Mapping the KM Landscape

Knowledge Management has become an ever-increasing suite of interconnected tools and techniques - it's easy to feel overwhelmed without a map. Having bounced some early ideas around with Geoff, and spent far too many idle moments at airports fiddling with PowerPoint,  I think it's time to stop tweaking and start sharing.  So here it is: my rendition of the KM Landscape  (click to enlarge).

KM Landscape
KM Landscape

I wanted to try and show the breadth of techniques and processes, the connections between them, and also some of our neighbouring disciplines and opportunities for boundary collaboration.

It’s far from perfect  (I need more than two dimensions to really do the juxtaposition justice) – but hopefully it’ll illustrate some new places to explore.

Let me know if you find any new destinations, landmarks or pub walks to include.

What's wrong with Lessons Learned? Part 4.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve looked at three of the inherent weaknesses of “Lessons Learned” and the way the label is perceived:  Passiveness, Negativity and Ambiguity.We will move onto a more positive note soon, but before we do, I want to introduce one further weakness:  Bad Teachers.

bad
bad

At this point I want to make it clear that I have seen the Diaz/Timberlake/Segel film of the same name, and that they are 92 minutes of my life that I would like to have back! However, the image was too good not to use.

What do I mean by bad teaching?

In the educational sense of the word, a lesson is deliberately crafted and designed in order to teach.  I can say from experience of being married to a teacher, that every hour of teaching she delivers requires another hour to cover preparation, marking and feedback to the learners.

Lessons are carefully formulated to take account of learning styles, levels of capability and connections with other parts of the syllabus. They evaluate understanding, they build on prior knowledge, they include references to further exploration and they have measurable outcomes.

Our bullet point lessons look a bit lame now, don’t they?

“Ah, but we’re not in the business of education”, I hear you say. Well, perhaps we should make education more of our business!

There’s a George Bernard Shaw quote which teachers hate - my wife included.  You’ve probably heard it.

Those who can, do.  Those who can’t, teach.

But there’s a corollary to this, which I’d like to add:

Those who can do, often can’t teach.

And that’s often our problem.

A project team successfully learns something from a project review meeting.  A lot of their learning is internalized, and the “lesson” they write down on that flipchart makes sense to them.

But it doesn’t make sense to the next team who will be using it. Just because I’ve learned something doesn’t make it a lesson for everyone else when I write it down.

Imagine my wife visiting an Egyptology exhibition and giving the brochure to her class on Monday morning whilst announcing “Hey class 4, this is what I learned about the Egyptians over the weekend – why don’t you take a look!”It’s not what she learned that matters, it’s what she teaches.

So how do you prepare a lesson which becomes a good teacher?

  • Think about the customer for the knowledge.  Who will be reading this?  What questions would they have?
  • Consider the context.  In what situations would this lesson be relevant?  Is it specific or general recommendation?  A good practice? Something to bear in mind?  Something to avoid?
  • Provide the back-story. Help the reader to understand the circumstances which gave rise to your experience to help them make sense of what you learned and make a judgement on its applicability in their context.
  • Illustrate the lesson with artifacts, images, documents, quotes, videos, references and links to provide a richness to the learning experience.
  • Don't separate the lesson from it's source. Ensure that the person behind the story behind the lesson is clearly referenced.  Include a photo and full contact details.
  • Show where it fits with other lessons.  Signpost other relevant lessons and content by drawing together related content into a "knowledge asset".
  • Keep it fresh. Revisit the content periodically to ensure that it is still current, relevant, and illustrated with the best examples.

That way, we can be those who can do, can learn and can teach.

Follow @chris_collison

What's wrong with Lessons Learned? Part 2.

What's the connection between Madonna, King Solomon and Louis Vuitton? Tricky one eh?

In "Live to tell", Madonna famously stated:

"A man can tell a thousand lies I've learned my lesson well..."

King Solomon waxed lyrical about lessons from laziness in the book of Proverbs (24:30-34)

"I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man."

Louis Vuitton clearly have a position on this too:

Luis Vitton
Luis Vitton

It's not just that they all connect with the concept of "lessons learned".  It's that in each case the association is negative.  In fact, nearly all references to lessons learned outside of KM, Organisational Learning or Project Management have negative connotations.

When my wife will knowingly shakes her head at me and tuts "...lessons learned darling, lessons learned...", I know I'm well and truly busted.

What went wrong with the concept of lessons?  In school, lessons are positive, educational and beneficial.  The minute we step out of the school gates they become negative, undesirable and punitive.

  • The phrase "I've learned my lesson" usually follows sorrow and suffering.
  • The phrase "I'm going to teach you a lesson" is usually followed by sorrow and suffering.

So with these precious market insights in mind, what name shall we give to our Organisational Learning processes to make them relevant, constructive and appealing? Imagine the following phone call...

me: Hello is that the KM Sales & Marketing department? Any ideas on branding this learning cycle stuff?

them: We've had this brilliant idea. Let's call it "Lessons Learned"!

me: Well, I guess it's better than "Post Mortem" that the Project guys are already using.

Sigh.  Sometimes we don't exactly make it easy for ourselves.

Not to say that we want to discourage learning from negative experiences.  Of course we don't - it's a precious, precious investment.  But if that's all we do, then learning itself becomes a negative experience by association.

1.  Let’s ensure that we apply the same learning approaches when things go well, as when they go badly.  This can difficult to embed without some discipline and leadership commitment, because when a project goes well, the team assume that the success was all down to their own natural professionalism and struggle to articulate recommendations for others.  (When a project goes badly, then the team will be quick to blame external factors - See Argyris, Teaching Smart People how to Learn for details.)

2.  Let's be prepared to dispense with the "lessons" word altogether if it carries so much baggage.

My favourite alternative is "Learning from Experience". Experience is much more neutral than "lessons".  It can be positive experience, negative experience, our experience or someone else's experience (more on that in part 3.)

If you get the chance to position and brand your efforts, you might consider about losing lessons and exhorting experience.

As Albert Einstein provocatively put it.

Experience is learning. Everything else is just information.

Follow @chris_collison

Fossils, Time Capsules, Museums and other Knowledge Retention techniques

I've been working this week with an organisation who  are looking at knowledge retention from some major programmes with a significant gap (several years) between the closure of their current programmes and the start of the next phase of projects, when today's lessons will be most relevant. Now let's be clear here -  knowledge transfer is always a better starting point than knowledge capture, I think that's a given for KM.  However, in this case, some kind of strategic knowledge capture is going to be necessary , as there is no guarantee that  the staff with experience will be available in the future.  I'm  putting a brief together for them which will help them to involve the workforce in prioritising topics, conduct some media-rich interviews and create a set of knowledge assets with the needs of future projects in mind.

The default position is just to let nature take its course and see what survives. Let's call this the fossilisation option.  Hope that in the rough-and-tumble of organisational change, that there will be enough fragments of knowledge and experience preserved that it will be possible to reconstruct the "soft parts" (the context for decisions made at the time).

Next up is the time capsule approach.  Take an eclectic set of artefacts, bury them somewhere safe, and erect a memorial plaque or signpost (SharePoint folder anyone?) to remind people where  things have been buried.  Then hope that the person who exhumes them can make sense of the way in which each of the artefacts (documents) would have been used, and extrapolate to cover the gaps. Better than the fossil record, but still pretty unreliable.

Museum image (thanks to Prafulla.net)
Museum image (thanks to Prafulla.net)

Moving up the scale of effort and thoroughness, we have the Museum collection. Painstakingly assembled and expensively detailed, this represents a high-resolution snapshot of the past in terms of the documents and outputs, but will still say little about the underlying reasons for decisions taken at the time.  And as Ian E Wilson, Canada's chief librarian and archivist once said:

“No amount of sophistication is going to allay the fact that all your knowledge is about the past and all your decisions are about the future." 

So where do we find a suitable metaphor which places the emphasis on recommendations for future re-use, rather than yesterday's lessons?

I found it at futureme.org.

Futureme.org
Futureme.org

What's futureme.org you might ask?  As they say on their website:

FutureMe.org is based on the principle that memories are less accurate than e-mails. And we strive for accuracy.  See, usually, it's the future that will reflect back on the present. We here at FutureMe think it's fun to flip that all around. So send your future self some words of inspiration. Or maybe give 'em swift kick in the pants. Or just share some thoughts on where you'll or what you'll be up to in a year, three years...more? And then we'll do some time travel magic and deliver the letter to you. FutureYou, that is.

You can browse anonymous real examples on futureme - some thoughtful, some hilarious, some prophetic and some poignant.  I think the idea of sending yourself, or someone else,  a message for the future is an excellent way of focusing on the capture of recommendations and thoughtful advice. It makes is personal and actionable (characteristics so often missing in lessons learned reports) - and it so much cheaper than building a museum!

So we're planning to use a creative twist on futureme.org with this particular client to draw out the advice. As they say at Futureme - it's the future that will reflect back on the present, so it's fun to flip that all around.

10 options for implementing a KM strategy

Last week I had the pleasure of providing my final virtual webinar for the first of the UN's KM Online blended learning programme.  Geoff Parcell and I have taken turns over the past 6 weeks.  Last week the focus was on KM Strategy and Implementation, and we had an excellent interactive discussion about different options for implementation.Here's a shot of our discussion in action...

So with particular thanks to Eric, Harald, Svetlana and Miguel who added some great ideas  - here are ten different options for KM Strategy implementation.

1. Top Down, Big Bang.

This is the traditional "someone at the top has said this needs to happen" approach, usually accompanied by a cascade, a change initiative, communications and engagement plan, brown-bag presentations, training programmes, mugs and mouse mats. We've all seen these initiatives in action - and in some organisations they can be the only way to get people's attention.  The challenge, of course is to find ways to keep people's attention -  particularly when the board or senior sponsors have moved onto their next big bang.  You might consider setting up a programme board with some of the senior players, which will keep them collectively on-the-hook for your programme.  It's much more difficult for the whole group to shift their energy away than it is for a single sponsor to become distracted by the next big idea.

So it's the challenge of sustainability, which leads us neatly to the second approach - Top Down, Bottom Up.

2. Top Down, Bottom Up

This approach is a sophistication of the Big Bang approach, using the same level of visible senior support to send a clear message across the organisation. The critical difference is that there is a deliberate effort to harness the energy and passion of workers at the front line, and to involve them in the programme, perhaps as group of advisors or a community of practice. These people are key in helping to translate the messages from the top and set them in the right context locally.  BP had a two-year programme with a team of 10 with a brief to define and demonstrate the value of KM.  But it was KM Community of practice - around 200 enthusiasts who recognised the value that it brought to their day-to-day roles - this was the group who helped KM to be more sustainable.  They were also an excellent source of anecdotes and credible stories of where KM had made a difference at the sharp-end.

3. Slipstream.

In most organisations, you can guarantee that there will be a number of organisational initiatives in flight at any one time.  Rather than wait for a gap in the traffic which will never come, or to launch a competing campaign to capture the attention of an already saturated workforce, there is a third way!  Slipstreaming is about working in partnership with other initiatives or "transformation projects" (don't you just love that phrase?), looking for ways in which you can feed of each others' momentum. The beauty of KM is that it's such a broad discipline that it is easy to find ways to complement and support other programmes and functions.  I have seen KM effectively slipstream behind business improvement and Six Sigma projects; operational excellence, new project management methodologies, SharePoint deployments, acquisition integration activities, customer management and asset management initiatives, culture change movements and the roll-out of new corporate values. [You might question whether you can change culture with an initiative, or roll-out values - we'll leave that for a future post - but you get the idea...]

One thing to be wary of, which affects competitive cyclists and athletes who slipstream - is the danger of getting "boxed in".  If you're slipstreaming the roll-out of SharePoint with a view to sharing a broader set of knowledge-sharing behaviours and methods, then watch out that the technology doesn't grab all the headlines and rob you of impact.  It's always best to agree these things up-front as part of the partnership, rather than "pop out" unexpectedly and assume that you can push KM to the forefront!

4. Outside In.

This approach is a little higher risk, but does come with its own in-built parachute. Sometimes things just sound better when they are heard from the outside.   People who would treat an internal newsletter or intranet article with a degree of scepticism will pay attention to  the same story when it appears in a journal or arrives via their RSS feed – or when a friend of customer mentions that it just arrived in their RSS feed.  It’s the power of outside-in.  Geoff Parcell and I found that when we published the first edition of Learning to Fly in 2001, it gave reach, awareness and credibility to the KM programme way beyond anything we could have achieved ourselves.  Rio Tinto experienced a similar unexpected impact when they published their video on Communities of Practice on YouTube.  It just works, and it creates momentum inside the company to fill in any gaps between what is said externally and what happens internally.

And if you do over-reach?  Well, all that publicity should help you to find a soft landing somewhere else!

5. Viral

This is a variant of the pilot approach and usually involves technology.  BT experienced it with the  launch of their BTPedia internal wiki back in 2007, Russian financial services giant Sberbank encountered it with the launch of their ideas management system in 2011, and the roll-out of many micro-blogging environments  like Deloitte's Yammer have taken on a life of their own this year. With a viral approach, you need to be prepared for it to be messy - it's a case of let a thousand flowers bloom, pick the best ones and do the weeding and gardening later.   However, it's hard to imagine "lessons learned", "knowledge retention" or the creation of knowledge products spreading like wildfire.  You'll need to make the most of the extra momentum and have a plan up your sleeve to connect the parts of KM which spread virally with the other techniques and methods which require more effort to adopt.

6. Stealth

Sometimes labels get in the way.

Sometimes  you have to find ways to build  up  your organization's capability to manage and share knowledge without them realising what your master plan actually is.  You get smart at making small adjustments to processes, spotting political opportunities and allies, tweaking the configuration of information-sharing platforms and the wording of competency frameworks and values;  encouraging networks and facilitating conversations which improve performance and learning.  After a few years, you'll be able to look back and say to yourself  "you know what, we're pretty good at managing and sharing knowledge. - but you probably won't get a plaudit or bonus - just the satisfaction of having helped to build a knowledge-friendly environment which is probably more sustainable than any managed programme would have achieved.

If you like the sound of that, and can live with the lack of recognition, then perhaps a career as an independent KM consultant awaits you!

7. Copycat

This is more of a tactic than an implementation strategy per se - but it's often successful to point to examples of successful KM from other organisations (competitors and customers are particular impactful) to create some "me too" or "me better" demand.  Find a good example and invite them in to tell their story.  Check whether your board members have non-executive directorships or recent prior experience of other companies.  They might be good ones to pursue! Copycat can work well internally too, encouraging business units to out-do each other in successful knowledge sharing, but make sure that the measures you use to compare and celebrate don't create a new set of competing silos.   ConocoPhillips' '4G' awards (Give, Grab, Gather, Guts) and Syngenta's TREE awards (Transfer, Reuse, Embed, Experience) both focus on giving and receiving - hence they compete to out-share each other - which has to be a good thing!

8. Pilot

A Pilot approach will often take a subset of KM methods and apply them locally - in contrast to the big bang, which usually takes KM as a whole and attempts to apply it globally.  It's all about lighting a number of fires to see what spreads.  A pilot enables you to try the aspects of KM most likely to make a difference quickly, to build credibility locally, and to learn from each implementation.  That could mean launching a community of practice for one part of the organisation whilst closing the learning loop on major projects and working on knowledge retention for retiring experts. Criteria for a successful pilot?

  • capable of showing results (measurable value would be good) within 6 months;
  • strategic;
  • repeatable elsewhere;
  • close to the heart of any key sponsor or stakeholder, and
  • ideally a recognisable part of the organisation (not too esoteric) which will make their story easy to understand.

9. The Buffet Menu

The success of a buffet approach depends on a high level of demand for knowledge. Rather than investing effort in creating an appetite, or a willingness to experiment - this approach works with the demand already present, and provides an array of tools and techniques which the organisation chooses from at will, once their "palate" is sufficiently educated.

The International Olympic Committee is a great example of this.  They set out a veritable smorgasbord of learning processes, observation visits, secondments, extranet platforms, access to experts, databases, distilled recommendations and lessons learned.  A knowledge feast for a future organising committee, who enter the 7-year process with a tremendous appetite for knowledge. On a smaller scale (and let's face it, everything looks small compared to the Olympics!), management consultancies operate their KM programmes using the demand for knowledge which accompanies each new assignment.

Demand-led programmes are more likely to be sustainable - no need to persuade people to change their behaviour - adrenaline drives them to it!

10. Phoenix from the ashes

For a lot of organisations, KM is not a new idea.  For many of them, there have been several historical big bangs, pilots and copycat initiatives. Talk with people about what has happened in the past and learn from it.  Corporate KM started in the mid '90s, so you'll be looking for people with grey hair (working in KM does that to people). Sometimes just having these conversations can rekindle enthusiasm, tinged with nostalgia.  Why didn't we make more of that?  What did we lose momentum then?  Perhaps now the timing is better?  Perhaps now, with a new sponsor, or now that we've addressed that particular barrier? It is quite possible for KM to rise, phoenix-like from the ashes and fly higher than it did before.

So whether you're a viral copycat or a phoenix stealthily approaching a buffet from the outside in, here's ten options to consider, with a little help from the inaugural UN KMOL class of 2013.

Knowledge retention - a game of two halves.

36brokenHeartNecklaceBack in the '80s, the oil company Shell ran a promotional campaign from their petrol (gas) stations in the UK which would never work today.  With every petrol purchase, you were given a scratch-card, which would reveal the left or right half of a banknote, with a value of up to £5000.  The half-note had no value in itself  - but if you could discover both halves of the banknote, then you would receive the cash.  As a child, I can remember it made those boring garage stops much more exciting! Shell's promotion relied on a good geographic separation of left and right halves of the high value banknotes. It worked well... until someone had the bright idea of asking for the missing half-notes on national radio (we're pre-internet here folks!), at which point I think Shell cried "foul" and cancelled the promotion.

I've been working on a KM/OL strategy for a company with a large number of major construction projects.  I had the privilege of interviewing a very perceptive senior manager who was reflecting for the first time on the challenges of managing knowledge in a project  team environment. She made an interesting observation about the power of stories as a source of shared knowledge, and the true cost of breaking up project teams to reallocate resources to new tasks.

It's easy to assume that when a team dissolves, each of the members  take the knowledge, lessons and stories with them. Completely.  Within this assumption, every team member is a  repository and can be managed and reallocated as a lossless, portable knowledge transfer approach, plugged into the next project just like a lego brick.

This manager's insight was that many of the stories don't reside wholly with an individual - they only surface when two former team members come together and spark each other's memories to release the value - just like our £5000 Shell scratchcard halves.  Without the other half, the knowledge value of that shared story is volatile, and at risk of dispersing into the ether.

Image In this world there is a real loss of knowledge when a team is disbanded and reallocated - it's not all carried by the individuals. The sum of the separated parts is now less than the sum of the parts when they were together.

As I write this, it seems obvious, but I have a feeling that our approaches to managing and sharing experience and expertise - and even our interpretation and use of network analysis - is often built on the assumption that we can make and break bonds and still retain all the knowledge in the nodes.

I think it's a lot messier than that - as Joe Cocker and the Beatles both sang - we only get by with a little help from our friends.

Lessons Learned or Lessons Earned?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtJv4QXE0RA

Earlier this year I presented at Henley Business School's annual KM Forum event, on the subject of "Lessons Earned". They kindly recorded the event, and I have just edited and posted a ten minute excerpt on YouTube.

Watch it to find out:

How project lessons are like a leaky bucket... Why frequently asked questions aren't frequently right... Why captured knowledge is like a dead butterfly collection... How 'not hiding' is different to sharing... And why curiosity is good for business, even if it is bad for cats!

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Paying knowledge forward - Vancouver's Olympic gift to London Heathrow

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qTg89yObMs

It's always nice when two pieces of work converge.

I've had the pleasure of consulting to BAA's KM team at Heathrow over the past month, and in parallel, have been researching the knowledge transfer processes which surround the Olympic Games. Both of these are good stories.

I was impressed to see the video below, which was Vancouver's "knowledge gift" to Heathrow. Nicely produced, and well received.

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