29 September 2015

What else can KM can learn from Agile?

In response to my post a few days ago about Agile KM and also to a direct question to him, Stan Garfield kindly wrote this blog post in reply.

It really is a great post (not that I would expect any less from Stan) and I especially loved his reinterpretation of Bill Kaplan's manifesto as follows:

  1. Identify three key business objectives (rather than use maturity models, bench-marking, and me-too best practices)
  2. Focus more on helping people use processes effectively (rather than on rolling out technology)
  3. Improve decisions, actions, and learning (rather than vague concepts like "increase engagement," "add value," or "drive transformational change")
  4. Connect people to each other so they can help each other at the time of need (rather than focus on collecting documents or updating skills profiles)
  5. Implement, improve, and iterate (rather than plan endlessly)
If you are new to KM, please do yourself a favor and follow Stan's links. I guarantee it will be worth it for you.

I do think there are a few other things we can learn from the Agile Manifesto when it comes to KM and I offer them to you for your consideration (and hopefully feedback).  Stan may argue these are encapsulated in his last point, however I know people would simply see "Implement, Improve and Iterate" as a series of small waterfall-style pilots (some call this WAGILE), when in fact, your solution changes the initial problem space. You are not doing KM in a vacuum; your changes may effect something else which in turn can (and will) effect the success and possibly the viability of your well planned improvement.
Remember, “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy”
So for clarification I would add:

  1. Strategy is about discovering what works by probing and measuring, (rather than assuming the world is linear)
  2. "What works" is measured by whole of business performance, (rather than an individual or local metric)
  3. Working solutions after each iteration (rather than phased rollouts of a large project with no results until the end)
  4. Pilots that are designed to teach you as much when they fail (rather than just when they succeed)
Are you an Agile expert? Can you think of any others?

As knowledge leaders I think we need to have these strategic differences front of mind. This seems to be reflected in Alex Bennet's new book "Leading with the Future in Mind - Knowledge and Emergent Leadership".  As leaders we need to be learners first and Alex points towards Experiential Learning as a tradition that points us in the right direction.  I also spoke about this in a talk several years ago extending the idea to culture change itself being a form of learning. But I think these ideas put some meat on those bones and I am wondering if it is worth developing these in to a more structured method.

Anybody interested in taking a stroll with me?

25 September 2015

Surprise! Why don't people share their knowledge?

I am reviewing a bunch of KM material at the moment as I develop KMRt's new KM101 course.

Several people have been very generous to allow me to use their teachings and some of them are papers from my Masters degree program.  One of those really struck me as I re-read it today, almost ten years after I first came across it and I wanted to share what today I see as a critical problem with the way some companies found their KM systems.

Ask most knowledge managers who people don't share, in fact, ask most managers this and you will usually get two answers:
  1. They are hoarding their knowledge
  2. They see their knowledge as a type of personal advantage and fear losing that power
It makes sense right? We have probably felt that way ourselves sometimes. But do we act on those feelings?  Taken corporately as a culture we see patterns of individualist and collectivist people as described by Keith de la Rue, and maybe there is some wisdom in that.

So why don't people share their knowledge?

However, this research by Ardichvilli seems to say that the real barriers to knowledge sharing were far more personal:
  1. Fear that posting will reveal that they don't know what they should
  2. Did not believe they had earned the right to post on a company-wide system
  3. Fear of possible criticism or ridicule
  4. People were not sure of what they needed to post.  Needed more direction on What Where and How.
  5. Fear of letting colleagues down or misleading them
  6. Fear of losing face
  7. Afraid their contribution was inaccurate or incomplete

In reading these, your knowledge program's focus changes completely

It is no longer about prying precious company knowledge from self-focused individuals - an idea that has launched a thousand failed KM projects. Instead it is about enabling people so they feel they can contribute safely and effectively.  Arthur Shelley touches on this regularly, including in this post where he frames knowledge sharing in terms learning objectives and using conversations that matter to give people that validation they need.

The beauty of this approach is that it runs alongside people's natural inclination instead of against it. Respondents in the study backed up previous research when they stated their reasons for wanting to share knowledge:
  1. The majority of respondents said they saw their knowledge as a public good, belonging not to them individually, but to the whole organization.
  2. They felt this towards
    • Their organization
    • Their professional association (engineers)
  3. Respondents also wanted to assert themselves as experts. 
  4. Some felt they were at the stage of their career that they should give something back.
  5. Organisational culture played a part in their feeling of altruism.
So as you review the very underlying principles of your Knowledge projects, ask yourself the question "Why don't people share their knowledge?" and then do some empirical research to find out why.

23 September 2015

Why KM is needed for today's division of cognitive labour

"The world is changing."

We hear it all the time. Articles pointing out the move from the manufacturing economy to the service economy. Reports showing the gradual effects of offshoring. Papers researching the benefits and pains the knowledge economy has heralded in over the last thirty years.

But some of these underlying changes are not linear at all. They work in an altogether new direction and skew the way we measure the effectiveness of our workers.  One example is the division of cognitive labour.

In his fantastic book "King Arthur's Round Table: How Collaborative Conversations Create Smart Organisations", David Perkins talks about the difference between mowing a castle lawn and designing a new lawnmower.  With a small amount of loss for each person added, you can fairly easily divide the lawn up and mow it quickly with more people.  However to divide up the task of designing a new lawnmower is a much trickier issue and the more difficult the task is, the lower the efficiency of each worker.  This creates a declining return on investment as shown below.

When you think about this, it makes sense to go for the low hanging fruit first. Many companies have done this successfully; Think of the budget airline business, or low frills online shopping.

In this model, customers are placed horizontally. There are simple customers and difficult customers that take more mental effort to service.  The choice to apply the Pareto principle is logical. Service the 80% of customers with a high ROI and ignore the 20% of customers that require your team to have more knowledge, information or decision making ability to satisfy.

It is an attractive idea. Simple, focused and something that would win you votes at a boardroom table.
But seductive might be a better term, because as most people who have worked in customer service operations would know, it is based on a faulty premise...that the customers are stacked horizontally.

In the real world, customers are actually stacked vertically (see below). That is, most customers have a large number of needs that are easily met, and many (sometimes the majority) also have special or unique requirements.  These dont happen all the time, but they expect you to meet these needs too.  When looked at it this way, you are not rejecting 20% of pesky customers, you are letting down 80% of your customers some of the time.

Those companies that persist in this way discover that customers start complaining and silently disappearing. Churn rates increase and finally, sales people start discounting to retain business; tacitly recognising that the company cannot actually meet all their customers needs. Thus starts a slippery slope of lost advantage and declining reputation.  Of course this won't immediately show on the books as the increased turnover at the lower price will balance out the lower profit margins, but that can only continue for so long.

So what can be done?  Well, that is where Knowledge Management comes in.  By focusing on the needs of your key accounts, good KM programs discover the types and frequencies that these difficulties arise. Next, they provide ways to enable your staff to deal with them in an ad-hoc manner while still retaining control and integration with the rest of the company.

In his recent article, Scott Hayes talks about the lure of the question "what is happening right now", when in fact we should be asking questions about trends and real impact before we start formulating change in our organisations.  KM tools like After-action reviews, Knowledge Assessments and Lessons Learned programs seek out these trends and keep the important being over-ridden by the urgent.

Understanding the real impact of complex and medium/long term problems in our business is part of what leadership is about. Good knowledge management isn't just part of the solution to better division of mental labour, it is also a key tool to understanding where the real problems lay in the first place. In fact, I would argue it is a critical tool if you want to keep the harder 60% of your customer base long term.

09 September 2015

Agile KM is definitely here. Are you rethinking how you engage with your business?

While speaking at KM Singapore last week about a more agile approach to KM to make business value central again, I was surprised to see how many other people around the world are on the agile KM path.

Whether it is Ewen Le Borgne and his blog on agile KM, including this post about Practice SMARTS, Bill Kaplan giving an excellent presentation of his Agile methodology, thoughts by Enterprise Knowledge or the team at Cognizant, it seems that a more Agile KM approach is gaining ground through principles like Bill's:

1. Focus on People & Practices over Strategy in a Vacuum,
2. Performing and learning over high-level processes and tools,
3. Collaboration over Traditional consulting,
4. Responding and adapting to change over a perfect plan.

Everybody warned that agile KM isn't like agile software development. But that said, if you watch how companies like Spotify are being agile with their agile in these brilliant videos (vid 1, vid 2) then you start to get the idea that it's not so much what you do, but rather how you think about doing it, measuring results and reassessing next steps.

Nick Milton's post on Knowledge Mis-management a few days ago pointed out that companies either willfully or neglectfully fail to manage what is potentially one of their biggest assets: the knowledge held by their people.  Have you seen these symptoms in your business?

  • Crucial knowledge left in the heads of people, and lost when the people retire
  • Critical knowledge stored in databases to which the rest of the organisation has no access
  • No time spent to capture knowledge gained on projects
  • No time spent to seek knowledge to help inform plans and decisions
  • No maintenance of exiting knowledge assets or knowledge stores
  • No consistent taxonomy for stored knowledge
  • No effective search technology
  • Incentives for internal competition, which hinders or blocks knowledge sharing
  • Incentives (formal or otherwise) for knowledge reinvention
  • Rewards for "personal knowing" - promotion and job security for the experts who hoard knowledge
  • No messages from senior management about the importance of knowledge
  • Inappropriate rules on internal information security

If so, then congratulations you are in the majority, but maybe the reason for some of these is because the thought of a large project to address them just never gets enough support and traction to achieve political and financial support?

I suspect the agile approach to KM is the best antidote to this. It allows your company to stick their toe in the water, see what works and quickly get results before committing more resources. Leading with probes and developing a framework around the results may seem backward, but as the amazing strategist General von Moltke said over 100 years ago;
"No plan survives contact with the enemy".

Do you think your company might be being mis-managed?
Have you considered the idea of agile KM?
What would you have to change to take a step in that direction?
This will be a topic we revisit over the coming months at the Knowledge Management Roundtable.

08 September 2015

DeltaKnowledge is back!!!

Stuart French portrait
Firstly my deepest apologies for this blog being stagnant for the last 12 months. After setting up my new domain, Google decided I no longer owned this blog and I couldn't log in!  All fixed now and I am so happy to be writing this note to you all.

Much has happened in the last 12 months including me now being a KM Consultant with knowquestion which includes being Facilitator of the Knowledge Management Roundtable for the Strategic Industry Research Foundation (SIRF).  I have also returned from a week at the KM Singapore Conference. It was excellent to see so much interest in KM in both corporate, NFP and government sectors.

The KMRt is a group of member companies based around best practise transfer and peer learning & support.  It is largely for Victorian companies right now, but with it growing we will see what happens. Fantastic conversations, interesting speakers and some great projects underway right now. I'm not sure who is learning more, the members or me!

As for this blog, I am going to try something different.

It started back in 2005 as a study diary for my Master's Thesis on the cultural impact of collaboration systems.  As such it has been a mix of theories, philosophies, musings, etc about the nature of KM and related topics.

Life now, is both busier and more pragmatically focused so instead of writing long articles, I am going to try a more Tumblr-style approach to web-logging my quick thoughts about some of the articles, papers and case studies I come across, as well as notes about change management, program management, culture change and complexity at work.

If you are a practitioner then I hope this will be helpful to you.  If you are in academia, then this may give you a view as to what the practitioners I spend my time with are concerned about right now. Either way, please feel free to comment. Share your views, agree, disagree, add links to further information or ask me about a topic and I'll see if I can help.

As the world speeds up and business becomes increasingly global, knowledge problems are rearing their heads more than ever. We have answers. We have tools to improve sharing, decision making, risk management, implementation and governance of your company's most valuable asset, your people and their knowledge. If you need help on your KM journey, let's work together to streamline your business as it grows and changes.