Wednesday, January 26, 2011

About Knowledge Management Plans and Strategic KM

In the past 18 months, I have done a lot of thinking (and a lot of drafting of plans and requirements documents) about KM plans in the context of an attempt to "institutionalize" or "scale up" KM within the organization.  To me, the critical question isn't so much whether a KM plan would be a good idea or not, but rather, how do you make it happen when there is no requirement or mandate for projects to have such a plan.  

So, here's the real question for me: Do you try to create a KM requirement and then go about enforcing it, or do you work with project teams to create and implement a plan because they've come to believe in the value of KM activities embedded in the plan?

To get to the point where they believe in the value of KM activities, you need to convince them to actually implement some KM activities.  Perhaps they'll agree to do an activity or two, but they won't experience the full value unless they do it systematically, throughout the project's life cycle.  If you implement ad hoc KM activities with the project, they'll start seeing KM as just that, "ad hoc" and not something that's truly embedded into the project.  It becomes something that the KM team does with them once in a while rather than their KM activity.

Why KM Plans (January 24, 2011), Nick Milton in Knoco Stories - From the Knowledge Management Front Line

"One of the push-backs we often get when we introduce KM plans is “why do we need a plan? Any good engineer will naturally do all the learning they need; surely a KM plan or learning plan is just added work for no added value?”

I posted a comment in response to this blog post, suggesting that when there isn't a requirement for a KM plan, it may be more effective to integrate KM elements into existing plans.  I've seen it integrated into the Risk Management Plan.

 Knowledge management Plans,

"The concept of a project-level Knowledge Management plan is one of the most exciting new ideas to come out of Knowledge Management in the past 5 years. It is a device that allows Knowledge Management to be fully embedded into project controls, at the same level of rigour as risk management, or document management."

I strong believe in the potential of KM plans.  They're particularly valuable in the context of large, complex projects that are driven by plans and requirements and document management to begin with.The project may be complex, but the KM plan needs to be simple and leverage other things that are already planned within the project. 

See also Knoco Newsletter on Knowledge Management Plans (Spring 2007).

Planning for Strategically Relevant KM

Are You Wasting Money on Useless Knowledge Management?, January 20th, Harvard Business Review, by Ian MacMillan, Max Boisot, and Martin Ihri. 

"The problem is that most current knowledge management efforts merely inventory the company's knowledge, without parsing out the knowledge that is strategically relevant. Strategic management of knowledge focuses only on those knowledge assets that are critical to your firm's competitive performance — from the tacit expertise of key individuals right through to explicit company-wide general principles."
I agree with the statement above.  That's also why all the current attention given to social media as a KM solution, is potentially misguided if it is seen merely as a way to better connect people. Also, strategically relevant KM at the organizational level may imply KM activities at the organizational level rather than just KM at the project level.  There are different layers of strategic KM activities at each level of the organization.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tool of the Week - Quora

I became aware of Quora through Twitter.  I was noticing Quora this and Quora that without understanding what it was and eventually I must have clicked on a link and ended up on the Quora site.

Quora is a Q&A tool with a social networking dimension. It's integrated with Twitter. These days, everything needs to be integrated with Twitter it seems. You set up an account and off you go, posting questions and answering other people's questions.

It reminded me of Aardvark, a similar Q&A service that I tried out (never really got into) a few months ago and Wolfram Alpha. Aardvark is more about seeking advice about where to take your next vacation and Wolfram Alpha is more like querying an encyclopedia. I'm simplifying.

Aardvark seemed to be a Q&A in a vacuum, with random people answering your questions whereas Quora collects and displays answers in a semi-organized fashion and allows you to identify topics of interest and people to follow. Wolfram Alpha is a powerful search engine that retrieves verified information. At least that's my impression.

As a public tool, these are interesting experiments but I'm more interested in their potential application within organizations. There is a significant amount of literature on knowledge management systems within organizations specifically focused on Q&A types of "solutions." These are based on a number of assumptions: 1) there is a demand and supply side in the knowledge equation, a market; 2) the correct incentives are in place and all you need is a tool to act as a bridge between knowledge seekers and knowledge owners.

When you set up tools such as Yammer within an organization, you are essentially opening up broader avenues for people to connect, potentially ask questions and get answers. You should not expect everyone to use these new channels for Q&A purposes and you should not expect this to be THE solution. A Q&A system such as Quora, when implemented within an organization, has the advantage of gathering answers into one spot. Answers don't get lost in the traffic, they accumulate, in a not-so-orderly fashion, around questions.

I haven't explored the tool long enough to understand its true potential, but long enough to have a few questions: How much structure should be imposed for the system to remain useful and usable? How much policing and training is necessary to avoid complete chaos? How do you deal with the skeptics who will inevitably say that none of the content is "validated" knowledge, that it could actually be dangerous if people follow the advice posted and it's wrong.

It's not exactly a new idea. I remembered reading a paper by Ackerman & Malone titled "Answer Garden: a tool for growing organizational memory,"  from 1990 (might as well be a century ago).

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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Links of the Week (01/08/2011)

Read Knowledge Management Below the Radar
January 4, 2011, by Adam Richardson
My Comments:If my own experience is of any value, it's best to allow KM to thrive "under the radar" wherever it wants to sprout across the organization rather than try to control it centrally from a KM Office.  The challenge is that letting KM-related activities emerge and grow organically may result in a multitude of pockets of knowledge and associated technologies that are not necessarily well integrated or connected.  You can end up with knowledge silos.  So, the KM Office, if there is one, has a role to play in connecting the dots and providing broad guidance as well as... and this is very important, filling the gaps... doing what is critical from a KM perspective that isn't already being done. 

A good example of that are the case studies our office develops based on the experience of projects.  Project teams may focus on their own lessons learned, which they should, ideally, handle internally, with the KM Office's support as needed  However, the project teams are not likely to spend time writing a case study meant to disseminate what they've learned to other projects.  It's something the KM Office can take on as a service to the organization as a whole, facilitating the transfer of lessons from one project to the rest of the organization.

Related Links
  • Office of the Chief Knowledge Officer, Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA (that's where I work)

  • NASA Case Studies

  • Read How to Make Use of Your Organization’s Collective Knowledge – Accessing the Knowledge of the Whole Organization - Part I, by Nancy Dixon

    My Comments: Nancy Dixon's posts aren't your typical blog posts, they're well thought out essays.  They usually come in a series on a particular topic. She talks about "sensemaking" as the first step in making use of an organization's collective knowledge.  In a practical setting, we call it "Pause and Learn," and it's a two-hour team reflection activity that enables members of a team to have a conversation about the salient aspects of a particular project experience. For project teams, one of the challenges is accepting the fact that this relatively simple conversation is valuable (i.e, worth spending precious time on).

    Related Link
  • Knowledge Management at Goddard: Pause & Learn

  • How do Rocket Scientists Learn?