge capture and retention for themselves will mean that the knowledge which is most valuable to them, the stuff that they can actually re-use, will receive their attention.  They will have a vested interest in getting it right.  Knowledge capture and transfer will no longer be something that is done for them but rather something that they do by themselves, for themselves.

I look forward to reviewing the learning once the project is completed.

March 4, 2014

Quality Control Of Lessons

Lessons management systems contain a quality control step, a step to verify that the lessons submitted are of ‘good quality’.  I have come across instances where companies who use traditional lessons databases challenge whether that step is actually necessary.  Their attitude is frequently summarised by “we employ highly trained individuals, we don’t need to check what they submit as a lesson, they know best how to describe what happened and what to do about it”.

While I have a certain amount of sympathy with that opinion, I sometimes wonder if they understand what the consequences of a poorly written lesson could be.  Let me share with you something that happened to me based on following what someone else had written.

I collected a new microwave oven for our house.  I brought it home, positioned it, plugged it in and was generally feeling pretty proud of myself.  We have had simple, manual microwaves for many years so I knew how to operate a microwave oven but this one had something that was new to me, auto cook based on weight.

I had never used this type of function so I read the instruction book.  Seemed relatively simple, press the button that matched the food type, enter the weight of the food to be cooked and press ‘start’.  I decided to try it while cooking the dinner.

The instruction book was in front of me at all times and I exactly followed the instructions, remember I had never used this type of technology before and was totally reliant on the person who had written the instruction to pass their knowledge to me via these instructions.  I used kitchen scales to measure out the 300g of rice in the example.  There was nothing about adding water.  I was tempted to add water but how much would I add?  Was the microwave oven intelligent enough to tell if I had added 100ml, 200ml, 300ml or 500ml and compensate for the amount of water?  I didn’t know the answer so I followed the instructions; I added zero water.

  I pressed the ‘rice/pasta’ button on the auto cook panel once for rice (press twice for pasta) and put the 300g of rice in the over and pressed ‘start/auto minute’.  The oven started and everything seemed ok.  I had read that sometimes the oven stopped to allow you to stir the contents so when the oven beeped after 2 minutes and stopped I wasn’t surprised, it was stir time.  I stirred the rice and pressed ‘start/auto minute’ again.

I was standing next to the microwave oven cooking the dinner on the hob, the rice was just an experiment when about three minutes into the whole thing, the smoke started pouring out of the microwave oven door.  When I say ‘pouring’ I mean ‘pouring’.  I immediately pressed ‘stop’ but the smoke kept on coming.  I started to choke and my eyes were burning.  I managed to get the door to the garden open but the thick, yellow smoke went nowhere, the wind was blowing into the kitchen rather than sucking the smoke out.  With a cloth over my face I started flapping another cloth to try to move the smoke.  I knew enough (I had done the offshore fire fighting course) not to open the microwave oven door.

I eventually got enough smoke out of the kitchen to be able to see the microwave oven door.  I stood to the side (as I had been taught) and opened the door, I put a damp cloth over the container and very, very carefully move it out.

The kitchen stank of smoke and the inside of the microwave oven was now yellow instead of white.

We now played that age old project management game – whose fault was it?

My wife was very clear, it was my fault, I hadn’t read the instructions correctly, I was to blame.

Despite my protestations, it was still my fault.  We were going nowhere, it was my fault, we weren’t getting towards how to avoid it happening in future, we were still playing the blame game.

Eventually, I handed over the instruction book to justify my actions and yes, after minute examination (and I mean minute examination) she found there was no instruction to add water.  I hadn’t been declared innocent, at best I had been found to have followed the instructions.

Apart from an yellow interior to our new microwave oven and the lingering smell of smoke no permanent damage seems to have been done.

So the next time someone says it isn’t necessary to do a quality control check on what has been written just remember what happened to me when I followed the instructions of others.

ps.  hopefully I have done sufficient quality control checks on the text in this blog to avoid you repeating my mistake?

March 3, 2014

Auditing Your KM Team's Performance

I was just finalising the contents of my paper on innovations in lessons management and wondered about including some more examples. 

We always recommend to organisation starting out in knowledge management that they should start by conducting an assessment of how knowledge is currently flowing in their organisations.  If you want to improve you need to know where you are starting from.  The example wasn’t about this type of assessment or audit but rather an audit of how the KM team itself was going about its task.

An audit of a KM team is about understanding how well the KM team is approaching its task and the progress that it is making when compared to it’s peer group.  So for example instead of just enquiring “is their a lessons management system in place?”, we would ask supplemental questions such as “how do you ensure good quality lessons?”.  In terms of this question we might expect a response along the lines of “we would ensure it is SAR”, where SAR stood for Specific, Actionable, Recommendation.  The lesson would need to contain recommendations that were specific, not generalities; the advice would have to be actionable eg having read it you would be able to take action based on what you had read; and it would need to contain recommendations on how to avoid the same mistake (or replicate the same success) in future ie forward looking rather than backward looking and trying to blame someone.

Who asks for audits of their KM team?  Well frequently it is the KM team themselves in an effort to improve the service they supply to their organisation; sometimes it is the HR department as part of an annual assessment (they know how to assess engineering / commercial / procurement /sales etc  but not KM teams).

A company requesting an audit of its KM teams tend to happen once the KM team has been in existence for some time and has a track record of delivery within the organisation.  It can happen if the management is disappointed by the progress being made and wants to understand how it can improve but this is less common.  The audit is typically about benchmarking and improvement.

I am going to give it some more thought but I think I will include an example of an audit on a KM team in my paper.