Sunday, November 25, 2012

Harold Jarche's "Seek Sense Share"

Just finished reading Harold Jarche's "Seek Sense Share" paper on Personal Knowledge Management. 99% of the content resonates with me, so I'll focus on the 1% that has awakened by sense-making / critical thinking, based on personal experience.  This 1% covers two related issues, the scope of one's PKM system and the extent of public sharing and boundaries of public sharing.

I consider my PKM system to encompass all aspects of my life, not just my professional life and related semi-professional interests. However, being a reasonably private person, I have no intention of sharing all of it. Deciding which "public" tools to use to share specific types of information is an important part of learning how to make the most out of a PKM system.

Harold Jarche doesn't suggest we should share everything.   Determining the scope of one's blog, the types of resources to tag on social bookmarking sites are all important aspects of PKM.

In addition, blogging about one's work on a public site isn't always possible or advisable.  Most organizations are smart enough not to try to stop you completely from doing it but they will warn you to use common sense, which could mean that "internal issues" should not be discussed on external platforms.  If you blog internally -- on a personal blog within your organization's firewall -- you may be connecting to key organizational networks, but you miss out on connections with the rest of the world.

In the end, setting up a meaningful PKM system involves much more than identifying the right combination of tools to support seeking, sensing and sharing.  There are multiple strategic aspects that were not discussed in Harold Jarche's piece.  Still, please remember that I started by saying that I completely agree with 99% of it. I just think it needs a little more in terms of guidance to help potential Personal Knowledge Managers navigate key elements of their "system."

Also, I would have liked a mention of the fact that PKM systems need to be very flexible and dynamic, to be able to address new interests, to allow for new tools and constant experimentation.  I go through bursts of seeking/sensing (less sharing) and the tools I use vary over time.  I'm neither consistent nor systematic about any of it.  In the past, I've asked myself whether I shouldn't be more systematic and efficient about it.  I've now decided that messy and flexible is perfectly fine, especially since my PKM system is mostly private.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Never too late....

It's never too late to take physics 101.  In high school, I took the mandatory science but I was on what we called the literary track (this was the French high school system).  In college, I had to take a full year of science and it had to include a lab component.  I did what non-science majors did and I took environmental science.  It was science I could relate to.

Years later, here I am working with engineers and scientists.  For the past four years, I am wondered if the fact that I was neither an engineer nor a scientist would hinder my ability to work effectively with engineers and scientists.  I don't have an answer either way but more recent conversations with my daughters around their college plans and career aspirations unearthed a new train of thoughts.  It is never too late to learn.  Of course I have no interest in going back to school for a degree in science or engineering.  Yet I crave a basic understanding of things in all fields.  And so, I have a Pavlovian response when I encounter new learning opportunities.  The latest one is Coursera, an online learning platform with course content developed by great university professors.

In early 2013, I will take "How Things Work", the equivalent of Physics 101 for non-scientists, taught by UVA professor Louis A. Bloomfield.  An additional cool factor is that my daughter will be taking the course in its face-to-face version at UVA.

I'm not doing this just to learn basic physics.  I'm also interested in the experience of such courses and therefore I will turn this into a little meta-learning experiment.  It's amazing that such great content is made available to all in such a fashion.  Yet, in the absence of a real need for me to complete the course, will my basic interest in learning something new be sufficient to motivate me to complete the course?  How much will I really learn?  Will I get tired of it and distracted by some other, more interesting learning opportunity? Will the fact that I am doing this as part of a broader learning experiment motivate me to complete the course?

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Dream Job Delusions

I have, for a while, been keeping an eye on Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning positions advertised on the job market.  I do this for all of the obvious reasons one would keep an eye on the job market even when fully employed. I may even have blogged about it in the past.

There is one aspect of this ongoing process that I have struggled with.  As a seasoned professional, I should know better than to entertain ideas about dream jobs.  I've seen glimpses of dream KM jobs in a handful of position descriptions in the past few years.   I have now learned to recognize the unhealthy thinking patterns that necessarily follow the "ahah" moment of coming upon a dream job description and I'm better able to handle them. All I have to do is remind myself that the dream job description is an illusion.

Until you are in the position and you have experienced the work environment for a while, you can't possibly know that it's going to be your dream job.  The good news is that if and when I have to be on the job market, based on my habit of keeping an eye on job descriptions, I have a good sense of the possibilities and I (hopefully) wouldn't feel compelled to apply everywhere and accept the first job offer.  I feel better knowing that these potential dream job positions exist, I have the qualifications for them, and I am better prepared to apply for them if the need arises.

Dream jobs contemplation is best left to new graduates.  This doesn't preclude me from continuously revising, tweaking, and updating my aspirations and looking forward with great optimism.  Next time I come across a "dream job" description, I'll will smile and move on.

Here's the "dream job" that triggered this post:  Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning Specialist.  In the end, it made me realize that I needed to update my idea of a dream job and focus on more specific aspirations that I can realize within the context of my current occupation (or in parallel with it).

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Insight into Knowledge Transfer

I came across an interesting insight a few weeks back.  It was one of those things you stop to write down in a couple of sentences to make sure you don't lose it. I wrote it down on a large sticky note which I then proceeded to misplace.  It doesn't matter.  The process of writing it down was apparently sufficient to put it in memory.

How do we learn from other's experience?  If we learned only from our own experience, we'd be wasting lots of opportunities to benefit from the experience of others. Yet we also know that the best teacher is experience.  Does our ability to empathise or feel what someone else is feeling help us learn from others' experience?  If so, what's the exact mechanism? My hypothesis is that when we hear about someone else's experience, the learning effect is mostly indirect:  it affects how we interpret our own experiences moving forward.  The strength of the effect is also likely to be related to how relevant that other person's experience is to our own and the extent to which we are able to interpret that experience.

If someone tells me about their experience with meditation, I will learn very little from it because I have no experience of my own with meditation.  What I learn from that conversation may be very superficial and barely raise my level of interest in the topic.  I simply don't have the background knowledge to make the most of what I am hearing.

If, however, someone tells me about their experience writing their first novel, I have the personal experience and my own set of insights to leverage as background in order to interpret what I am hearing. This is not really a new insight because we know that expertise is best transferred from novice to more experience professionals rather than from novice to expert (the gap in knowledge must not be too big).

The key insight for me was that when we learn from others, the learning might mostly come in the shape of new insights into how we interpret our own experiences rather than learning directly from the experience of others.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Impact of National Culture on Collaboration

Thoughts & Insights
"The Impact of the National Culture on the Interactive and Collaborative Approaches to Knowledge Management: An Exploratory Study," by Pavel Bogolyubov, Prof. Mark Easterby-Smith, and Dr. Valerie Stead.  

  • We take national culture for granted.  Within NASA, when we talk about culture, it may refer to two things: 1) the NASA organizational culture, which can either refer to 1a) the aspects of organizational culture that were identified as contributing to the organization's most visible failures (Challenger and Columbia accidents); or 1b) the strong innovation and "can do" attitude; 2) the various organizational cultures (center-specific culture, scientist vs. engineering cultures) that exist within the organization. In the context of international partnerships, paying attention to cultural differences across nations would make a lot of sense.  I have a feeling that cultural differences tend to be seen as obstacles to be overcome.  One problem with this approach is that communication is perceived as the solution, yet -- beyond the potential for translation challenges -- communication is highly culturally sensitive.  So, when NASA engineers think they're making extra efforts to communicate because they're working with a foreign partner, the foreign partner may perceive that extra effort as an attempt to impose NASA views and practices rather than true collaboration.  In short, the NASA engineers can't help it.  What they consider best practices in terms of communications will be culturally determined and not necessarily the best approach in the context of an international partnership.  

Thursday, August 02, 2012

PMP Exam Prep (follow up)

Yes, I did pass the exam.
In retrospect, what was most helpful in preparing for the test?

  • Practice Tests
    Answering lots of sample questions from different sources  It's important to work with different sources because you need to develop a certain flexibility in quickly reading questions and interpreting them, regardless of the style or phrasing.  Books that come with sample questions are good but they tend to include questions that have an obvious answer if you read that book. They're also useful if they have detailed explanations of the answer.  You want to understand why you answered a question wrong and correct your understanding of that specific topic, not just go back to study that process or knowledge area. Most of the time, I practiced 20-30 questions in a row, taking my time, but I also practiced a couple of longer tests with up to 200 questions, just to get a sense of how fried my brain would be on test day and to make sure I was going to have enough time.  I was clearly spending more time with questions that required calculations and the application of formulas, so I spent more time practicing those.
  • Books
    For my first pass at all the knowledge areas, I used PMBOK.  When I realized that wasn't going to be enough, I turned to the one book everyone seemed to recommend: Rita Mulcahy's book. I purchased it late in my review process (2/3s into it) and used it for my second pass at all the knowledge areas.  I was not disappointed.  I did not do all the exercises, but it was excellent in helping me get a high degree of clarity on key concepts and processes.  I checked out a couple of other books from my library just to scan through and check that I wasn't missing something.
  • Courses
    I took the cheapest possible online course to satisfy the training requirement.  It  was "good enough" but certainly not sufficient.  I complemented that with online courses I found available free through my workplace.  Those were really good at providing yet another angle, other styles of questions and each focused on specific knowledge areas.
  • Online resources
    I subscribed to a daily email with a PMP exam question and regular PMP prep podcasts but didn't really keep up with them. I didn't have time but I think they can be very helpful.  For specific concepts that were difficult for me to grasp, I looked up YouTube videos. When I looked up multiple definitions and explanations of some concepts that were giving me trouble.
  • Memorization
    I memorized all the formulas and the matrix of processes.  I started my day with a two blank sheets of paper and tested my memory until I could replicate the formulas and matrix without errors.  I also stared at the process diagrams, not so much to memorize them but as a way of going through everything I knew about each process and how they interacted.  I created index cards for definitions and concepts.  One way I knew I was as ready as I'd ever be was when I stopped adding cards.  No matter what new resource I was using to study, I wasn't encountering anything new.  By then, my understanding might not be perfect, but I was pretty confident that I had at least covered everything and no question on the test should surprise me. 
  • Study Schedule
    I started studying in early May and immediately registered for the online course so that I could apply to take the test.  I'm a morning person, so my study hours were 4:00-5:30am every day, probably more on weekends.  My initial plan was to spend the whole summer studying, but once I was deemed qualified to take the test, some time in June, I felt confident enough that I could take the test in late July and not spend my entire summer studying.  With a clear deadline in the back of my mind, I was able to pace my review using Rita's book by covering two knowledge areas per week and a minimum of 200 practice questions per week.  
Part of personal knowledge management has to do with understanding how you, as an individual, learn best, and the kind of learning that different situations require.  Learning something for the sake of passing a test such as PMP is different from everyday on-the-job-learning.  It involves a certain amount of intensive studying towards a particular deadline and then half of that new knowledge dissipates in thin air as soon as the exam is over. 

Sunday, July 08, 2012

PMP Exam Prep

A few thoughts on my experience so far preparing for the PMP exam:
1. There are apparently two types of people who fail the PMP exam: a) the experienced project managers who have trouble ignoring what they do in real life and accepting the PMBOK way as the way it should be done; b) the wannabe project managers who may have a significant amount of book knowledge but haven't had many opportunities to apply that knowledge in real world large scale projects.  I belong to the second category, with a slight advantage due to the fact that while I don't manage large projects requiring sophisticated PM approaches, I have, for the past four years, been very close to large, complex projects using advance project management methods.  My strategy for mitigating my weakness (lack of direct experience managing large projects) is to connect concepts to real life projects I know of, and to try to answer as many of the more difficult, situational questions I can find.

2. Some things I read about or heard about turned out to be true:  a) You can't rely on PMBOK alone; b) Rita Mulcahy's PMP Exam Prep is excellent; c) You can't rely on memorization -- I certainly can't because I can barely memorize my own telephone number, but you have to memorize key formulas and the processes matrix.  Even with the formulas, it's best to understand what they mean to have a chance of reconstructing them should memory fail.

3.  Iteration is key:  Don't expect to absorb everything in any of the knowledge areas with one pass. Read the material, take some sample test questions, see what you're missing, move on to another topic, then come back to revisit key concepts and get a deeper understanding.

4. I am having a very difficult time with inputs and outputs.  I'm less than a month away from the exam and I'm estimating that I know 50% of them.  I know the obvious, logical ones.

5.  I never thought I would have to learn network diagrams, forward and backward passes, but it's not that hard.  I'll get it wrong if they throw a trick question at me but I can get the basic critical path and float questions.

That's it for now.  More to come when I pass/fail at the end of the month.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Just do it - PM & KM

I've finally made up my mind.  For several years now, I've been tempted by the idea of becoming PMP certified.  It started at my previous jobs.  We were clearly involved in project work, yet not using any kind of rigorous methodology for implementing projects.  At NASA, project management is taken very seriously, and since I work directly with the office that is the equivalent of a PMO (Project Management Office), projet management terminology and methodology is everywhere.  It's taken me a while, but I'm finally getting it.  I first had to dwelve into PMBOK when I had to develop a basic taxonomy for a SharePoint site that serves as a centralized access point for lessons learned and insights from projects.  Interestingly, there was already a pretty good match between our existing categories of lessons learned and the "knowledge areas" used in PMBOK.  Once I mapped out the relationships and equivalencies between PMBOK and NASA's own policies for project management (NPR 7120.5), I was on a roll.

On top of that, my primary job involves getting projects to pay attention to "projet learning." PMBOK talks about lessons learned as a closing process.  The main point that needs to get across to project managers is that lessons learned isn't something you do only at the end of the project in the closing phase of the project, it's something you do as an iterative process at the end of each phase of the project. They understand the iterative nature of the project management process groups.  The next step is to make sure that they spell this out in their project plan so that they include project learning activities as an element of phase closing processes.

Now that I've opened my eyes to the potential for linkages between what I was working on (KM), how the PMO and Project Managers think and operate, I've finally made up my mind.  I'm studying for PMP certification. 

What did it for me?
  • The projects I manage are very small (on a NASA scale). PM methodologies can be tailored to even the smallest of projects.  Just thinking of what I do as distinct projects is helpful.  Reporting and communicating about my projects with project management tools, techniques and terminology in mind can't hurt.
  • Since I work primarily with PMP certified folks, it helps to understand their language and their mental framework (even if I am neither an engineer or scientist).
  • I just like to have specific learning goals.  Informal learning is great, but once in a while, I like to focus on something that fits within clear boundaries.  PMP certification is definitely a well scoped out learning goal, though I realize it's just a beginning in terms of project management learning. 
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Saturday, March 03, 2012

What happens when I read a non-fiction book?

A lot happens before I sit down to read in terms of deciding to check this book out but here I am talking about a book that I have already decided is worth reading, for whatever reason.  Therefore I am sitting with this book intending to read it, not just scan through it.

1. To take notes or not
Within a few pages, I know whether this is a book I am going to end up scanning for the overall message or this is a book I am going to take notes on.  Most books will not hold my interest fully to the end.  Somewhere after the mid-point, I start skipping paragraphs that I recognize as fluff based on the pattern established in previous chapters, and I skip them.  I also skip extended descriptions in fiction. 

2. What to capture in notes
Assuming the book is interesting enough for me to take notes, I'll tend to write the chapter title, perhaps a couple of key points per chapter, a quote here and there, and I tend to make a note of other books mentioned in the text.  I know there is usually a list of books and related references in an appendix but I like to make note of the books mentioned in the context within which they were mentioned. 

3. Connecting
Once I'm deep into the book, my mind starts wandering and I start making connections with totally different aspects of my life.  I also start giving myself tasks or action items.  I mark those with an empty check box in my notes.  Of course, I never go back to check them, but it's a way of differentiating a thought from the book from my own thoughts and to do lists.

4. Dissent
Sometimes, I start to get annoyed by the author's argument or recommendations because they suggest something I would never do. I never do exercises.  I know the whole point of the exercise is to act upon newly acquired knowledge but the exercises are not useful to me.  I should rephrase that. Following the exercises in the exact manner they've been laid out is not something I ever do.  However, I don't skip the exercise sections altogether.  I read them and sometimes they inspire me to do something related.  In general, I'd much rather come up with my own follow up activities because they're much more likely to be related to something I NEED to figure out or improve.

5. Useful interruptions
I get interrupted, read something else, and the connections between the two items I've been reading appear.

The idea to reflect a little upon this question, "what happens when I read a non-fiction book?" came from reading Madelyn Blair's Riding the Current: How to Deal with the Daily Deluge of Data. I've read the book quickly.  It wasn't trash reading, but I did skip a lot of the stories and because it is written in a simple, readable style, it is a quick read.    I wanted to get a better handle on the key elements of the framework being presented.  It's actually difficult to get a good handle on them by skipping the stories.  The chapter "lessons" help a little.

I came to this book with a pretty good understanding of my own learning style and having used personal learning plans before.  Therefore, I was looking for ways to revive, re-energize my personal learning practice rather than start from scratch.  One of my first reactions was to realize that in my existing approach, I did not have a practice partner or accompanier.  I also don't have a very "social" approach to personal learning.  Everybody knows that learning is social, so I must be missing a great deal.  Well, the chapter on "Finding the Right Crew" is what started to annoy me.  As an introvert, when I am told that I need to go learn by interviewing people, I am likely to skip the chapter and move on.  While the author acknowledges that some people will be uncomfortable with the approach and she provides some guidance on how to interview people, I think it would have been much more useful to offer alternatives.  The author's bias towards conversations and interactions could be tempered by recognizing that all learning styles are equally valid and there are alternative approaches for introverts.  Here, the useful interruption in my reading happened when I picked up Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, and revolted internally against recommendations that appear to assume we're all extroverts (and if we're not we should really make an effort to become extroverts because we're really missing out on some good stuff!).  No, I will not go interview people.  I will find my own way to get relevant information.  I know ME.  An interview will not help me.

So, while I am not going to do the exercises, I did gain some useful insights and will be able to take some action based on 1) a renewed interest in better understanding how I learn best; 2) a sense of mission in terms of finding approaches that would be palatable to introverts.  Last but not least, I noted a half dozen other books that I'd like to check out.

But Madelyn Blair would most likely agree with me that a book, any book, will mean different things to different people.  Some readers will trash read it and others will go all the way and do all the exercises.  I was somewhere in the middle.

Here's my list of follow up actions based on reading Riding the Current:
  • Inventory all the resources and processes I use (or have used in the past) to learn something new.
  • Assess the value added, eliminate what's not working well, think of new approaches that would address the social dimension of learning from an introvert's perspective.
  • Add five books mentioned in Riding the Current to my "to read" list.
  • Consider options for establishing a book group at work focused on the many dimensions of "learning" and connect with the library, human resources staff, and key "friends" of our KM office.
  • Find introvert-appropriate ways to share what I learn. 
  • Strengthen the connection between my learning resources and processes to my long-term professional/career goals.