The KM one-stop shop vs the multi-site experience

When we set up our KM systems, lets make it as simple as possible for the knowledge-seeker. Let’s aim for the one-stop shop.

Image from geograph.org.uk

It is common for Knowledge Managers to start to plan their KM systems based on the supply of knowledge, or based on the different forms knowledge can take. 

“Let’s set up a lessons database to collect lessons”
 “Let’s put together a best practice repository”
 “Let’s build a site where we can collect videos together. We can call it AcmeTube!”
 “Let’s set up some forums for communities of practice”
 “Let’s create an expertise-finder system so people can find others with relevant knowledge”
“Let’s start a wiki site. We can call it AcmePedia!”

All of these are worthy aims, but the complication comes when a future knowledge worker comes looking for knowledge. Say they are looking for knowledge on a particular topic – a maintenance engineer wanting to overhaul a submerged pump for example. With the system above –

  • They have to open the lessons database to see lessons on submerged pumps,
  • They have to open the best practice repository to see best practices on maintaining submerged pumps,
  • They have to visit AcmeTube to see videos on how to maintain submerged pumps,
  • They have to visit the community of practice forum to see discussions on submerged pumps,
  • They have to log into the expertise-finder system to find people who know about submerged pumps,
  • They have to open AcmePedia to find if there are any articles about how to maintain submerged pumps.

By setting up multiple knowledge systems, and splitting up your knowledge based on it’s type rather than its topic, you are setting unnecessary demands on the user. It is hard enough to get people to re-use knowledge without making it time-consuming and complicated. Far better to construct your technology around the needs of the user and to create a one-stop shop. Make it as easy as possible to re-use the knowledge.

The one-stop shop

The ideal situation for the user is that they search or navigate through “rotating equipment” and “pumps” until they find the Submerged Pumps Portal. The portal then gives them:

  • Wiki guidance
  • All videos are embedded in the wiki (even though they might be hosted elsewhere)
  • Alongside the page is a list of experts on submerged pumps
  • At the bottom of the page is a summary of open lessons on submerged pumps (the content of older closed lessons has already been used to update the wiki)
  • Also at the bottom of the page is a summary of open community discussion on submerged pumps (the content of older closed discussions lessons has already been used to update the wiki)
  • The wiki contains best practices, maybe with links out to Standards documents. It may also contain case histories, links to training material, and so on.
Ask yourself – if you were the maintenance engineer, which of these two approaches would you prefer to use? The one-stop portal, or the six separate systems?

Set up your technology systems with the needs of the user in mind. Don’t structure them based on the type of knowledge or the provenance of the knowledge, separating out lessons from best practices, or separating videos from discussions. Instead structure them based on the needs of the users. Structure the knowledge according to the activities the knowledge workers undertake, or the equipment they work with. 

Set up the one-stop knowledge shop to make life quick and simple for the knowledge worker.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

The knowledge cycle as you have never seen it before

We are used to seeing pictures of knowledge cycles, but there is one cycle you never see, and it’s very important.

You can find very many versions of the knowledge cycle, and they all seem to work the same way.

They start with “Create” or “Capture”, and progress through “Store”, “Share” etc until they get to “Use” or “Apply. Some have as few as 3 steps, some have 8 or more steps, and the 4-step basic has even made it into the Stock Photo collections. However all these cycles work in the same way, as all of them are “Push” cycles.

By “Push Cycle” I mean a cycle that is driven by knowledge supply, and describes how that supply of knowledge works through various stages until the knowledge is used again. It is a supply chain model, and people use the cycle to put in place roles and processes to move knowledge along the steps in the supply chain.

However Supply is only half the story, and you need to look at Demand as well.

The diagram shown here is a cycle driven by knowledge demand – a “Pull cycle” – and it works like this.

  • The cycle starts with a problem, and the identification of the need for knowledge to solve the problem (the “need to know”)
  • The first step is to seek for that knowledge – to search online, and to ask others
  • Seeking/asking is followed by finding
  • However generally we tend to “over-find”. Unless we are lucky, or there is a very good KM system, we fInd more than we need, so the next step is to review the results and select those which seem most relevant in the context of the problem.
  • This found knowledge then needs to be integrated into what is already known about the problem, and integrated into solutions, approaches, procedures and plans.
  • Finally the integrated knowledge needs to be applied to the problem.
So why do we never see this Pull cycle in diagram form?


  • Is it because Pull (Demand) is less important than Push (supply)? Surely not! Most people would see them as equally important, and there is an argument that Pull is in fact a bigger driver of knowledge transfer than Pull
  • Is it because the Pull cycle is less useful than the Push model?  Surely not! If we can generate knowledge pull, and a demand for knowledge, we can spark knowledge supply. 
  • Is it because the Pull cycle is more difficult to work with than the Push cycle? Maybe this is one reason. Asking is less of a natural behaviour and more of a cultural barrier than sharing, so sharing may be the easier option. But ignoring barriers wont help you in the long run.
  • Is it because the Pull cycle is less measurable? The Push cycle is often linked with the creation of documents, and this is something that can be measured. Leaving aside the question about whether anyone is looking for these documents, and whether these documents are useful when found, it is easier to measure the first couple of steps in a Push cycle than it is to measure similar steps in a Pull cycle. However you can also measure searches, and measure questions in a community forum.
  • Is it because people only want one diagram? Yes, probably, but we know that KM cannot be reduced to a single and simple diagram; it is far too nuanced for that.
  • Is it because everyone else draws their cycles this way? Probably yes. But just because everyone else does it, doesn’t make it correct or sufficient.

There are many places where this Pull cycle can be applied very well.

  • Each individual uses this cycle when searching for knowledge. Most of the steps are done in the individuals head, but it may be useful to talk them through with a manager or colleague,. 
  • You can apply the cycle within a Peer Assist meeting, and the format of the meeting can follow the entire cycle from asking the questions, to reviewing the answers, to integrating them into the forward workplan.
  • You can apply it within a Community of Practice forum. Someone asking a question on the forum could  be asked to give feedback on the answers they received, the knowledge they selected from these answers, how they integrated this knowledge into their plans and (ideally) how it helped solve the problem. 
  • You can apply it as part of KM planning. A project team can identify their knowledge needs, conduct a search/ask activity, then get together to discuss how they will select and integrate the knowledge they have found. 
Being more conscious and explicit about the Pull cycle gives you more ways to create and stimulate knowledge demand in your organisation, and helps drive a Knowledge Seeking culture

Please do not focus only on the Push cycle for KM – its only half the story. Make sure your KM Framework incorporates the Pull cycle as well. 

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

Is your knowledge base more like a sock drawer or a supermarket?

There are three models for a knowledge base – which one is most like yours?

before & afterYour online Knowledge base is where you store your documented knowledge, It is a repository – but more than that, it is a knowledge resource for others. Someone looking for documented knowledge comes to the knowledge base to search and browse.

So what do they find?

Generally knowledge bases fall into one of three categories. Let’s call them the underwear drawer, the library and the supermarket display.

The underwear drawer (see top picture), if you are anything like me, is the place you pile all your clean washing, generally with the newest washing on the top. The drawer is easy to fill – you just cram everything in – but you know that the hard work will be done when you search (often early in the morning, in the half-light) for a set of matching underwear with no holes. All the work is done when searching, and very little is done when storing. The knowledge base equivalent is the uncontrolled filing structure, where you rely on a good search engine to find what you want. Dump it all in, then search for what you need.

The library (or the organised underwear drawer, see bottom picture) is a managed and structured repository. You know the category, you know the title, and you find the book. Or you know the drawer, and the relevant section, and you find a rolled set of underwear of the right colour. The work is distributed between the seeker and the storer. You categorise when you store, and you browse to the right place when you search. The knowledge base equivalent is the organised and tagged knowledge base, where you can browse or search for the knowledge you know you need.

The supermarket goes one step further (see my post from last year on the knowledge supermarket). In my local supermarket, for example, you can find a section that displays pasta, pasta sauce, Parmesan cheese and Italian wine, all within the same attractive display. Without searching, you are presented with all the ingredients for an Italian meal. Similarly with curries – curry sauces, poppadoms, nan bread, Cobra beer, lime pickle – all in one display. Lots of work is done by the storer, so as to minimise the work for the seeker, and as a result, they pick up the Impulse Buyer – the person who was not actually looking for this material in the first place, or who had forgotten that they need lime pickle with their poppadoms. The knowledge base equivalent is the Knowledge Asset; the one-stop shop for knowledge on a topic – the wiki page or portal that gives you everything you need to know, whether you knew you needed or not.

So what’s the lesson for Knowledge Management?

I believe there are three reasons why a supermarket is the best of the three models for your knowledge base.

  1. Firstly the main barrier for KM is not supply, but re-use. Many companies have no difficulty in creating knowledge supply, but all companies struggle with re-use. Therefore if we are to lower the barriers, let’s lower the barriers for the seeker and the re-user. Let’s invest in knowledge packaging, and the creation of knowledge assets, so that there is no excuse not to re-use.
  2. Secondly, although the search engine vendors will say that the search engine can do all the finding work for you, most people start by browsing rather than searching when they are shopping for something. Supermarkets are built for browsers, unorganised underwear drawers aren’t. 
  3. Thirdly, a search result will not return the “unknown unknowns” – the things you did not know to search for. The supermarket, on the other hand, is well designed for ensuring you find the impulse-buys which were not on your shopping list. 

Think about the knowledge user when you design your knowledge base, and don’t make them or their search engine do all the work.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

Why Yammer’s default question is unhelpful

If you agree with me that the greatest value in organisational online discussion comes through answering questions, then Yammer’s default prompt does not help.

“What are you working on?” asks Yammer – as a work-related version of the Facebook question “What’s on your mind”.

As a way of getting people to share work-related activity, that’s a reasonable question, and pretty soon you will find your Yammer stream full of statements like

  • “I’m working on a new proposal”
  • “I’m getting ready to go on holiday”
  • “I’m finishing the assessment report”

For some people, that’s interesting connectivity, that helps them feel connected with co-workers. For others, that’s unwelcome Noise; stuff they didn’t need to know that distracts them from their own work. The risk is that the noise turns people off.

This blog has long championed the use of Knowledge Pull behaviours, and Knowledge seeking.  We know for example that Asking is tougher than sharing, but gives instant results. We know that the more questions that are asked in a Community of Practice, the more successful it is. We know that 75% to 90% of knowledge sharing comes as a response to a request for help. We (or I, at least) believe that an internal knowledge market is best grown through demand rather than through supply. And also  that Facebook is not a good analogue for in-house social media.

If you want to use a product like Yammer for knowledge sharing, then I can’t help thinking there’s got to be a better default prompt – one that drives Pull and not Push; one that develops the habit of Asking.

Maybe something like

“What knowledge do you need to help deliver your work?”
“What can your social network help you with today?”
“What question do you have for your network?”

View Original Source Here.

The Knowledge Batphone – a role for KM?

One of the temporary roles a KM team can take on is to be an organisation helpdesk, manning the Batphone.

Imagine you are starting a KM project. You are extolling the virtues of KM, and the benefits of seeking and reusing knowledge as a way of saving time and delivering a better result. Yet your KM system is still not in place.

You have no communities of practice, or the ones you have are in the very early stages of maturity. People are still using your social media for tweets about what they are doing, rather than for knowledge seeking.  You have no structured knowledge assets, and knowledge is mostly scattered through various disparate repositories. You haven’t started with curation of knowledge resources, and are a long way from synthesis of best practice. Your search engine is still struggling, and pulling up duplicate, outdated or irrelevant results.  Your lessons learned are still (if you are lucky) in a massive database or file folder, or (if you are unlucky) in the back pages of project reports.
In short, your knowledge is still in a mess. How then can you satisfy and support a demand for knowledge?
One thing you can do is set up a helpdesk service, or (as one of the KMUK delegates called it) the Batphone.
People who need knowledge call the Batphone, and the KM team does the searching for them.  This is an investment of the KM team resource, but the KM team should by now have a good idea of what knowledge resources are out there, and should be well trained in use of the search engine. They should be super-searchers, and be able to deliver a good answer more quickly than the operational staff can themselves.
The benefits of the knowledge batphone are these:
  • It provides access to knowledge while the KM framework is being built;
  • It allows the KM team to start to create success stories, by calling the person back and asking “how useful was that knowledge to you?
  • It allows the KM team to understand the sort of knowledge which people are looking for, and therefore to prioritise the KM program to cover high-demand knowledge;
  • It allows the KM team to begin to create FAQs which can for the foundation for knowledge bases on critical topics.
So what do you do with the Knowledge Batphone in the longer term?
You can either retire the Batphone once the Communities of Practice have taken on the role of knowledge custodians, and are able to provide better knowledge than the KM team can, or you extend the role of the Batphone into a Knowledge Centre, such as those used by the big consulting firms.

Howver in the short term, you may find The Batphone is a great first step in providing access to knowledge. 

View Original Source Here.

The 8 demand-side principles for KM

Here is another reprised post from the archives – as relevant now as it was 5 years ago.

David Snowden’s 7 principles for Knowledge Management are justly famous in the KM literature as a simple and accessible set of principles. However they all relate to the supply side of knowledge management; to the transition from unconscious knowing, to conscious knowledge and to expressed knowledge. 

There is of course another side – the demand side, or the user side – which represents the transition from expressed knowledge to conscious understanding and to unconscious knowing. Here are a set of principles which apply to the other side of the equation – the learning side

These principles are based on our own experience in Knoco, and there is some overlap with the established “principles of learning” used in the educational field.

Here are our principles

  1. People don’t pay attention to knowledge until they actually need it. People won’t  absorb knowledge until they are ready, and they won’t be ready until they feel the need.  I could give you detailed driving instructions of the quickest way to travel from Cheddar in Somerset  to Woking in Surrey, but you wouldn’t retain them because they are of no immediate value to you. Then one day, you are at a garden party in Cheddar and your boss calls and says “can you get to Woking as quickly as possible, we have a potential big deal to close and I need you here right now”. THEN you will be highly receptive to the knowledge. The consequence of this “attention when needed” is that it is more effective to set up “just in time” knowledge sharing processes than “just in case” knowledge sharing processes(although these also have their place).
  2. People value knowledge that they request, more highly than knowledge that is unsolicited.  I don’t know the psychology behind this, but it seems to be true.  The best way to get knowledge into people’s heads seems to be by answering their questions. The old fashioned “show and tell” is far less effective than “question and answer”, and the blog is less effective than the discussion forum.  The company where the most questions are asked, is often the company that learns the quickest.  This principle is behind the design of most effective knowledge management processes, the majority of which are based on dialogue, and the primary focus of communities of practice should be answering questions rather than publishing ideas.
  3. People won’t use knowledge, unless they trust its provenance.This is the “not invented here” principle, which is a very strong factor in knowledge management terms.  People won’t use knowledge they don’t trust, and they don’t trust knowledge if they don’t know where it has come from.  They need either to trust the individual who gave them the knowledge, or the organisational construct (such as the CoP) which provided the knowledge.  The source may be an expert, or a wiki (many people trust Wikipedia for example, despite its shortcomings), or a community of practice, and building credibility and trust has to be a key activity when building these constructs as part of the knowledge management initiative.
  4. Knowledge has to be reviewed in the user’s own context before it can be received.  One of the knowledge receiver’s first questions is “is this relevant to me?” Everybody always feels their own context is different (even though the difference is often less than assumed), and they need to test the knowledge for relevance before they really pay attention.  We were recently facilitating a peer assist, where people were bringing knowledge from Africa, from India, from China, to be used in an Indonesian context.  For each of the learning points, we needed about half an hour to an hour’s discussion around context, before we could even approach discussion of how imported knowledge might be used. This means that transferring knowledge in a written form is difficult, unless you can introduce a process by which people can interrogate this within their own context
  5. One of the biggest barriers to accepting new knowledge is old knowledge.  This is the curse of prior knowledge. People have to unlearn, before they can learn.  Old assumptions, old habits, “the way we have always done it in the past” may all have to be challenged before people can absorb and make sense of new knowledge.  This can be hard work! As an example, see the story about the war of the hedgerows, where the U.S. Army completely missed the implication of the Normandy hedgerows, assuming that these features would not be a factor in tank and infantry warfare after the D day landings
  6. Knowledge has to be adapted before it can be adopted.  If people are provided with guidance, tips and hints, or even a “recipe to follow,” they will always tweak it and adjust it in order to “make it theirs”.  Sometimes this tweaking and adjusting is necessary to fit the knowledge to their own context; sometimes it is unnecessary in practical terms despite being necessary in emotional terms.  So when you are providing people with guidance, tips and hints or even a “recipe”, you have to give them some idea of where they can still adapt it, and where dangerous tinkering should be avoided. Otherwise they may “adapt” the wrong thing. We see this all the time in our Bird island exercise – they all want to tinker with the final design, and you have to let them tinker, but try to guide them to tinker in non-fatal ways!
  7. Knowledge will be more effective the more personal it is.  The more personal, emotional, and highly charged the learning situation, the more the knowledge will be easily adopted.  Discussion, story telling and coaching can be personal, emotional and highly charged, but it becomes difficult to translate this into the written word.  The use of stories is very helpful, the use of video even more so.  Obviously this has profound implications for knowledge transfer mechanisms.
  8. You won’t really KNOW it until you DO it.  We very often see in lessons learned meetings, teams that say  “we picked up this learning from the previous project, we tried it and it really did work!  That was a great learning for us”.  When they picked it up they knew it intellectually; after they had tried it they knew it practically and emotionally.  Seeing is believing, trying is trusting, doing is internalising.  This sort of positive reinforcement of learning is a massive boost for your knowledge management program; as people try things and find they work, this reinforces the belief that knowledge from others is of real practical value.

Bear these principles in mind in the design of your KM programs, as getting people to seek, use and adopt knowledge is as hard, or harder, than getting people to supply knowledge. 

View Original Source Here.

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