April 28, 2014

Did We Manage The Wrong Knowledge

I was listening to a business report on how a very well known manufacturer had sold their business.  On the surface it wasn’t a particularly unusual event, but what made it interesting from my perspective was that the company had fallen from being number one in it’s field to stopping manufacture altogether, quite a tumble.   I wondered if focusing on the wrong knowledge had been part of the problem.

We frequently get requests from companies to help them with their knowledge retention programs.  The trigger can be things like;

  • Someone about to retire
  • Someone about to move to another location
  • Realisation that knowledge is not being retained
  • Desire to make it more readily available to others

Whatever the reason, they tend to focus on existing or historic knowledge.  A typical scenario is when someone with extensive experience in the company is about to retire and they ‘want to retain their knowledge’.  If that is the case then the first question must be “What of all the knowledge that the person has, do you want to retain?” because some knowledge has a limited shelf life whereas others will be of little or no value to the company in the future. 

It’s not always technology that makes knowledge obsolete, sometimes the business environment changes and existing knowledge on topics such as procurement and contracting is no longer viable.  I can think of at least one instance in which the regulatory environment changed that made all existing non technical knowledge in that industry obsolete. 

The need to be able to identify what knowledge to retain for the future, lead in part to us developing the Knoco knowledge scan tool.  The tool provides guidance on what knowledge needs to be retained for the future but also indicates what new knowledge will be required to meet the business objectives of the organisation.  It isn’t unusual to find even when a company has a knowledge retention strategy that it is focused on historical knowledge and that when the knowledge scan is conducted it highlights knowledge gaps in the organisation's approach to delivering the business strategy.

The environment within which businesses and government’s operate change over time and so it is advisable to run the knowledge scan tool at periodic intervals to ensure that the company is managing the correct knowledge.  There is no commercial gain in managing the knowledge of how to be the very best at manufacturing buggy whips if nobody buys them because they are now using motor cars!

Focus on the knowledge that is appropriate to the business strategy or government objectives but be aware that sometimes that the knowledge will be new knowledge and you need a tool such as the knowledge scan to assist you to identify it.

April 17, 2014

What Gets Measured Gets Done

“What gets measured, gets done” is a phrase that I am sure most of us will have heard at one time or another.  So if that’s true then knowledge management should be very easy; all we have to do is measure the right things.

So what gets measured?

Well let me give you one very common example of what gets measured – the number of uploads to the KM portal.

One company that I am aware of not only measured the number of uploads to their KM portal, they also rewarded it.  The scheme was very simple; the CEO put out statements to the effect that “it is good to share” but without any detail of what was desired or how to do it.  As a result many took it to be how many items they uploaded to the KM portal so they started to upload items to the KM portal.  Of course news of this spread, especially when reports of the number of uploads per department per month were published.  Soon a cottage industry based on uploading material to the KM portal developed.  Additional payments were available based on the number of uploads.

Work and business almost became a secondary activity.

 And of course it all ended in tears.

The unintended consequence of measuring a single, simple factor (the number of uploads) had driven the behaviours in an unintended direction. 

“What gets measured, gets done” is a very simple statement but the measurement system that supports it needs to compliment the complexity of today’s organisations and the pressures on today’s staff.  Make a small mistake in setting the measurement system and you are likely to get it very, very wrong.  Get it right and it’s smiles all around.

April 11, 2014

My LL Database Is Bigger Than Yours

I was watching the video of my colleague presenting at the Australian Institute of Project Management conference and was reminded of some of the comments I had heard in the past about lessons databases.  For some reason they always related to the size of the database or the number of lessons in the database.  Just imagine the following (stereotypes used to highlight the point);

Three big, burly oil workers are in a bar in Texas.  The first says “We have 10,000 lessons in our database and it’s so big we need to install them on a server in its own air conditioned room”.  “That’s nothing says the second one, we have so many lessons in our database that we have the lessons of the Pilgrim Fathers first landing in the USA”.  The guys were impressed by that until the third one piped up.  “We have so many lessons in our database that it isn’t even a database because our first lesson was written on parchment with a quill pen by Noah on how to select animals for his Ark”.

I freely accept that I have exaggerated the point in the text above but for some reason QUANTITY seems to be equated with QUALITY when it comes to lessons.

Let me suggest that a lesson on its own is pretty useless, it isn’t until something is done as a result of that lesson that the lesson (the original experience) has some value.

Converting lessons into actions which drive change in the organisation is the key to continuous improvement not piling up lesson after lesson after lesson in a database.    You want to avoid the situation described by someone in the Australian military “We are very good at learning lessons; we learn the same lesson over and over and over again”.  Action is the key to change and improvement.


A fourth burly oil worker walks into the bar in Texas and says, “We have a lessons management system which assigns actions to the lessons, tracks those actions until they are closed out and the learning is embedded in the organisation.  Our lessons management system goes up and down as new lessons are added and other ones are closed out and achieved”.

April 2, 2014

Why Isn't The HR Dept Taking The Lead In KM

In the early 1990’s I was involved in something called “Virtual Teamworking”.  The concept was quite simple, giving people who were geographically separated the ability to work with each other as if they were in the same room.  Even in those days we knew that the human element would be much, much more difficult that the technology piece.  With the technology we produced a functional spec (a description of what we wanted the technology to do) and gave it to our technology partners, BT and SAIC.  Wherever we needed the technology they provided it and it worked.  The technology was cutting edge for it’s time and the technical and logistical challenges of making it work in very remote locations shouldn’t be downplayed but they did it.

Why am I reminded of that project, well as I say even back in the early 1990’s we knew that humans would be the key to making knowledge sharing and re-use work so when we were asked recently “What are HR departments up to in KM?” my expectation was that they would be taking the lead, after all, HR look after the human aspects of the organisation.

If you do some research you quickly find that HR departments aren’t taking the lead in KM so I started to wonder why not.  If you look at any aspect of human behaviour in an organisation, the expectation is that HR department will be involved, so why aren’t they taking the lead in KM?

Now I am not suggesting that I know the answer to what is a very complex question.  Each organisation, each industry, even each geographical location will potentially require a tailored HR solution but why aren’t HR taking the lead in KM.  I would like to suggest it is because HR and KM are focused on different things.

I would like to suggest that the HR department is focused on the individual whereas the KM team is focused on the organisation or group.  The HR department focuses on things such as;

  • Individual development plans
  • Talent management plans
  • Training courses

All of which are focused on increasing the individual competency rather than organisational capability.

Now this isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a way of understanding why HR might not see their role as being the lead in KM.  An organisation seeking to improve its performance requires both individual competency and organisational capability and if it so happens that two different groups produce these elements then that is probably acceptable.  The key is understanding what each group is going to focus on and ensuring that there are no gaps.