Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The ultimate intangible asset

If you've not had this sent to you by the office joker, take a look at , a spoof site that offers instant quotes on the value of your soul. Even better are the comments of indignation it inspires in the lowly-rated.

Sadly the actual quotation part seems to have been broken for quite some time - clearly the soul market is rather bullish.

"We want your brain" as the KM equivalent anyone?

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

"Failure Laundering"

A colleague of mine slipped this marvellous expression into a conversation today: "failure laundering". It was in the context of an intiative that hadn't delivered and had gone very quiet, but instead of being formally closed it got bundled up into a new initiative. That way it wasn't seen as having failed, but merely reincarnated. Some 'change' management programmes can go on for years like this.

Another observation I rather like on this theme is "we never kill projects, we just wound them severely".

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Is an intranet the last resort of the dis-connected?

An interesting discussion going on in AOK about people'#s preferences for seeking information.

John Maloney wrote:
> I found a reference in Rob Cross's book, "The Hidden Power of Social
> Networks." People are FIVE TIMES more likely to turn to a colleague
> for knowledge than any portal, Intranet, system or Website. That is
> not a tendency, or even twice or three times as likely, it is five-
> times!

I replied: "Although I agree with the spirit of what you're saying about the need to
support the people-to-people side of organisations, I wonder if you're over-extrapolating from the evidence? Cross cites Tom Allen's work from 1977 (see e.g. page 2). The implications are limited about the technology and habits at the time. Cross goes on to say "Our own research and that of many others also continues to emphasize the point that who you know has a great deal to
do with what you come to know over time." I therefore can't find any data presented by Cross on the impact of portals or intranets per se. This isn't to say that it's no longer true that people prefer asking somebody else, only that I'd like to see a more recent study to support it."

"Secondly, just because in '77 people had that habit, it doesn't mean it isn't changing - or that there's resistance to change. People are lazy. Rooting through a paper filing cabinet is much harder than asking Nellie (as the archetypical colleague). Searching Google, now it exists, may be easier than asking Nellie. Older generations may have an ingrained expectation that databases rarely have the right answer; teenagers seem to assume Google can answer everything. If you wanted to know film times at the local cinema, would you ask Nellie first or use the net?"

"Thirdly, Allen's study was of scientists and engineers. This may not map onto business situations. One reason why portals are attractive is if they reduce internal service costs. You may not want your world-class expert answering the phone all day for routine queries, no matter how much the caller may prefer that mode. You want to keep them free for the
high-value, non-routine calls that are ideal for people-people interactions. Each query has a cost, but asking Nellie doesn't expose the requester to that cost. Would you be 5 times as likely to call a premium rate helpdesk if the alternative was to get the answer from a portal for
free? Organisations need to manage this."

Dennis Pearce, from Lexmark, then added:
"in addition to his "five times" result, Allen also found that the engineers he surveyed got their knowledge from the sources that were easiest and most familiar to them, not the ones that were most reliable or accurate, even when they themselves were aware of this. In other words, they
knowingly sacrificed accuracy for expediency
." [my emphasis]

"I find this to be a much more interesting finding than the "five times" result, and one that seems (in my mind) to be more likely to be still true today. People have jobs to do, and sometimes you have to make do with the info you've got, given the time constraints you're under. Those who are developing new KM technologies are going to have to keep in mind that it's not just "better," but "faster and easier" that will be the big selling points. And it's a challenge to create something that's faster and easier than the way we've always done things."

Quite right - its so easy to forget that making something quicker doesn't just save time, it can also completely change how people work. When electrical appliances for cleaning first became popular (e.g. vacuum cleaners), commentators foresaw the liberation of the housewife. In reality, it just upped expectations of how clean a house should be.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Real Work, Necessary Friction, Optional Chaos

Philip Armour in The business of software rejects the notion of estimting software by effort and advocates looking at the social component instead. WHat he has to say has implications way beyond the software industry though. He makes a good case for why putting pressure on teams can exponentially increase the cost fo the final deliverable.

Traditional estimating tools aren't effective, he argues. Lines of Code, for example, is inaccurate because in reality it's non-linear (1000 people can't do 1 line each). Indeed adding people can just create further delay (as set out in the classic "The Mythical Man-Month"). Armour attributes total project time to:
1) "the time it takes to factor our knowledge into an executable product" - this is what things like 'lines of code' measure.
2) Know-we-don't-Know situatuations where exploration required. Spiral (iterative) methodologies acknowledge that not everything we do goes into the end product, but instead goes into creating knowledge to make the product. i.e. fillling the knowledge gaps to the point where you've learned how to make it. Armour calls this "necessary friction".
3) "Optional Chaos" is co-ordination overhead, bickering and stress-induced chaos. Anything that does NOT disclose knowledge.

1) is a function on Know-We-Know and Know-we-Don't-Know factors
2) is a function of don't-know-what-we-don't-know, team capability and experience, team size and 'pressure', but the variability in the impact of this low.
3) is a function of team size and 'pressure' and highly variable in impact.
"When we attempt to accelerate projects, we introduce a high lelvel of [optional chaos]. High-stress projects put pressure on people to make quick, sometimes unvalidated decisions" [whose impact can then be catastophic].

Adding more people: "large numbers of people...increases the levels of both communication and mis-communication." More people means less equally distributed knowledge, so more chance for mis-understanding, and more time spent sharing knowledge that already 'known' rather than tackling learning gaps.

Outside of software, the implications are very similar: if you want a deliverable quickly, be aware that doublign the team size is unlikely to reduce the time to delivery that much, and in fact may make the deliverable cost far more than double. As a project manager, Armour offers a useful set of questions about how your team is spending its time. I particularly like that it clearly sets out that "knowledge work" is both 1 & 2, and that pressure just amplifies what takes most of the fun out of being a knowledge worker. Not the pressure per-se, but the side-effects it creates.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Mapping Collaboration Maturity

TechUpdate - ZDNet article:
* "Procurement of collaboration technology and services is not well managed and is introduced without centralized guidance (e.g., business units subscribing to Web conferencing providers; end users using public IM networks; departments using teamware).
* Effective collaboration requires behavior change on the part of users as well as examination of information sharing and process structures. Collaboration strategies are less successful when not aligned with human capital management (HCM; e.g., rewards, incentives) and knowledge management efforts to improve performance and innovation. "

Presents a 'maturity model' of collaboration that emphasises the human angle too. ALso sounds a dire warning that if not controlled, overlapping systems will put significant stress on users. Lets hope IT and leadership can get it right this time. Otherwise yet again we spend $millions on technology and change that doesn't work and 'collaboraration' will be dismissed as the last failed fad.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Collaboration vs. KM

Yet more hints of Collaboration being the new KM in Encourage Employee Socializing - CIO Magazine Jun 1,2004. One symptom of a new hype is the way it disparages the last one.

"The assumption underlying knowledge management efforts is that untapped power lies within an organization and needs only to be brought forth. But what if KM software, communities of practice and offsite team-building exercises are actually part of the problem?"
The article goes on to argue that indiscriminate sharing generates spurious collaboration and therefore you need to work out where to act.  Exactly the same message of any decent KM position, of course.

More positively, the aticle is about a book by Rob Cross and Andrew Parker "The Hidden Power of Social Networks: Understanding How Work Really Gets Done in Organizations" ,  and the assertion that more collaboration is not necessarily better is a sound one.

What happened to the formatting?

Apologies for the recent blank pages and current lack of sidebar on ICP. Blogger lost my template somehow so I'm currently trying to rebuild it. Scroll down if you want the sidebar content!

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Expertise management Still Waiting in the Wings

CIO Insight has a well-rounded introduction to Expertise Management: Who Knows About This?. The tone of the article pitches EM as a trend apart from KM, rather than a sub-topic of it "Because expertise management promises to deliver where knowledge management hasn't, it will have to overcome some bad PR". This is a little dangerous as, whilst the technology may be different, it still needs to fit in a KM framework and not dismiss the KM thinking that has gone before. There's no point in being really good at finding experts that are loathe to share, something the latter part of the article touches on with the issue of incentives.

As a concept its been around about a decade, but its slow uptake is frustrating. One reason given is, as always, power:

"the people who are more traditional in their view of the old command-and-control stuff don't like this. It's peer-to-peer, so it's very threatening to the traditional organization, just like the Web was very threatening."

It is a barrier, but I think there's an earlier barrier of even finding funding for a pilot, and that's getting senior managers (with budgets) to understand there's a problem to be addressed at all. Senior managers have a much easier expertise space to navigate:
1) The knowledge they need tends to be about the organization, so who the 'expert' is normally well-specified by the org chart whereas once you get down to the level of 'Engineer', this does not differentiate what they know.
2) Senior managers have influence so when they ask a question its easier for them to mobilise the organisation to generate a response
3) They trend to travel more so can network face-to-face. In many orgs, those who are naturally talented at networking also get promoted, so those near the top have no empathy with what its like to find it hard to access the right people

[Thanks to Ed Jones for the pointer to this article]

Yogesh Malhotra of Brint makes a similar point regarding EM not being a a different beast to KM in Expertise Management and Knowledge Management: New Myths and Old Realities

Monday, July 19, 2004

Wiki Best Practice
Dave Pollard talks about A recipe for Managing Risk and a company called ProCarta that justifies codification by focusing on high risk areas. What really caught my eye was this:

"The flexible nature of the software allows the ideas, suggestions, newly-discovered best practices and warnings to be written, wiki-style, into the recipe, providing additional guidance for other users."

What a great idea. Often best practice takes so long to agree on that its outdated by the time its circulated and hence becomes distrusted, or it dies because new insights require a whole new release cycle. This sounds like an excellent balance.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Blinkx - Kenjin Lives again!
A new search engine blinkx is getting a lot of publicity now as a potential 'Google Killer'. A BBC article does a good job of putting it into context as a personal KM tool. What sets it apart is that it indexes e-mail and your hard-drive as well as the web. I've been experimenting with similar tools for some time and currently use Enfish, but this could tempt me to swap.

Like Kenjin, Blinkx watches what you're working on and suggests relevant links to e.g. what you're writing in a word processor. I found this rather distracting in Kenjin - possibly because following links is generally far more interesting than finishing a report - but Blinkx seems to do it more discretely.

It's only a Beta, so I don't want to judge too early as the results it gives currently far from Google-quality. Another downside is that it requires an installation to work which makes switching less simple than, say, defecting from Yahoo to Google search. But once switched, the lock-in is much stronger.

Also check out the Visualiser - looks like 'The Brain' software, but the way it grows as it continues to search is funky.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Learning by Teaching
Last week I gave a guest lecture on Nottingham Law School's Diploma in Know How Management. I was curious to see how KM looked from the legal perspective, and it was great to meet such enthusiastic students.

I got a strong sense that they considered KM in industry to be well ahead of the legal world, and I'm not sure that's true. The conservatism of leadership, the ingrained practices, the unwillingness to share -- well, that could be anywhere.

The main speaker of the day was Richard Susskind who is regarded as a guru in legal IT-KM circles.

He commented that information structures in law tend to be taxonomy-driven and that they'd be much more useful if structured around how people use them for a given task. i.e. the opposite of the industry tendency to drive everything through process. I can see how this may have arisen - underlying much of his talk was a plea to be more 'systematised' in law i.e. to do the kind of automation that industry sprang from. To do this you need to be process-centric. Yet the application of legal knowledge is immensely flexible - the kind of flexibility that many in industry could learn from. And for that a more taxonomic structure probably suits. There's no great dichotomy really - basically, everyone needs both. With paper its impractical to file things in 2 very different ways, but with IT its not an issue. Well, it shouldn't be an issue except that few are taught to think this way and even when I talk to people about intranets, they still talk as if it were an either\or choice about where a file 'lives'.

Richard also bemoaned the short-termism of legal partners and contrasted with stock-market listed companies that plan for distant horizons. Yet I'd see it as the other way round - listed companies can go into frenzies on a quarterly basis for fear of a share-price dip.
I had a discussion with one participant about stakeholders. I was claiming that change in a small organisation was much easier as there were fewer leaders to influence. She pointed out that in a law firm you may have to speak to 50 partners to get them all to agree before you could move forward. My conclusion is KM is tough for all of us!

Saturday, June 19, 2004

The Email Production Line
Yesterday a conference company sent me an invitation that stated "our research shows that workers are now wasting up to 2 hours a day dealing with email". But isn't dealing with email itself the 'work'? Its like someone in a call-centre complaining they can never get anything done because the phone keeps ringing.

Overflowing in-boxes are not the real problem - they're just a symptom of the overall workload. Without the clarity of a hierarchy, we seem to spend ever more time consulting, informing and negotiating in work that has no well-defined process or stakeholders.

Some days I wonder if positional power ("Do it because I'm the boss") was such a bad thing. There was a dreadful reality TV show in the UK recently called "Hell's Kitchen", featuring the extremely authoritarian chef Gordon Ramsey. One element of his leadership was interesting though - whilst they were in the middle of service, there were no arguments, no challenges tolerated, as all the focus had to be on getting the food out. But after the restaurant closed, there was opportunity to reflect and discuss. I certainly didn't see anyone dealing with e-mails whilst the restaurant was open ;-)

Friday, June 18, 2004

Sweet smiles, hard labour An article in last week's Guardian magazine by Madeleine Bunting gives a new take on 'Emotional Intelligence' by talking about 'Emotional Labour': "Once it was enough to put in the hours and offer up your brain and brawn: now, in overworked Britain, it's your feelings they're after." [article may have been deleted - try book review instead]

The life of a knowledge worker, it seems, is getting more exhausting.
"Clearly defined hierarchical bureaucracies have given way to much flatter, more fluid organisations. And as the lines of authority become less clear, much more falls to the individual employee to negotiate, influence and persuade. This is often called the "relationship economy", and what makes it particularly hard work is that it requires skills of empathy, intuition, persuasion, even manipulation, for which there is little preparation in an educational system focused on analytical skills."

I think the point about schoolign is spot on - and if you look at a many business trainign courses, they're all about filling this schooling gap. The closest I've seen is the style of MBA that emphasises group work, but this is leaving it late into adult life.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Apologies to Jim McGee - in my last post I attributed the quote about messy hard drvies to AOK, but it actually appeared in Your say: Personal knowledge management, Knowledge Management Magazine April 2004.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Personal KM in the New York Times

Interesting article on personal search engines: Humans vs. Computers, Again. But There's Help for Our Side.. The author highlights the growing problem of finding stuff on our PC's - stuff we know we already have, but can't retrieve efficiently. A comment on AOK put it well: when we were paper-based, chaotic filing was immediately apparent because the office looked a mess. Now we're electronic, few people see what a mess your hard drive is.

I'm intrigued by people's e-mail filing strategies. I like folders that match my drive folders (though their names keep diverging), others have 'July mail', 'June mail' etc. which works for them but would drive me nuts, some seem to rely entirely on search. None of these help unless you're certain it IS a mail you're looking for and not another file type.

The article lists some search engines that index your mail, files, contacts etc. so that search is much faster "ADM, askSam, BrainStorm, Chandler, Enfish, InfoSelect, iRider, Lookout, Onfolio, TheBrain and Zoot".

TheBrain is just weird, X1 looks good, but I'm a devotee of Enfish because it finds hits be they in mails, attachments, powerpoint or whatever. It seems to break easily, but, as testament to how I can't live without it, I've re-installed it 10 times now in the last 4 years.

Thanks to John Barrett of the AOK Ezine for spotting this.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

CoPs and Goals
Its hard these days to find anything new said on CoP's, but Madelyn Blair in an interview with KM Magazine made a great point about goals:

"If the CoP is over structured through specific goals that must be met, there will be no open space, and learning will be stifled. On the other hand, if the only goal is learning, the lessons gained may become so removed from the business goals that they can't even be communicated let alone acted upon. So, while it would be great to say that learning is the most important goal of a CoP, it must relate to the business goals sufficiently to allow for the lessons to be received and acted upon. "

This implies a timeliness to CoPs too - that even if what was learned was immesnely valuable in principle, its likely to be forgotten if it can't be applied soon after encountered. Just like all the training courses I've been on that faded before I ever got to apply the skills.

That said, a well-formed CoP would build up a degree of robustness that doesn't rely on shiftign around specific business goals: if its really based on practice then it's highly likely that its topic is relevant to the business because practice implies people are doing it routinely (unless that practice is Minesweeper). And if its a high-quality lesson, then it will be based on multiple cases that keep recurring, so the role of the CoP is to be custodian of that lesson until it becomes timely for a member to re-apply it.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Recommended 2-page article in Harvard Business Review, May 04
Management Lessons From Mars: "NASA's fabled Faster, Better, Cheaper initiative sped up the agency's spacecraft development. But when missions began to fail, it was faulty organizational learning--not hardware--that was to blame. "

NASA demanded faster development by increasing re-use, but didn't put the KM in place to make this happen. They compressed the pipeline so much, that new projects couldn't learn what they needed to from exisitng projects becasue they weren't complete yet: "in short, NASA was raising the bar before seeing if project managers could clear it where it was".

Where I'm not sure I agree with MacCormack is his recommendation to "capture all the important learning" and "Institutionalize postmortems on all projects". If you're like NASA where every project has a high degree of exploration and uniqueness, then this may make sense, but if your business involves many projects that are just variations on a theme then you have to ask what the incremental value of each one will be. Moreover, for any sufficiently complex project, its unlikely that learnings can be transferred to people unfamiliar with that context, in which case the postmortem should focus on helping project members structure what they've learned for their own benefit (building organizational competence) rather than capture and transfer of 'learnings' as an object.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Irresitable test - I got 75%
Spot The Fake Smile
Seen on David Buchan's (now sadly defunct) Thought?Horizon blog

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The Myth of Training ROI
I stumbled across this by Bob Dust from the 'Training' world, but it could just as easily be KM:

"The biggest problem with the ROI claim is the letter I, which stands for Investment. Contrary to almost all thinking in this profession, training is not an investment it is simply an expense. While investment sounds more important than expense, training is nonetheless, an expense. Investment is a business term that implies the adding of capital to an organization. Unfortunately, human capital does not qualify."

Too right! Its a play on words - we're dealing with lop-sided accounting that wants to call spending investing but can't value an intangible return.

Bob goes on to attack how ROI leads to decisions out of context:

"My college roommate worked at a local deli, one of several in the small town catering to the college students. With so much competition, the delis were price-competitive on their subs and sandwiches, almost to the point of selling them at break-even prices. My roommate told me that the owner didn’t care because he made all of his profit on the soft drinks, tea and coffee. His customers knew the prices of his sandwiches and his competitors’ sandwiches, but never mentioned the price of the drinks. If the owner had done an ROI analysis on his business, he would have eliminated everything but the drinks, and he would have found himself quickly out of business."

Monday, May 10, 2004

The Tacit Knowledge of Team Leadership

Don't let the title of
Towards an Ecological Theory of Sustainable Knowledge Networksby Conklin et al put you off. Its full of insight about project teams (rather than knowledge networks in general). One thing caught my eye:

"The process of team formation is complex. Leaders have tacit knowledge about how to move a team through a process, and they access that knowledge in face to face meetings. When in virtual collaborations, they don't have that, e.g. they may not recognize that they don't have alignment about team goals"

Note that the barrier isn’t lack of knowledge, but the absence of the stimulus needed to retrieve it. The dynamic of the face-to-face interaction is what triggers the intuitive manager to take the right course. He may only sense subliminally the lack of alignment, but he'll intuitively do what it takes to correct that. Few managers would explicitly have a process with a "check alignment" gate, but they all know it must be done. Even bumping into a team member and subsequent chit chat can lead to an explicit awareness that they need information you hadn't thought to pass on.
Face-to-face we react as social animals - we meet, we chat. With email you don't 'meet' and chat is far less common. How often when you meet in person do begin with smalltalk? Whereas in email its acceptable – even encouraged – to get straight to the point. Yet without this social wavelength, few managers can access all the knowledge they need to implement a team formation process.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

The £10bn rail crash:
A superb piece of investigative journalism by James Meek for the Guardian about the mis-management of UK West Coast main line modernization. A project that was supposed to cost £1.5bn will now cost £10bn (more than the new US mission to the moon) and be 2 years late.

Though not spelled out, there is a strong thread running through the tale of apalling knowledge management and the dangers of unamanaged downsizing leading to the eventual collapse of Railtrack. At its heart seems to be management arrogance - a contempt for engineering expertise, a fixation on the city and shareholders, and some dubious hiring choices of executives and consultants.

For example:
"Railtrack was led to privatisation by two men, its chief executive, John Edmonds, and its chairman, Robert Horton. Edmonds was a former senior British Rail executive, Horton the former chairman of BP. Far from being loyal to BR's way of doing things, his experience on the state railways had inspired in him a scepticism towards in-house engineers and safety experts bordering on contempt. They were, he considered, overcautious, conservative, stuck in the mud. It was this which led him, at Railtrack, to shed the nucleus of in-house expertise that left the company unable to understand what its myriad specialist contractors were up to." (my emphasis).

[On Horton] "'He wasn't close enough to the railway to know what was going wrong,' said one rail industry source. 'So he was great at privatising, great with the City, good at getting private investment into industry. He didn't understand that he'd lost all his key operators, lost all his key engineers, and was chasing technology that wouldn't work.' "

A secondary effect of this loss of expertise was a loss of contacts to the outside world. Its plan relied on an ambitious new technology that had never been proven. When Railtrack should have heard alarm bells ringing, it was too isolated to pick them up:

"in January 1995, most of Europe's state-owned railways - 19 of them - came to the joint conclusion that [the new technology] was not ready to be used in the real world, and a simpler, transitional form of new technology should be the next step. Again, Railtrack ignored the warning. In fact, Railtrack may never have heard it: at this time the firm had barely any contact with Europe."

Even if connections had been made, it didn't even have sufficient knowledge to learn from them:
"Railtrack did not have its own sufficiently strong in-house knowledge and expertise to be able to use industry for what it was good at, to gather their views in and make a judgment."

The klesson, then, is to downsize with care, and be very careful about the inherent limitations of outsourcing.

Monday, April 12, 2004

"An MBA in the wrong hands is a lethal weapon"

Pithy piece critiquing organizations that confuses internal change with externally-motivated adaptability. I think the author comes across as favouring reactive change too much, but you can't argue that quotes like this are alarming:

One company recently stated: "We as a management team embrace change, we thrive on it with constant changes in key personnel, capabilities, know- how and processes."

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

The Next Challenge for Collaboration Vendors
It dawned on me that many companies are busy deploying portals in order to overcome sharing barriers by giving everyone the same tool. But even if they crack that, they’ll still have the same problem outside their world of control. e.g. If a design company goes to a manufacturer saying “come and work with us in our collaboration space” that’s fine if it’s the only one. But if the manufacturer works with 5 or 6 design houses, then their world becomes far too fragmented.

What collaboration vendors need to work out is a way to share collaboration objects so that systems understand them e.g. threaded discussions, documents, calendar entries etc. The portal is then just one way to render them. It shouldn't be that hard - email has always de-coupled the email entity from the reader application, Usenet did it for threaded discussions, Vcards do it for addresses, RSS does it for news and blogs and The FT syndicates 'news articles' as an object into company portals. This is, I think, what Web Services is getting at, though with an e-commerce drive at the moment (anybody out there know enough about Web Services to confirm this?)

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Conference Notes: Building and Sustaining a Collaborative Working Environment
Ark Group, London 4-5 March 04

A relatively small conference (~100 people) that focused on developing collaborative environments both internally and with clients. It didn’t always succeed in keeping this focus – it’s a small hops from collaboration to knowledge work to same-old-KM, but some of the issues raised, particularly around client collaboration, made it worth attending.

Comments on individual talks:

Knowledge Mapping by Ricky Ricks of Innoval
Ricky described 'K-Map', an approach almost identical to matrix mapping based around the product-attribute-process idea in QFD. What they've done nicely is deliver result through highly navigable web tool. The technique works really well for fairly simple, determinate processes like mass-manufacturing but can't represent processes with many conditions or complex interdependencies (soft-systems methodologies would be better here).

Health & Safety Exec by
Good account of getting a team to adapt to virtual working e.g. agreeing folder strcuture and appointing guardians, returning emails with attachments that should be in shared filespace etc. I liked this because Kenny was willing to say that its all these little nudges that make virtual collaboration work, though individually they may seem petty.

Chris Shano, Head of Knowledge Services, Atos KPMG Consulting, Knowledge & Research Centre
Appealing change management tool which they called the "mental progress model". It used a timeline horizontally marked with project milestones. Rows were stakeholder types e.g. MDs, consultants, experts and core project team. At points in timeline had “thought bubbles" of how they wanted stakeholder groups to be reacting. This makes it more discussible and provides intangible 'early warning'. For example, if you expectation management isn’t going well, it prompts you to do a quick test of what people are actually saying vs. the mindset you needed them to have according to the bubbles. I like this because in e.g. IT change it’s very easy to get sucked into just looking at the tangible progress and forget about the actual change that organization was looking for when it initiated the project.

Wragge & Co. Matthew Cleverdon
Matthew spoke about extending portals externally as a differentiator with clients. This has proven very attractive - a secure collaboration space was sometimes an advantage when managers were doing something so sensitive that they didn't want it on their own company systems. But it has big implications for support - you can't treat clients like employees and brusquely demand a user ID before you'll help them (what does this say about your average helpdesk!). It also raises questions about liability e.g. for data loss in a partnership or hacking.

Best Quotes of the conference came from Jonathan Odonde, formerly of the UK Sports Council
"We're spending £25M on elite athletes to do what? Win gold medals. It'd be a lot cheaper to buy the gold and just mint them ourselves."

"Collaboration isn't about exchanging documents. Living near a library won't make me the cleverest person in the room"

Monday, March 29, 2004

Knowledge Worker Usability

Jakob Nielsen's normally excellent Alertbox this week is about
Productivity in the Service Economy . He argues that usability principles applied to interface design should be applied to the whole task of the white-collar worker to boost productivity:
"While intranet usability provides substantial initial gains, workflow usability can go much further and will save millions of jobs."

He goes on to say
"For intranets, we know that good design can double employee productivity... people using the worst 25% of intranets required 99 hours per year to perform typical employee tasks, whereas people using the best 25% of intranets accomplished the same tasks in 51 hours per year."

The problem is that measuring intranet tasks is possible because the task is finite and with easily defined success criteria. The vast majority of a knowledge worker's day typically involves fuzzily defined tasks and outcomes. e.g. "Produce a sales presentation" as a task could take hours to weeks, and there are many degrees of success. I was alarmed to hear him still talk about business process reengineering being needed to redesign workflow. All the big gains in knowledge work are outside definable (and hence optimizable) workflow. Which is why the difference between the best and the worst intranets - about an hour a week - won't really make much difference.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Anyone ponedering the 'What's in it for me?' question should look at Wikipedia. It's an entirely open encyclopaedia effort - even open to the extent that everyone has edit rights! Nobody is 'incentivized' to contribute, yet there are 233112 articles, many in multiple languages and the quality (from my random tour) ranges from good to excellent.

One thing though: there's no entry for "knowledge management" - maybe we're all waiting to be offered air miles before we'll contribute?

[thanks to Dermot Casey, Project Manager at GE Consumer Finance for making me aware of thiw Wiki via AOK]

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Its the last straw man that broke the camel's back

Though much-used, I'm fond of this quote:
For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong (H.L. Mencken)

Something keeps happening to me quite regularly now: business friends who are not in the KM world confidently give me critiques of where KM failed. Their critiques are correct, but they're based on the hyped version of KM with a strong IT bias of the "everyone put their knowledge in a database" variety that I never subscribed to in the first place, and always heard people within the KM field dismiss as well.

The style of denouncement is very similar to how many KM articles began about 8 years ago explaining why BPR, TQM and similar fads had failed. How did KM fall into the same trap? KM, TQM & BPR all have at their heart some good ideas, but they're tackling difficult problems and therefore it takes considerable work to fully understand them. Those who did understand them couldn't give a short explanation because they knew it was inaccurate, but this makes it hard for the idea to fly. Those who didn't fully grasp it happily came up with snappier explanations that did take off - the hype. The hype version is much more mobile - infectious - than the full version, so it cannot be stamped out by patient explanation. Eventually people see the flaws in the hype and reject it, but by then they're sadly immune to catching the proper version instead.

Friday, February 27, 2004

The trouble with reading old history books is that the past has chaged so much since they were written

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Diversity and Homogeneity (Part 2)
[Following on from yesteterday’s post].

We're social animals that innately classify tribal membership - in-group and out-group. If I spend an hour on a bulletin board on cycling helping a complete stranger, its partly because I enjoy the topic, but also because its a 'fellow cyclist' (note the affinity language in the cliché) - one of my tribe.

Where do these boundaries lie and how should an organisation react? I probably help other KM practitioners as readily as a fellow employee. Should my company be concerned?

Goodheart describes 'calculus of affinity', the sum we all do when deciding to help. "[its] easily mocked in media reporting of disasters - two dead Britons will get the same space as 200 Spaniards or 2000 Somalis. Yet everyday we make similar calculations in the distribution of our own resources. Even a well-off, liberal-minded Briton who already donates to charities will spend, say, £200 on a child's birthday party knowing that such money could, in the right hands, save the life of a child in the third world." would we equally decide to spend an hour helping somebody at the next desk to save 4 hours when we could help an unknown colleague save 2 weeks by using that our instead to write up some guidelines?

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Diversity and Homogeneity (Part 1)

An article in The Guardian (24th Feb 04) "Discomfort of strangers" by David Goodheart made me think back to my comment on weak ties, but applied to the “What’s in it for me?” issue in knowledge-altruism in organizations. Goodheart calls it the "Progressive dilemma"

Goodheart quotes David Willetts (a politician) "The basis on which you can extract large sums of money in tax and pay it out in benefits is that most people think the recipients are people like themselves, facing difficulties that they themselves might face. If values become more diverse, if lifestyles become more differentiated, then it becomes difficult to sustain the legitimacy of a universal risk-pooling welfare state. People ask "why should I pay for them when they're doing things that I wouldn't do?". This is America versus Sweden... Progressives want diversity, but they thereby undermine part of the moral consensus on which a large welfare state rests."

Now replace 'tax' and ‘welfare’ with "Knowledge sharing" and state with "organisation" and you have the 'codification' strategy where the 'state' acts as knowledge broker. The implication is that if your company lacks strong common VALUES or you're deliberately encouraging people diversity (different from knowledge diversity, which is fine) then don't try to create things like knowledge pools. If you really need them at this time, implement 'state subsidy' where you ease the tax burden by assigning dedicated knowledge officers to make helping easier.

The alternative to state-controlled welfare is individual charity. This is where 1:1 brokering comes in - both social networking and expert location techniques factor out the state by connecting individuals: reducing the "people like me" equation to "person like me" so its easier to trigger a sense of individual social obligation. In plain English: most people will help you if you ask them directly.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Break the Silence provoking commentary on the silence\consensus culture that builds up in some orgs.

Monday, February 16, 2004

I was struck by this candid comment from Dave Pollard on the AOK discussion Group

"I left Ernst & Young LLP last month after 27 years, nine of it as CKO Canada and Global Director of Knowledge Innovation. My job was to keep E&Y on the leading edge of KM, continuing to win awards for what we actually implemented. In recent years I had become increasingly frustrated because E&Y management was ideologically wedded to centralized Knowledge Management and the need for 'submission' (the choice of word alone is telling) of personal knowledge to massive central repositories which had become increasingly irrelevant, devoid of critical context, and hopelessly cluttered."

It's sad to see a company that once seemed to really 'get' KM to go so off the rails. This, to me, is counter-evidence to the "CKO's task is to "do himself out of a job" argument. Organisations change constantly, and the KM aspect needs to be renewed and championed through that change. Nobody would say "right, we have our financial processes defined, everyone subscribes to them, so we don't need a CFO or auditors anymore".

Sunday, February 15, 2004

A colleague of mine, Edward Jones, mailed me with an answer to my post on Innovation & The Strong Tie Dilemma:

"You might like to take a look at: How Breakthroughs Happen: Technology Brokering and the Pursuit of Innovation

The central point of the book, backup by case studies of 'ideas factories' such as Eddison's Menlo park is that this is how innovation can effectively take place - recombination of ideas from different small worlds by individuals who are plugged into different groups, bringing in ideas an opportunities but without being so embedded within a world that they are 'locked' into a way of thinking, calling the concept 'technology brokering'.

One specific example discussed is how a 'pump' training shoe was developed by combining previous work in shoes, medical fluid bags and small valves, with the design agency IDEO

The book goes on to comment that a common patten is that as these ideas factories get some good solutions, they become more closed, with a major challenge being to always retain both the sense of exploration and the partial connectedness in a way that is meaningful for all sides".

Superbly put Ed - thanks!

Friday, February 13, 2004

No Science is better than bad science

I recently attended a talk by a well-known KM presenter. He opened by telling us about his wife, who was a school teacher, getting her pupils to do co-ordination activities such as rubbing their stomach and patting their heads at the same time. This, he explained, used both sides of the brain at once, so stimulated neurons to grow across the corpus-callosum. In doing so, pupils were allegedly more receptive to learning. Now I'm not sure where along the line the tosh was introduced, but this kind of pseudo-psychology immediately turned me off. There is no evidence at all that learninng a basic motor skill has any affect on other kinds of learning (though just waking somebody up with some exercise might, of course). Moreover, we're constantly using both sides of our brain in unison - e.g. every time we look at something the 2 half-images are combined by both hemispheres so each has a full image). Shame - it was a good talk, but it made me question the truth of other claims he made that I wasn't able to judge for myself.

If this kind of unvalidated 'knowledge' is passed around in KM, what hope is there of it ever progressing? No wonder to outsiders it seems to go around in circles year on year.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Intellectual Capital Punishment now with Syndication Feed

Quite a few people have asked me for an RSS feed to this Blog. Though I barey understand the question, I think Blogger have provided an alternative through Atom.

A feed link can be found in the sidebar.

The Spreadsheet for the Perfect Party

I recently read "The enigma within the knowledge economy", an article in the Financial Times (p.9 2nd Feb).

The FT reports on the "Information Work Productivity Council", set up by Microsoft to measure intanngible benefits. According to the article, it's a reaction to customers requiring more evidence of the value of IT investment in leaner times. No suprises there. What did disappoint me though, was the quote from HP's CKO, Craig Samuel: "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it". Shame on him for using such an outdated cliche. It reinforces the view that management is something you do with spreadsheets. He should be pushing an agenda that changes expectations about what information you need to manage, relying much more on trusting perceptions and qualitative evidence. Have you ever been in a relationship? Do you feel you have any influence on how well it goes? Yet have you ever measured love? Loyalty? When you throw a party what do you put in the spreadsheet to make sure its a success? Actually, anyone who pulls out a spreadsheet in the middle of a party probably makes it likely to fail. Managing knowledge workers, I feel, is much the same.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Fads and Failures in KM
To say KM has failed is a bit like saying Nutrition has failed because people are still overweight. What people mean is that diets often fail: those pre-packaged, over-promising fad-inclined recipies for weight loss fail. Similarly, the IT-heavy, Knowledge-base ridden, one-size-fits-all approach to KM fails. But even that, I would say, is a little unfair. Most diets work if mindset and behaviour change happens at the same time. But this is tough to achieve, so when it fails its much easier to blame the diet and try the next fad.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Innovation & The Strong Tie Dilemma

Here's a puzzle: Strong ties mean a common mindset and can inhibit innovation and reinforce the status quo (members' mental models converge and reinforce each other, making them very hard to dislodge). But innovation requires a 'high care' environment according to e.g. von Krogh. This because we need to trust to reveal half-formed ieas without fear of reprisal and to take risks in experimentation. Also a common language and high reliance on shared tacit knowledge allows is necessary to have an expert debate. Both of these factors imply strong ties.

So what's the ideal for innovation? Sounds like to really change things you need to nurture people who are recognised as part of a group but nevertheless sit on the periphery or are equally strong members of other groups too. A CoP seeking to innovate therefore needs to ensure it cycles members and conciously tries to bring in some of those that challenge it.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Turning the Landing Lights On

Anders Hemre of Ericsson Research in Canada kindly mailed me in response to my Jan 21st post to share an account of his own experiences:
The point about bad CoPs and innovation from yesterday is right on. When we started with CoPs we also had an innovation cell [IC] going on. I put a question to both the innovation cell manager and the CoP leader about linking the two entities together. Great said the CoP leader, not sure about that said the IC manager. This is not surprising. More interestingly, I asked the IC manager what his biggest challenge was. He indicated that it was not about building stronger networks or getting better ideas, it was about landing the new innovation in the organization. To prepare and create conditions for a successful "delivery" was the biggest challenge. This is for senior management to address he added.

More on Anders work

Thursday, January 29, 2004

In the same edition of Guardian Society was an advert for the UK government's KM system: - 30,000 in local government sharing knowledge it claims.

Anyone can sign up, and so far the posts on the KM discussion board are high quality.

Social Ties in Britain
Interesting Social Ties article in Society Guardian Wed 28 Jan 2004 07:24:01

The Government Office for National Statistics does an annual household survey. From 2004 they want to assess social capital to build up picture over the years about 'neighbourliness'. Finally we can see if Yorkshire really is more friendly than the south!

Questions include groups people belong to, voluntary work, how often they see friends and relatives, liking for their area etc. The ONS is keen to avoid tieing this to physical space becasue, for example, in the young social capital is strong around school and town centres whch may be many miles away [sodding car culture!]

The survey diffrentiates between compares bridging "help you get on in life" and bonding "friends and family". Questions about contacts and friendships across ethnic divides were dropped as they annoyed people [ can you imagine? "So, do you know any foreigners?"]

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

When CoPs Go Bad II

Imaginatik's Corporate Innovation Blog picked out another goodie on networking and innovation. We all know that weak ties - friends of friends - are most likely to spark real innovation. But as Boris at Imaginatik points out, this calls into question the claim that CoPs are innovative structures because what they do is take weak ties and strengthen them.
However, this isn't necessarily the end of CoPs in the corporate sense, because often the barrier to innovation isn't the bright idea - triggered by weak ties - but the ability of the organization to see it through to product (the 'amplification' of that idea through the various functions). If the CoP is aware of this, it can focus on keeping feelers in the outside 'world' for useful ideas to bring in and then nurture. Unlike the entrepreneur who is free to take an idea and run with it, the corporate innovator needs to roam in gangs.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Lori Wizdo VP Business Development at Kamoon contacted me about an earlier post on Expertise Management software November 19th. She's been looking into profession networking tools out there like Ryze, Linked-in and Spoke. She comments "I am very skeptical about the concept that people will be willing to broker introductions through more than one 'degree of separation'". This does question the claim that such sites give you an advantage when building networks, beyond an initial chat-up line of "I see we both know X". More than one degree away and it hardly seems worth mentioning (e.g. "Hey, what a coincidence: we've both seen a Kevin Bacon movie").
Lori goes on to say that we will start to see the same patterns of protecting relationship capital that we've seen around intellectual capital. Oddly, I see this most in people in corporate environments contemplating self-employment, whereas I know several actual consultants that put a lot of effort into opening up their network (Mick Cope probably being the best example, to the extent that he recently published a book on networking)

Lori agreed to let me quote her if I added that that Kamoon was just as worthy of mention as Askme & Sopheon("Any warm, approbative comments about Kamoon are both wise and welcome."). So I did.