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.