Thursday, August 28, 2003

KM in Shuttle Disaster

A short article worth a read is Report: Knowledge management failures central to Shuttle disaster. Mostly what went wrong was an over-reliance on systems that failed to break down social silos.

"...This led to a series of discussions that took place in a vacuum, with little or no cross-organisational communication and often no feedback from senior managers contacted by low-level engineers with concerns about the shuttle's safety."

Organisatons have gone through tackling widespread availability of pockets of knowledge - leveling competence - and worrying about knowledge creation\innovation. Much less addressed are issues like this: the right information (I use information deliberately), in the right place at the right time, but nobody is listening to it.

Ironically, the reason people ignore alarm bells is due to over-confidence in their knowledge about a situation. Experts learn what's noise and what's important by refining a mental model of what matters. Sometimes something serious comes along that's outside that model so they erroneously reject it.

Secodly, if an organisation wants to learn, it needs to embed it in process:
"The Lessons Learned Information System database is a much simpler system to use, and it can assist with hazard identification and risk assessment," the board concluded. "However, personnel familiar with the Lessons Learned Information System indicate that design engineers and mission assurance personnel use it only on an ad hoc basis, thereby limiting its utility."

Again, novices are conciously incompetent, so use such databases. 'Experts' almost never do because they never get the trigger to check.

Birthday Blog
A year ago I began blogging with a skeptical post: Intellectual Capital Punishment

Dave Gurteen asked me to give Blogging a go, and then jury-rigged it behind the scenes by telling other people to come visit the site. Despite some lean months, I'm still going, so I'm beginning to waver on the skepticism front. Still not heard from anyone interested in KM for Start-ups though (I can't imagine why in the current climate).


Sunday, August 10, 2003

Collaboration is the new KM?
I refuse refuse to talk about an nth generation KM, as there was a spate of articles last year all claiming that 1st generation was this and 2nd generation was that, according to whatever message the author was pushing. But if I look at whats happening in the industry, I think the tone is changing subtly. We're seeing IT come back into the picture again, for example. It's as if we had to ask it to leave the room while we could have the discussion about the people element, but now its safe to let it back in.

My tip is that collaboration will become the next trendy term. We're going to have to go through the same loop as before: IT will push it, there'll be some initial successes, others will try to follow and fail, people will then say wearily "its all about people" and slowly we'll get it right. Lets just hope we can go through all that a bit faster this time. Why collaboration? I think it appeals because its less fluffy than 'KM' - people intuitively think its good (few CEO's are crying out for their people to collaborate less) - and it taps a current need: in trying to cut costs by e.g. reducing travel, people are feeling the pain of projects failing and mis-communication. 'Virtual teams' as a term has been around long enough, but few companies are getting it right. This is largely because when people sit close-by then you don't need to manage the information exchange. Take them more than 30m away, and you have to start planning (see Ward and Holtham's excellent The Role of Private & Public Spaces in Knowledge Management).

I think this is a good move for KM: it preserves the people+process+technology elements, but is widely understood and still people-centric. The trick will to be avoid reducing it to technology in the imlementation (see your average Portal\Intranet publication, for example)

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Who are we trying to convince?
Not so long ago I attended a seminar that included a panel discussion with some of the big names in KM. Inevitably, somebody in the audience asked "How do I convince management to do KM?". I hear this all the time and people never seem very satisfied with the answer, which usually says something like "make sure its linked to your business's strategy" (they might as well say "make sure its really convincing"). Some speakers then go on to add "...and make sure you don't call it KM".

Here's my hunch and it comes in two parts (like a camel's)
1) It's true that many companies, particularly the ones that had early KM success didn't call it KM, becasue it didn't have a label. And it wasn't done by KM people, because they didn't exist either. Often the old hands look baffled as to why these people are trying to do something unrelated to strategic priorities, and they get baffled looks back from people who feel they're stating the damn obvious and missing the point.

2) A fun thing to do at a KM Conference (not a phrase you'll hear often) is ask people how they got into the field. I've only met one person who said "I studied for it". So nearly all of us are enthusiastic amateurs - "professionaly hobbyists" is how I once heard it put. We're all trying to move away from a job we didn't like into something much more interesting - more interesting because it often involves dablling with things that used to be the domain of more senior people (take it from me, I used to be a janitor ;-)

Put it together and what have you got? People trying to take over "management's job" of launching initiatives by inventing a new profession. So I have to ask myself, is my question "how do I convince management to do KM" or "how do I convince management to let me join in the game?"