Knowledge as a rubgy ball or knowledge as a relay baton?

Do you pass knowledge forward, as in a relay race, or do you pass it backward, as in a rugby match? 

 The metaphor of a relay race is often used in Knowledge Management. Knowledge is seen as a baton that is passed from a runner (project team), after they have finished their leg (project) to another runner (project team) that is just starting.

Knowledge transfer is serial – from one, then to the next, then to the next. This is what I refer to here as “serial transfer” of knowledge. This is supported well by knowledge handover; which Pfizer called “baton passing” in a direct reference to the relay run).

Nonaka and Takeuchi contrast this with the Rugby metaphor, where the whole team runs forward, passing the ball from hand to hand between them. In Rugby the ball cannot be passed forward, and when one player meets an obstruction they seek to pass the ball to another player behind them who tries to find a way through.

By sharing small advances, the whole team moves forwards and eventually one player crosses the winning line.

In some ways this is a much better metaphor for knowledge transfer many organisations, where the aim is to make progress on all fronts, and where knowledge is shared between the different divisions and the different teams like a rugby ball, where small gains in knowledge from one part of the business are combined with small gains from another part, so that everyone advances together, rather than in series.

This is particularly true in Pharma organisations or in research organisations, where few projects succeed in developing a new product and success comes from knowledge which passes through many hands and is accumulated through many projects. Rather than the knowledge being lost or archived when one project is closed, it is far better if the knowledge is passed on and “kept alive” – built up over time through the experience of many projects.

The ball in rugby is always passed backwards – from leader to follower – but the roles of leader and follower are always changing, depending on who made the breakthrough. In knowledge terms I referred to this as “synchronous transfer“, and this is supported by communities of practicelessons learned systems,and knowledge exchange and by “learning while doing” rather than “learning after doing”.

If you are unfamiliar with rugby, see the masterclass demonstration below, which shows that display of passing the ball from hand to hand until the breakthrough is made (particularly clear in teh overhead shot). The match was in 2002, England (in white) were playing Ireland (in green), and the ball was passed from player to player as each in turn met an obstacle, always passed backwards, involving almost the whole team, until finally the winning line was crossed.

If only we could do this in our organisations, with knowledge rather than with a rugby ball


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Learning by Watching

There is only a certain amount you can learn by reading. Sometimes you have to go and see.

With complex knowledge, there is more going on that can ever be documented, and (if it’s possible) the best way to learn is to go and see for yourself. Toyota call this “Genchi Genbutsu” – an approach they apply to problem solving. Wikipedia has this story –

“Taiichi Ohno, creator of the Toyota Production System is credited, perhaps apocryphally, with taking new graduates to the shopfloor and drawing a chalk circle on the floor. The graduate would be told to stand in the circle, observe and note what he saw. When Ohno returned he would check; if the graduate had not seen enough he would be asked to keep observing. Ohno was trying to imprint upon his future engineers that the only way to truly understand what happens on the shop floor was to go there”.

In Knowledge Management, these Knowledge Visits have a place in knowledge transfer. If you really want to learn from something complex and truly understand what happens, then go and see and talk to the people who are involved.

See for example the Observer Programme organised by the International Olympic Committee as part of their Knowledge Management framework.

This article describes how more than 100 staff from the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games visited and observed the Rio 2016 Olympics.

IOC’s Observer Programme, which is an integral element of the Olympic Games Knowledge Management, represents a key component of the knowledge transfer process, providing a unique opportunity to live, learn and experience real operations to future hosts, guided by key personnel of Rio Organizing Committee or IOC. 

POCOG will attend the total of seventy-six programmes, including Airport Operations, Look of the Games, Accreditation, Medical Services, Venue Management, Ticketing, Venue Energy, and Transport. 

SEO, Min-jung, the Head of Doping Control Team said, “After closely observing Rio Games, I now know what to do for PyeongChang 2018.” She added, “I can expect what needs to be done to give athletes absolute confidence in the doping control system and uphold the integrity of Olympics and Paralympics Games.” 

POCOG Spokesperson SUNG, Baik-you commented, “Thanks to invaluable IOC Observer Programme, POCOG staffs are here to watch and learn, and every moment and experience from airport arrival to competition venue visit will be a learning experience for PyeongChang 2018.”

Sometimes, in cases like this, you just have to go and see in order to learn.

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Why you need pull-based community meetings

Don’t just run your community meetings as presentations; instead engage in real multi-way dialogue around important questions.

I have blogged several times about Push and Pull in Knowledge Management – about the dangers of focusing only on Push (such a common strategy, unfortunately), and about the need to create a culture of pull – a demand for knowledge, a thirst for learning.

Push is Knowledge Supply – an answer looking for a problem – “Just in case” KM, with re-use only in the case where the knowledge happens to meet a need. Pull is knowledge demand – a problem looking for an answer – “Just in time” KM, with guaranteed re-use.

The need for creating Pull operates at many levels – in Communities of Practice, on websites, even in face to face meetings.

However very often community meetings are not designed this way. Very often they as “show and tell” meetings, where an expert is brought in, and the community members sit passively and listen. The members are treated as knowledge consumers, whereas the real value of a community is that ever member has knowledge to offer, as well as knowledge to learn.

One variant of these meetings is the dreaded “lunch and learn” – one of my pet hates. There are many reasons why I dislike “lunch and learn”;

  • they assume that community meetings can’t take place in “real working hours” and need to be held at lunchtime (thus perpetuating the idea that “KM is not Real Work”;
  • they assume you can eat and listen – that you don’t need to pay full attention;
  • they assume you don’t need to take any notes (with your hands full of sandwiches);
  • they assume that the people who turn up will be passive listeners and not active contributors. After all, how much can you contribute with your mouth full of food?
This is the worst way to transfer knowledge – a one-way presentation to a bunch of people who are busy doing something else.

If this is your approach to community meetings, then consider turning the meeting around, and base it around Questions and around Dialogue. Identify before hand the major questions and problems within the CoP (maybe using a Knowledge Market approach) , and build the agenda around those questions. Use the collective knowledge of the Community to address the questions. Bring that knowledge to bear on the most pressing business problems, so that every person leaves the meeting with a problem solved, and with new connections, new links, and a renewed sense of community value, and having contributed as much as they gained.

Maybe use a knowledge exchange approach, with small problem-solving break-out groups to make sure that everyone was involved in the dialogue. Not a series of presentations that probably very few people would be interested in, even if they weren’t eating lunch at the same time.

Even the face to face meetings need to be driven by Pull, if they are to really impact the business.

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"My knowledge is unique – I can’t write it down"

“My knowledge is unique” is another challenge you meet on your KM journey. How do you respond?

image from wikimedia commons

This observation was shared with me by a knowledge manager in the UK health service, who hears it all the time from top doctors and surgeons.

“Nobody can do what I do” they say; “I am unique, my knowledge is unique, it is part of who I am. How could you ever capture it?”

And you can see their point. They quite possibly do have some unique knowledge and skill – they are probably top of their profession, have built their understanding over a decade, and much of their knowledge is probably now so ingrained and so tacit that they may not even understand how they know it.

But that doesn’t mean this situation is OK, nor that KM cannot help. For a start, if this knowledge is so important and so unique, then this person represents a “single point of failure” (as they say in engineering terms). If they die, the knowledge dies with them, and (in the case of doctors and surgeons) patients will suffer as a result.

So you need to get into a conversation with the person, and ask a series of questions.

  • What is it that you know, that is so unique?
  • Are you really the only person in the organisation/industry/country/world who knows this?
  • What would happen if you became ill, or were otherwise be unable to work, or reached the end of your career, and that knowledge was unavailable?
  • What would be the effect on the company/customers.patients?
  • Would that be OK?
  • If not, what can we do about this?
Through this questioning you are hoping that the expert will realise that “my knowledge is unique, and that is not OK”, and then you can start to design some mitigating actions.
The sort of things you can do include

You will never capture or transfer all of the unique knowledge, but even 10% may be enough to save a few lives.

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Making Knowledge Visible

One of the biggest challenges in Knowledge Management is the invisible and intangible nature of Knowledge. How can we make knowledge, and knowledge gaps, visible to others?

 cup_invisibleYou can’t see knowledge, you can’t measure it, you can’t tell when it’s missing, other than by observing it’s effects. This makes it difficult to identify opportunities for knowledge transfer, from someone how has knowledge, to someone who needs it.

If you could see knowledge, and you could see it’s absence, then you would be in a much better position to set up the knowledge transfers that need to happen. You could say “Look, Susie needs some Red knowledge, Peter has lots of Red knowledge, let’s introduce Peter to Susie”.

But because knowledge is invisible you can’t see what Susie needs or Peter has, unless you ask them.  How can a supplier of knowledge get in touch with a needer of knowledge if both the supply and the need can’t be seen?

Here are four easy ways to make Knowledge visible, and to set up Knowledge Transfer opportunities.

The Seekers exercise

Seekers is a simple exercise, suitable for groups of 40 or 50 or more, and runs during a coffee break in a training session, or as part of a Brown Bag lunch. It requires blank name badges, so either buy a supply of badges, or if you are in a badged event such as a conference, ask people to turn their badges to the blank side. Ask them to write on the blank badge, in large clear letters, a question to which they would like an answer.

Ideally it should be a real work question rather than a home-life question, and a question where an answer would be really useful. Make sure it’s a practical question! It should be “How do I best plan a program of data collection” rather than “How do I become the next CEO”.

During the exercise, if people see a question they can help answer – either giving good advice, or pointing people to a source of advice – then they go and introduce themselves and offer help. After 20 to 30 minutes of pairing up and discussion, ask for a show of hands for “Who has received an answer?”. You should see between a third and half the people raise their hands. You can then lead a discussion on motivation  – What motivated people to help? What would motivate you to ask questions of others? –  on the power of Asking as a driver for knowledge transfer, on “how we can make our questions visible to others as part of our work”, and on KM approaches such as community forums and peer assist.

Knowledge Market

A Knowledge Market is a meeting to match up people who need learning, with people who can provide their learning. It is a way of connecting people to stimulate knowledge, make new connections, and identify new collaborative relationships, it is for connecting those who have problems with those that can potentially solve the problem in a very simple way. Knowledge Markets are commonly used within Communities of Practice.

At a Knowledge Market, you ask people to write (on post-it notes, or (better) on a large poster) two or three “Knowledge Offers”, and two or three “Knowledge Needs”. These should be real business issues – either an issue for which they have found a solution (a knowledge offer), or a business issue which they are currently facing, where they need access to more knowledge to help them make the correct decision.  Then you display these posters or notes, and ask people to walk around and identify

  1. A knowledge need they think they can help with
  2. A knowledge offer which they want to hear more about, because it will help solve a business issue for them.
Once these “matches” have been identified, then you set up follow-on conversations (either at the same event, or later) to transfer the knowledge.

An online (or physical) Knowledge Wants and Offers board

“Wants and offers” forums are popular as a way for people to sell and buy items (see this example). In the UK you see this in physical form in supermarkets, where someone looking for accommodation, or with a bed for sale, puts a card up on a notice board.

You can do the same for Knowledge, and provide an online site, or (in a shared office) a notice board (with pens, pins and cards) where people can post questions and offer solutions.  Online of course is easier, as you can click on a question to email an answer. Community of Practice discussion forums often become Wants and Offers forums, with people raising questions and offering solutions.

The Yellow Pages/People Directory

You may have some system of personal pages, where people identify their skills. Why not extend this to “knowledge needs” as well?

All of these methods make Knowledge, and the need for knowledge, visible, allowing matches to be made between Knowledge Suppliers and Knowledge Customers. 

View Original Source Here.

Why you need to place some demands on the knowledge sharer

Sharing knowledge is a two-sided process. There is a sharer and a receiver. Be careful that making knowledge easier to share does not make knowledge harder to re-use.

Image from wikimedia commons

Sharing knowledge is like passing a ball in a game of rugby, American Football or basketball. If you don’t place some demands on the thrower to throw well, it won’t work for the catcher. If you make it too undemanding to throw the ball, it can be too hard to catch the ball.  Passing the ball is a skill, and needs to be practised.

The same is true for knowledge. If you make it too simple to share knowledge, you can make it too difficult to find it and re-use it.  In knowledge transfer, the sharing part is the easier part of the transfer process. There are more barriers to understanding and re-use than there are to sharing, so if you make the burden too light on the knowledge supplier, then the burden on the knowledge user can become overwhelming.

Imagine a company that wants to make it easy for projects to share knowledge with other projects. They set up an online structure for doing this, with a simple form and a simple procedure. “We don’t want people to have to write too much” they say “because we want to make it as easy as possible for people to share knowledge”.

So what happens? People fill in the form, they put in the bare minimum, they don’t give any context, they don’t tell the story, they don’t explain the lesson. And as a result, almost none of these lessons are re-used. The feedback that they get is “these lessons are too generic and too brief to be any use”.  we have seen this happen many many times.

By making the knowledge too easy to share – by demanding too little from the knowledge supplier – you can make the whole process ineffective. 

There can be other unintended consequences as well. Another company had a situation as described above, where a new project enthusiastically filled in the knowledge transfer form with 50 lessons. However this company had put in a quality assurance system for lessons, and found that 47 of the 50 lessons were too simple, too brief and too generic to add value. So they rejected them.

The project team in question felt, quite rightly, that there was no point in spending time capturing lessons if 94% of them are going to be rejected, so they stopped sharing. They became totally demotivated when it came to any further KM activity.

 Here you can see some unintended consequences of making things simple. Simple does not equate to effective.

Our advice to this company was to introduce a facilitation role in the local Project Office, who could work with the project teams to ensure that lessons are captured with enough detail and context to be of real value. By using this approach, each lesson will be quality-controlled at source, and there should be no need to reject any lessons.

Don’t make it so simple to share knowledge, that people don’t give enough thought to what they write.

The sharer of knowledge, like the thrower of the ball, needs to ensure that the messages can be effectively passed to the receiver, and this requires a degree of attention and skill. 

View Original Source Here.

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