The dangers of Neomania in KM

Why search for what’s new? Why not search for what we know works?

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Rolf Dobelli in his book “The Art of Thinking Clearly“, and Nassim Nicolas Taleb in “Antifragile“, refer to the term Neomania.

Taleb defines Neomania as follows

“The “love of the modern for its own sake. We are constantly in pursuit of the next big thing, but how can you know that something will last if it’s only been around for a year, offering no information on its future longevity?”

Dobelli says

“You’re sitting in a chair, an invention from ancient Egypt. You wear pants, developed about 5,000 years ago and adapted by Germanic tribes around 750 B.C. The idea behind your leather shoes comes from the last ice age. Your bookshelves are made of wood, one of the oldest building materials in the world. At dinnertime, you use a fork, a well-known “killer app” from Roman times, to shovel chunks of dead animals and plants into your mouths. We place far too much emphasis on flavour-of-the-month inventions while underestimating the role of traditional technology”.

I think of both these guys when I see the LinkedIn posts looking for the “Next New Thing in Knowledge Management”, or “What’s new in KM”. These discussions appear several times a year, and, to me are looking for the wrong thing.

To be honest, there has been very little new in KM for a long time. OK, there is a lot of social media technology around now, but companies have been using varieties of social technology (personal pages, threaded discussions, user-created content) for a very long time. The technology is commercially available now, but its not new. AI has been around in various incarnations for ages as well, and still suffers from the same problems now as it did then.

If we look at the organisations that still top the MAKE awards and have done for many years, the bulk of them are using the same Knowledge Management approaches that they did a decade or more ago. They may have perfected some of the details, they may have improved some of the technology or added extra governance, but they are using the same basic approaches that they have ever done – Communities of Practice, Collaboration, Learning from Experience, Knowledge Ownership, Learning Before, During and After (or Ask,Learn,Share).

New ideas and new technologies pop up all the time, and few last. Longevity is important. The key thing to understand as far as Knowledge Management is concerned, is not “What’s New”, but “What has been proven to work over the long term”.

If you have been tasked by your organisation with sorting out an approach to Knowledge Management, then don’t go for the new and untried – go for what has passed the test of time, and has proven its value.

Go for what we know works.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

The KM strategy map

In another reprise from the archives, here’s a post about that useful tool, the KM strategy map

You know I am a firm believer in business led Knowledge Management Strategy.  At a meeting yesterday, I saw this presented in a very striking and visual way, through the use of a Strategy Map.

 A strategy map is an established way of mapping out the strategy of a company in a visual way, The approach was invented by Robert S Kaplan, and is well described in this HBR article from which the example above – a strategy map of Volvo Dealership –  is taken. A strategy map can be linked to Balanced Scorecard, and can be used to explain why a company is choosing the initiatives that it has.

The standard Kaplan map starts from the vision, and works down, via elements of the strategy (in the example shown, growth and efficiency), then looks at the financial, customer, process and learning elements or objectives that support it.

Knowledge Management should be aligned with this strategy map.

As we know, Knowledge Management should be driven by the corporate vision and strategy, and should support the key activities that are needed to deliver that strategy. When Kaplan and Norton developed the ideas around strategy maps (later published in this book), KM was in its infancy and the “learning” elements were pretty generic (and to be honest, judging from examples, the learning elements are still pretty generic). What KM can do is make these less generic, more specific, and show how the elements of KM can directly support the business strategy.

As an example, I have added a Knowledge Management layer to the HBR “Volvo dealership” example. Sales and Marketing, for example, can be supported by more than generic “active participation, quality focused co-workers” etc, it can be supported by  a Sales and Marketing CoP, actively developing and sharing ideas, solutions, good practices, and so on. Similarly continued education of Volvo dealers can be supported by an online knowledge based, eLearning, and a dealers’ community of practice.

Each KM intervention supports a process, which supports a customer and financial objective.

The two advantages of this form of strategic map is that it helps the KM team top focus on those interventions that most directly support business strategy, and it makes it clear to the business how KM will help in delivering that strategy.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

Here is a useful KM Strategy matrix

This a a reprise of a post from 5 years ago, describing a useful matrux for plotting your strategic knowledge topics.

I first described this matrix in this article in KM review in 2007, as a tool which can be useful in developing your KM strategy.

This Boston Square-style matrix is formed of two axes; the current level of in-house knowledge, and the global level of maturity of that knowledge (i.e. whether it is new knowledge with a significant rate of evolution, or old established knowledge which is no longer evolving). These two variables allow key knowledge topics important to your organisation to be plotted into one of four boxes on the matrix, as described below.

  • New Knowledge.These are areas of new evolving knowledge which the company thinks will be very important in the future, but which currently they know little about. The KM focus for strategic new knowledge is on experimentation and knowledge creation, particularly from pilot programs. Ownership of New Knowledge may lie with the R&D or technology departments.
  • Competitive knowledge.These are areas of new evolving knowledge that the company knows a lot about. This knowledge may well give them a competitive advantage – the first learner advantage. In areas of evolving knowledge, the company that learns the best and learns the fastest, has the potential to outperform its rivals.  The KM focus for competitive knowledge is on the development of best practice. As this knowledge is being applied around the business, there needs to be a continuous capture of knowledge from practice, comparing of knowledge through communities of practice, and development of best practice. Ownership of competitive competence probably lies with the communities and networks. 
  • Core knowledge. These are areas of established knowledge that the company knows a lot about. This knowledge is likely to be core to their existing business, and needs to be managed well if the business is to perform efficiently and effectively. The KM focus for core knowledge is on the development of standards. Once the knowledge area is mature and established, best practice can be codified into standards and routines, and embedded in the work practices and procedures of the organisation. In some cases it can even be embedded into software or mechanised processes.  Ownership of this type of knowledge lies with the technical functions and in-house experts.
  • Non-core knowledge These are areas of established knowledge that the company knows very little about. These should be areas where the company has chosen not to apply this knowledge itself, but it may be areas where they have lost knowledge through retirement of key staff.

Using the matrix

Knowledge Management is not just about categorising knowledge, but more about working with knowledge.  This matrix therefore becomes a lot more useful when you use it not just to categorise knowledge, but to plot where you would like knowledge to move to, over time.

  • Imagine some new knowledge, developed in your research centre, which is currently in the “new knowledge” box, somewhere towards the top of the box as well. It is low maturity, and few people in your organisation know about it. You would like it to become competitive knowledge. Therefore it probably needs to increase in maturity a little until it is robust, and then needs to be a lot more widespread within your company. You move it from the top left box to the top right box, following blue arrow number one. You set up the communities of practice, and begin to deploy this knowledge, discussing it within the community and refining it into good practice through use. 
  • Imagine some competitive knowledge which you would like to be core to your business. It is currently relatively low maturity, but widespread in the company. You would like it to be more mature, so that you can embed it into processes and routines. The community needs to compare practices, choose the best, and come up with a standard company approach, documented in the knowledge base. The knowledge moves from the top right box to the bottom right, along blue arrow number two. 
  • Imagine some core knowledge which you decide, in the future, can be non-core. You would rather outsource it. You need to take your definition or specification for standardised knowledge, and move it outside the company so that you no longer have to deal with this area of knowledge. Someone else will manage it for you (which means that you need to make sure they have a good knowledge management capability themselves). The knowledge moves from bottom right box to bottom left, along blue arrow number three. 
  • Alternatively there may be knowledge which is currently non-core, but you need to insource it. You need to learn from those who do it well, develop a standard approach, and deploy this widely within your organisation. The knowledge moves from left to right along blue arrow number four. 

So you can use this matrix not only to plot the current status of your critical knowledge areas, but also plot where you want them to be in future. You can determine how you would like this knowledge to move along the strategic matrix, and you can put in place the knowledge management activities that will move the knowledge to where you want it.

Contact Knoco if you want more help with your Knowledge Management Strategy

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

Connect and Collect – the left leg and right leg of KM

The Connect and Collect approaches in KM are like the left leg and the right leg- you need to use both. 

image from PublicDomain Pictures

I was working with a client last week who is very interested and enthused about the use of Knowledge Management Processes to drive conversations between staff, as an antidote to previous attempts to collect knowledge. These previous attempts had resulted in a huge lessons database which people viewed as a chore, and a waste of time. 
Much as I applauded their new focus on conversation and Connection, I urged them not to neglect the Collect part of the knowledge cycle, as these two aspects of KM go and in hand.
In fact, they are like the left leg and the right leg. A focus on Connecting can help you make a great stride forward, but you need the other leg to catch up if you want to make real progress. 
I told them this story

We were working with a KM team, who had asked us to come into their organisation and run some Retrospects from major successful bids. They wanted to develop and deploy knowledge of how to bid successfully. 

We held a series of Retrospects, and they worked very well. We had some fantastic dialogue within the bid team, and with the internal client, and identified a series of learning points. We found some really good success factors whch should be repeated in future, and whole set of opportunities for improving the bid process, including some things that were really frustrating the bid teams (mostly related to inappropriate company policies) and we communicated these to other projects. Everyone was very enthused by the process.  

A few months later the client called, and said “That Retrospect process is rubbish”. That took me aback, as I know from experience that it is a very powerful and robust process, so I asked him why he said this. He replied – “those issues that were frustrating the team when we started, are still there. They have come up again in the latest Retrospects. Nothing has been changed”. 

 Well – nothing would be changed, if all they did was hold Retrospects. Retrospects are great for identifying team learning, but there needs to be a follow on process to take action on the issue, and for this particular company, those actions needed to be taken at a high level in the organisation. They had not implemented a process or workflow for documenting the lessons addressing the actions, and had no engagement from senior managers in the learning process. Retrospects, like so many KM tools, need to be part of a system, and no tool in isolation will stand in for the system as a whole.

Connect and Collect  – Conversation and Content – need to work together. Conversation is where content is born, and content is something to talk about together. Retrospects need to work together with the lesson management system, not in isolation.

Connect and Collect are like the left leg and right leg of KM – there is only so far you can travel using one and not the other.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

"85% of KM initatives have no stated objective"

It is a strange, troubling, but apparently true fact that 85% of KM initatives have no stated objective.

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This statistic comes from Page 7 of this presentation by Bob Armacost, and quotes the results of a survey run by KPMG

  • 80% of companies in a recent survey said that they had KM initiatives under way
  • Of those companies, 85% had no stated objectives for their KM initiative.
I suppose it depends what you mean by “stated objectives”, but even so, that’s a scary statistic.

Given that so many KM initiatives fail, then to start an initiative with no clear business objective is surely a rash thing to so. Clarity of purpose is one of our 7 top success factors for successful KM implementation.

So what sort of objective might the KM initiative have?

To answer this question, you need to have determined the business driver for KM. Our KM surveys in 2014 and 2017 tested 7 business drivers, and found they were ranked as follows, with high numbers equating to high ranking:

  • KM to improve operational effectiveness – rank 5.1
  • KM to improve business efficiency – rank 5.1
  • KM to provide a better service to clients and customers – rank 4.7
  • Km to retain knowledge at risk of loss – rank 4.3
  • KM to improve internal innovation – rank 3.9
  • KM to improve health, safety or environmental record – rank 2.
Depending on which business driver is relevant to your organisations (and different industries have different drivers for KM), then impacting this business driver must surely be a stated objective for KM.  If your organisation wishes to become more efficient through the use of KM, then one stated objective of your KM program must be to improve efficiency, for example.
You can map your KM initiatives onto this objective using a strategy map, you can put metrics in place to measure KM activity, and you can seek anecdotal or even measured evidence that KM activity is linked to delivery of this business objective. 
You can then declare an objective such as “Improved knowledge management will deliver efficiency improvements in our capital projects resulting in an average 5% cost reduction against the 2016 baseline”, or “Improved knowledge management in our contact centres and online customer support will result in a 5% improvement on Net Promoter Score against the 2016 baseline.”

The value of a clear objective

It may initially seem scary to link KM to a measurable business outcome, but let me tell you three things:

  • Lots of people have done it, and this blog contains over 100 examples of metricated business impact from KM
  • Your senior management will really appreciate it, and your KM program will be all the safer from having a clear link to business deliverables. No manager will support the development of KM for its own sake, but will support it if there is stated value to the organisation;
  • You will find this business objective clarifies your KM program considerably, and allows you to focus only on those things that add real value. It will make your life simpler and clearer.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

Why you may need more than one KM strategy

Complex organisations may be involved in more than one type of activity, and may need more than one KM strategy and framework.

Two of the early activities in any Knowledge Management implementation are to develop a Knowledge Management Strategy (as we discussed yesterday), and start to map out a potential Knowledge Management Framework.  However a large organisation, with many different divisions working in different ways, may need more than one strategy and more than one framework.

Let’s take, as an example, a utility company, providing water and gas to consumers.

This imaginary utility company has a Projects division, which installs new pipelines and new processing plants.  They have a maintenance and operations division which maintains the supply of water and gas to customers. And then they have a customer care division, which signs up new customers and manages the relationship and the interaction with the existing customers.

This organisation might need 3 strategies and 3 frameworks. 

The strategy for the projects division will be about cost reduction, and ensuring that projects are delivered on time, to budget and to specification. The KM framework will focus on learning from experience in order to improve project performance, and will involve processes such as Retrospects and Peer Assists.

The strategy for the Operations division will be about operational reliability and the continued provision of service. The KM framework will focus on maintenance methods and best practices, and on sharing tips and hints in communities of practice.  

The strategy for the customer care division will be about customer satisfaction and customer retention. The KM framework will focus on provision of knowledge to customers, either through online self-help or via a contact centre, and the division will almost certainly need some sort of knowledge base software.

Although the whole organisation can share a KM policy and KM principles, each division will need to interpret these in their own context, and will need their own KM framework embedded in their divisional ways of working.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

8 reasons why you need a Knowledge Management strategy

You need a strategy if your KM implementation is to be successful. Here are 8 reasons why.

StrategyImplementing Knowledge Management without a strategy is a risky endeavour. As Sun Tzu is reputed to have said said, in “the art of war”,

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before the defeat.” 

Lots of books and articles on strategy come from a military point of view or from game theory, and are strategies for competing and winning. Should we think in terms of winning and competing, when implementing Knowledge Management? Surely it’s a Good Thing to do – it’s a win-win for everyone?

But as leader of the KM program, you are in competition. You are in competition against other programs and initiatives, for internal resources (money, people, time) and you are in competition for internal attention (management support). If you do not have a good strategy, then good tactics are not going to save you.

 We are constantly hearing of yet another KM program closed, and yet another KM leader looking for a job, as the company sought to cut back on expenditure, and found KM to be too far from the front-line delivery – too non-strategic – and thus an easy target.

So what can a good KM strategy do for you?

  1. Your strategy will help you define where you heading, and what the end point should be.  It will define the vision, and the objectives for knowledge management within your organisation, and allow these to be discussed and agreed up front, before you start on the planning.
  2. Your strategy will provide a set of principles or ground-rules to guide your actions, and guide your decision making during knowledge management implementation, in order to deliver the greatest chance of success. Don’t forget that 80% of knowledge management programs fail (depending on what you mean by “knowledge management program” and what you mean by “fail”). The reasons for KM failure are well known, and a good strategy will be designed to avoid these reasons.
  3. Your KM strategy will be closely linked to business objectives, business strategy, and business results,  if it follows the principles mentioned above. This protects you from being seen as peripheral to the business, and an easy target for downsizing. 
  4. Your strategy will form the framework of constraints for planning purposes. It will define the areas of focus, the risks to be addressed, and the allies to work with.
  5. Your strategy will guide you in deciding what not to do. If a tactic is outside the constraints, or in opposition with the principles, then it is not strategic, and a waste of resource.
  6. The strategy also looks at implementation priorities and issues. It’s not just a vision; it’s a high level approach for how the vision will be realized. 
  7. Your strategy is a public agreement with your leadership. It represents agreed ground rules for knowledge management implementation, and should have leadership blessing and support. If over time that support does not materialise, then you should be able to go back to the strategy, remind them that it was agreed, and claim their support (or else renegotiate the strategy). The strategy is therefore a key decision point for the organisation.
  8. Your strategy allows managed flexibility. As your business context changes, your organisational priorities, or the competitive or technological landscape, so your knowledge management strategy should also evolve over time, but will need to be renegotiated with your steering group. This is your “Management of Change” process for the KM implementation.
The most important thing for you, therefore, is to get a good strategy in place from the start. Contact us at Knoco if you want a copy of our guide to KM strategy.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

How the demographics of the organisation affect Knowledge Management

The demographics of your organisation determine the distribution of knowledge, and therefore the Knowledge Management Framework

Here’s another factor that can affect the way you address KM in an organisation; the demographics of the workforce. Because the demographics are is linked to the distribution of knowledge across the staff, it determines how many sources of knowledge you have, and how many net users, for example:

  • A company with very many junior staff and few experienced staff will have few knowledge suppliers and many knowledge users; while
  • A company with very many experienced staff will have many knowledge suppliers, each of whom is also a knowledge user.

Please note that I am not talking here about whether older people behave differently to younger people – there are many assertions made about these differences in behaviour, few of which seem to stand up to scrutiny.

Take a Western engineering organisation. 

Here the economy is static, and the population growth is stable. Engineering is not a “sexy topic”. The workforce is largely made up of baby boomers. A large proportion of the workforce is over 40, with many staff approaching retirement – the blue line in the graph above.

Experience is widespread in the organisation – this is an experienced company, and knowledge is dispersed. Communities of Practice are important, where people can ask each other for advice, and that advice is spread round the organisation. Experienced staff collaborate to create new knowledge out of their shared expertise. Knowledge can easily be kept largely tacit. The engineers know the basics, and a short call to their colleagues fills in any gaps. The biggest risk is knowledge loss, as so many of the workforce will retire soon, and a Knowledge Retention strategy would be a good investment.

Take an Asian engineering organisation. 

China or in India the economy is growing, the population is growing, there is a hunger for prosperity, and engineering is also a growth area. The workforce is predominantly very young – many of them fewer than 2 years in post. There are only a handful of real experts, and a host of inexperienced staff – the red line in the chart above.

Experience is a rare commodity, and is centralised within the company, retained within the Centres of Excellence, and the small Expert groups. Here the issue is not Collaboration, but rapid onboarding and upskilling. The risk is not so much Retention of knowledge, it is deployment of knowledge, although the reliance on a few experts means that they must be given a Knowledge Ownersgip role, rather than using them on projects.  Rather than keeping knowledge tacit, it makes sense to at least document the basics in explicit form (the experts will be too busy to answer so many basic questions), keeping this documentation updated as the organisation learns.

These two demographic profiles would lead you to take two different approaches to KM. The Western company would introduce communities of practice, and use the dispersed knowledge to collaborate on building continuously improving practices, processes and products. Wikis could be used to harness the dispersed expertise. There would be huge potential for innovation, as people re-use and build on ideas from each other. Crowd sourcing, and “asking the audience” are excellent strategies for finding knowledge.

The Eastern company would focus on the development and deployment of standard practices and procedures, and on developing and deploying capability among the young workforce. The experts would build top-class training and educational material, and the focus would be on Communities of Learning rather than Communities of Practice. Innovation would be discouraged, until the staff had built enough experience to know which rules can be bent, and which must be adhered to. Crowdsourcing is not a good strategy, and the “wisdom of the experts” trumps the “wisdom of the crowd”.

This is one of the factors that KM must address, namely the amount of expertise in the company, and how widely it is dispersed.

View Original Source Here.

Nobody is safe – the knowledge manager as an endagered species

There is one really big risk  to the knowledge manager which can strike you at any time, but it is a risk you can protect against.

Photo from maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com
A couple of weeks ago at the KMUK conference we heard some scary stories from knowledge managers who had lost their positions in management shake-ups, which led to one delegate describing the knowledge manager as an “endangered species”, and another to conclude that “nobody is safe”.

What’s the problem?

The problem is organisational change. Our surveys show that this is the number one reason for KM failure.  You have built your KM program, you have a high level sponsor who believes in what you are doing, and you have a good long-term strategy in place. But all of a sudden, out of the blue, your sponsor has moved into a different role and your “top cover” is removed. You need to find a new sponsor in a hurry, and all the people you talk to are either not interested or have their own agenda. You end up under HR supporting their eLearning agenda, or you end up under IT as a Yammer support desk, or you find no sponsor and the KM program is dead.
The problem is that unless there is a wide understanding that KM is a benefit and not a cost, no senior manager will want you in a restructuring. They are all looking to stock their portfolio with winners, and KM is not always seen as a winner.

So how do you guard against this?

The analogue here is the rock climber. A climber will, on a regular basis, “fix protection”. This involved passing the rope through a ring which is fastened to the rock somehow, so that if a handhold comes away in their hand, they fall only as far as their last protection. This is the climber’s insurance policy.
In this analogy, the rope is the Knowledge Manager’s reputation, and the fixed protection is your successes and proofs of concept.
We have already suggested that your KM strategy should be a two-pronged strategy – a parallel long-term strategy plus a series of shorter term quick wins. This is similar to the Mars strategy of delivering KM as a series of business projects, with two business issues solved every year. Then every time you solve a business issue and deliver a quick won, you should publicise this around the organisation for all you are worth, making sure everyone is aware of the business value you have delivered. Ideally look to deliver one such success story once a quarter.
These success stories are your protection. When your high level support disappears, just like a critical handhold coming away in a climbers hand, your reputation will save you and you fall only as far as your last well-publicised business success.

Make sure, as a knowledge manager, you fix your protection. Business reorganisation can come at any time, and without protection, nobody is safe.

View Original Source Here.

How to avoid Dualism in Knowledge Management

We tend to divide Knowledge Management into opposing categories. Sometimes this is useful, but often this dualism is illusory.

Image from wikimedia commons

Dualism is the idea that, for some particular domain, there are two fundamental kinds or categories of things or principles. It is an “either-or” mindset, which seeks to separate things: mind and body, for example, or good and evil, or Yin and Yang.

Dualism is often a western mindset, and many eastern philosophies take a different view, where apparently opposite or contrary forces like Yin and Yang may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent, and may give rise to each other as they interrelate (see picture!).

There has been a lot of dualism imposed on Knowledge Management – seeing things as alternatives rather than parts of a spectrum, or parts of a total system. For example, consider the following Knowledge Management questions, all of which I have heard asked:

  • “Which is more important – Questions or Answers?”
  • “Which strategy are you taking – Connecting or Collecting?”
  • “Is KM best introduced Top-down, or Bottom up?”
  • “Is KM all about People, or Process, or Technology, or Governance?”
  • “Which should I focus on – Conversation, or Content?”
All of these questions assume dualism, and only make sense if you assume dualism.
Now consider the following non-KM questions, and tell me if they make sense:
  • “Which is more important – the positive terminal on a battery, or the negative?”
  • “Which approach do you take when walking, using your right leg, or your left leg?”
  • “Is it better to begin with breathing out, or breathing in?”
  • “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
  • “Is a coin all about the Heads, or the Tails?”

These second questions are ridiculous, and we know they are ridiculous because they try to apply dualism to something we know is a system – an electrical current, breathing, a coin, chicken-breeding and bipedal locomotion.

For me, the first set of questions are equally ridiculous. They also are applying a dualistic mindset to something that is a system.

  • Questions and Answers are both equally important (or equally unimportant) in Knowledge Management. They are Demand and Supply, and both are needed for the flow of Knowledge. One without the other is pointless.
  • You should be developing a Connecting AND Collecting strategy. These are not alternatives.
  • KM is best introduced Top-down AND Bottom-up. Both the Top and the Bottom are stakeholders and both need to be involved.
  • KM is all about People, and it is all about Process, and it is all about Technology, and it is all about Governance. These are the 4 legs on the KM Table.
  • You should focus on Conversation AND Content. Content is something to talk about, Conversation is where Content is born and where it is Tested

In each case the apparent opposties may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent, and may give rise to each other as they interrelate – juts like Yin and Yang.

Beware the Western Dualist Mindset, that loves alternatives and opposites. KM is less about “either-or” and more about “both-and”.

View Original Source Here.

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