Sunday, December 25, 2016

I was wrong and here is what I learned

How often do we say "I was wrong"?  I know I don't do it that often and when I do, I'm likely to brush it off as a small error in judgment, giving myself a chance to move on quickly. I am rather good at self-justification and denial when it suits me.  We all are.

After reading Matthew Syed's Black Box Thinking, I followed up with Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), by Travis and Aronson, both of which inspired the following question which should be asked of job applicants:  "Have you ever been convinced of something only to change your mind when confronted with evidence that you were wrong?  Tell me about it."  It's an interesting alternative to "tell me about a time when you failed at somethinig?"

I was wrong and here is what I learned.

Based on my interpretation of past experience, I was convinced that a Pause and Learn session (group reflection activity) is best implemented with minimal preparation on the part of the participants.  The standard process involved a planning meeting between the session facilitator (me) and the point of contact within the project (typically the project manager or his deputy) to idiscuss who should be invited to the Pause and Learn session and what the key topics or areas of focus might be.  While the standard Pause and Learn questions are generic enought to work in 90% of Pause and Learn session, the fact that they are so generic can throw people off a little.  With some advanced knowledge of the project's experience and key topics to be addressed during the session, the facilitator is better able to guide the conversation without necessarily mandating that the specific topics be addressed.

It is also not unusual for the project POC during that planning meeting or even before that meeting, to inquire as to what he/she needs to ask the participants to do to prepare for the meeting.  I generally respond that while they should obviously feel free to think about their experience, what they've learned, what went well and what could have been done differently, they do not need to prepare anything. My fear in this context has always been that each attendee would come ready with their individual lessons in PowerPoint format and the session would turn into a dozen or more individual presentations of individual lessons.  These types of presentations do not lend themselves to discussion or group learning.  Once something is written down as a lesson on a PowerPoint chart, it is more difficult for anyone to dispute it than if someone makes a point verbally within a conversation.

For these reasons and the fact that the No Preparation method is what I was taught by the Chief Knowledge Officer when I was still in training mode with regards to Pause and Learn sessions, I have consistently tried to dissuade teams from doing written prep-work.  

I have also, over the years, learned to be flexible. My role is to help the projects document their lessons, not implement a rigid, standardized process.  Some projects have done just fine documenting their lessons without my support, implementing their own process.  

A couple of weeks ago, I was approached by a project to conduct a Pause and Learn session and I could immediately tell based on early email interactions that the team was planning on doing some pre-work. Two positive points here:  1) they approached me.  I didn't have to chase them down; 2) they are volunteering for some extra work and they obviously take this very seriously.  

My initial instinct was to convince them not to go that route.  Finally, meeting face-to-face with the project POC, we came to an agreement, openly discussing my reservations about the approach and coming up with mitigation strategies to ensure that my concerns would not materialize but they would have the benefit of pre-work. 

* While each of the participants would prepare some written materials, these were meant for discussion and each participant would need to prioritize their lessons.  There would be only time to discuss 2-3 key lessons per person.
* No specific file format was mandated.  The draft lessons came in as PowerPoints, emails, Excel spreadsheets, and Word document.  No template for documenting a lesson was mandated or even suggested, Some came in the form of well-thought out paragraphs while others followed a standard template with a lesson title, context section, lesson description, and recommendation section. Allowing people to articulate their lessons freely without too many format constraints is important at this stage.  That's a hypothesis more than a fact.  One could also argue that it's difficult to reconcile different formats and interpretations of what a lesson really is unless a standard format and template is provided to all. 

What happened?

I gained confidence in the approach when I saw the initial draft lessons learned coming in ahead of the session.  There were a lot of high value lessons for discussion.

Throughout the session itself, the Project POC played a key role in helping me to control the flow of the conversation so that we would keep moving and not lose momentum in rabbit holes.  His intimate knowledge of the existing team dynamics were particularly helpful.  Whereas he knew when someone's silence was perfectly normal and expected, I didn't.  Whereas he knew who was going to wander off with tangents and he could stop them early, as an outsider to the project, I didn't.  

This high performance, highly disciplined team proved to me that this new approach could work very well.  Would I recommend it for every team?  No, but it's definitely an option to consider.


  • It is possible to change one's mind even after it has been made up, but it does take some work. It's uncomfortable. Being open minded and flexible means being willing to reconsider assumptions and prior experience -- without completely ignoring prior experience, hence the uncomfortable tension.  In this case, open discussion of the potential drawbacks of the approach, and active mitigation (both in the planning and implementation of the session) were very helpful in addressing my discomfort/anxiety.
  • Be willing to experiment with new approaches, and treat these experiments as serious opportunities to learn.   If the new approach works, ask yourself questions:  Why/how does it work?  Under what conditions would it work/not work?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Mapping Your Speech

I've been a member of Toastmasters for a couple of years.  During that time, I've used a number of methods for preparing speeches, including notecards, fully developed and highly polished text, slide decks, and maps.  I find the map to be the most effective method for quickly developing an organized speech and a set of notes that will fit on one piece of paper.

Here is an example of a map I developed for my latest speech.

Click on the map to open as a larger image in a separate window.
Depending on the intent of the speech, the map can also become a handout for audience members.  A much simpler map around the same theme could also serve as outline for an hour long workshop, allowing audience participants to start thinking about developing their own learning plans.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Uncertainty vs. Ambiguity

I wrote an article for an internal organizational newsletter recently about ambiguity and decision making in the context of project management ("Ambiguity, Decision Making and Program/Project Management," pgs. 22-24, The Critical Path, Winter 2016).  The impetus for the article had nothing to do with current political issues, but now it keeps coming back to mind.  The point I was trying to make in that article is that our aversion to ambiguity makes us dismiss ambiguity rather than force us to tackle it with critical thinking.  It's a cognitive bias we need to be more aware of.

People keep saying that we don't like uncertainty, but what they mean to say is that we don't like ambiguity.  What we are facing with the Trump transition are conditions that resemble ambiguity rather than uncertainty. Uncertainty can be characterized by known risks and probabilities associated with those risks being realized. Ambiguity is characterized by unknown risks and an inability to come up with the probability of various outcomes being realized. When faced with known risks and probabilities, we have risk management analytical tools that allow us to assess the risks and deploy various strategies to address them.  With ambiguity, we tend to hide our heads in the sand, which is never a good idea.  Ignoring a challenge because we don't know how to address it doesn't make it go away.

Regardless of our individual political affiliations, we need to acknowledge that what we are facing is an ambiguous situation rather than an uncertain situation.  Critical thinking skills will be at a premium.  Sharpen your minds!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Entrepreneurial Learning Curve in a Context of Effectuation

This week I came across the concept of entrepreneurial effectuation in a MOOC taught through Coursera by Phillipe Silberzahn.  A key concept behind "effectuation" is that rather than conduct thorough market studies to develop a very detailed strategy and business plan, entrepreneurs tend to launch themselves into the unknown (and sometimes the unknowable) in order to co-create new products and services by working closely with stakeholders, viewing clients almost as partners in the co-creation of new markets.

I wanted to try to elaborate on the learning aspect of this approach, which isn't emphasized in the MOOC.

In the traditional entrepreneurial approach, a great deal of learning happens in the planning phase, as she searches for all the data available about the existing market for the types of services or products she wants to provide, and the data she finds might actually redirect her ambitions towards specific services and products, abandoning an initial idea based on the data collected.  Learning in the planning phase has a huge impact on the strategy eventually being deployed and the nature of the business plan to be implemented.

In the context of effectuation, market research is assumed to have limited value and could constrain the entrepreneur's creativity and ability to develop new markets.  Instead, the critical factor for success is the entrepreneur's ability to learn from its early efforts and evolve the approach, developing the services and products over time and continuously learning and improving.

I would argue that an entrepreneur is therefore engaged in intensive action learning in the early phases of her adventure.  While the intensity of the learning may diminish as the "successful approach" emerges, the learning habit remains and continues to serve the enterprise well over time.

I don't think the entrepreneur has to completely abandon the traditional approach.  There is value in developing a tentative business plan and learning from other's failures and successes in the market she is interested in.  The key is to acknowledge the plan's weaknesses in terms of the assumptions being made and inadequacies of historical market data.  In addition, keep track of ideas that might have been too quickly dismissed by the narrow analysis of the current market.  Effectuation promotes the creation of new markets which could not have been easily predicted by traditional market analysis.

In short, here are a few steps to follow to integrate a strong action learning approach in the entrepreneurial adventure:

1. Develop a plan, but don't treat it as set in stone.  Psychologically, it can be useful to have done some work, to feel a little more prepared, even if the unknown and the ability to create a new path, develop a new market is precisely what attracts the entrepreneurs.

2. Plan for regular reviews, plan to pause and learn, with your key stakeholders.  It's easy to get pulled in all kinds of directions and try many different routes but at some point decisions have to be made about which path is truly going to be successful.

3. Don't become complacent when success is on hand.  Keep learning, improving, creating.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Skills and Tools - Don't Put the Cart Before the Horse

I just came upon a short article in the Harvard Business Review, "Until You Have Productivity Skills, Productivity Tools are Useless," which triggered the following insights.

You could easily replace every instance of the word "productivity" in that article and replace it with "knowledge management."  The point is that skills must come before tools.

Most efforts to build skills after the so-called KM platform has been deployed is really "training" to use that particular platform, failing to impart real knowledge management skills.

We deploy a lessons learned platform and we plan to train people on how to put lessons learned into the system, focusing entirely on the mechanics of uploading a document, filling a web-based lessons learned form.

A more valuable approach in the long term, which would also build buy-in from everyone involved, would start by asking how people have handled lessons learned without a sophisticated KM platform, identify the strengths and weaknesses of existing approaches and some of the lessons and insights that the employees have about lessons learned.

Before you can expect employees to actively participate in an effort to capture valuable lessons learned and post them in a KM system, a lot of groundwork needs to be done.  To be most effective, that groundwork, laying out the foundations for a learning organization, has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with how people think and behave around their own knowledge, that of their team and the entire organization.  Then, more specifically, the employees at all levels need to engage in productive high level conversations around lessons (What constitutes a lesson?  When is a lesson really learned?  How do we share lessons?) as well as more practical conversations, perhaps in the form of hands-on workshops, around documenting specific lessons and working through the complexities involved in that process.

Note that I am not advocating KM "training."  Employees do not need to be trained to become KM experts.  They need a little help thinking and doing their job with a more developed sense of what it means to be part of a learning organization.  None of this needs to be in the form of formal training.  Indeed, the more informal, conversational, hands-on, and embedded in the work flow, the better.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

USAID and NASA - A Tentative Comparison of Industry Trends and Current Knowledge Management Challenges

The table below doesn't claim to be a thorough comparison of USAID and NASA.  It's a quick glimpse at key characteristics that impact current knowledge management challenges, inspired by the SID - Future of AID session earlier this week and about 10 years of practical experience in both of these worlds.

This deserves much more reflection and more than a blog post and table.   It could be a full book, but I can't answer the "SO WHAT?" question.  I keep coming up with new mini-insights that need to be connected somehow to build the bigger puzzle. All I'm really saying is that the two agencies are not that different and key knowledge management challenges are common across industries even if NASA is perceived as being well ahead of USAID from a Knowledge Management perspective.

US Government Agency / Industry
USAID / International Development
NASA / Aerospace
Global Economic Development, Poverty Reduction
Science & Exploration
Programs and Activities implemented to achieve the goal
Broad commitment to SDGs, Country strategies, sector-specific programs, individual projects
High-level strategies in each key space science domains (astrophysics, heliophysics, earth science, etc..); programs and individual missions
Implementation Models
Public private partnerships; contracts and grants with implementing non-profits and for-profit private sector organizations

International collaboration: working within the United Nations system
Increased emphasis on private sector involvement; continued partnerships with industry as contractors and academia as partners/contractors; partnerships with other countries’ space programs

International collaboration: Space Station
Changes in the industry
New entrants:
·        Countries like China and India, operating under different models, different rules.
·        Private sector investors
·        Large individual donors and corporate donors
New entrants:
·        Countries with new space ambitions
·        Private sector taking over roles previously owned by government (transport to Space Station, launch services, etc…)
 Rapidly changing global economic and political environment; need to explore new implementation models.  NEED TO ADAPT FASTER, THEREFORE LEARN FASTER.
Rapidly changing technological innovation and implementation models. NEED TO ADAPT FAST, THEREFORE LEARN FASTER.
Key differences
Measuring success (‘IMPACT’) is a perennial challenge.  Scaling and replicability become difficult because there isn’t enough attention paid to “HOW” the activity was made to be successful.  Little emphasis on understanding the complex set of factors leading to success.  (See previous post)

Very little rigor in program and project implementation. (subjective judgment here, based on personal experience/perception)

What’s needed: Adaptive management, CRITICAL THINKING
Measuring success has never been an issue.  Success and failure are very clear and visible.  Identifying technical failures is a challenge when it happens on orbit, but the biggest challenge is identifying AND CORRECTING organizational failures.

High degree of rigor in project management (increasing rigor on cost and schedule dimensions), sometimes to the point of being a serious burden and impeding innovation.

What’s needed: Tailored application of project management “requirements”, CRITICAL THINKING
Knowledge Management Challenges
·        High turnover, shuffling around the same top contractors, same group of consultants (small world)
·        High barriers to entry (perhaps that’s changing with the emergence of new actors)
·        Generalists vs. specialists and the need for a holistic approach to problem solving, multi-disciplinary approach.
·        North-South discourse/issue, reinforcing impact of information technology
·        Absorptive capacity, perceived weakness of local knowledge capture/knowledge transfer.
Confusion around M&E, Knowledge Management and communications/PR resulting from the incentives structure (see previous blog post). 

DIFFICULTY IDENTIFYING REAL LESSONS, SPECIFYING “SUCCESS FACTORS”, INCLUDING CONTEXTUAL FACTORS.  NEED TO LEARN TO ADAPT AND INNOVATE.   Learning from flawed data on impact studies is… flawed.  Need to come up with something much more forward looking, agile and adaptive.
·        Retiring, aging workforce with critical experience-based knowledge is leaving
·        New entrants/partners are not using tested/proven approaches, steep learning curve, yet that’s how they can take risks and innovate
·        Need for insights from other fields, increased openness to insights from non-technical fields
·        Perennial challenge of cross-project knowledge transfer (“we are unique” mentality) and knowledge exchange across organizational boundaries.

This was a case where an insight map didn't seem to fit the purpose, yet I bet it would help me to connect the dots a little better. 

I had previously written about the two organizations:  Foreign Assistance Revitilization and Accountability Act of 2009, August 11, 2009.  A great deal of USAID's current focus on Monitoring, Evaluation, Knowledge Management and the CLA (Collaborating, Learning and Adapting) model emerged out of that 2009 legislation.  

See also "Defining Success and Failure: Managing Risk", July 29, 2009.

12/17/2016 - Addendum - There are many interesting and related insights in Matthew Syed's Black Box Thinking, which investigates how certain industries are much better (more thorough) at learning from their mistakes than others.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Social Impact Consulting

For almost a year now, I have been planning an exit from my full time job to re-enter consulting.  The date has been fixed for a while and with that deadline in mind, my thinking and planning have accelerated. To avoid developing an overly rigid plan based on unfounded assumption, I am focusing on developing a one-year plan around an overall project which I call my YOL, short for Year of Learning.

[I've previously blogged about the job transition from a knowledge transfer perspective.]

As I continue to take MOOCs, read, write and allow ideas to percolate, I have been able to draft a business plan that I can keep tweaking as time passes.    This Year of Learning is meant as a way to allow myself to experiment with various consulting models, different types of services, etc... and different markets.

A key element of that experiment will be to provide Knowledge Management support to individuals, groups and organizations working on social causes.  Perhaps it's a form of social impact consulting.  The idea was in the back of my head for a while when I was thinking in terms of potential clients and customers, but it crystallized this past week as I was viewing the videos for "Devenir Entrepreneur du Changement," a very good MOOC in French from HEC and Ticket for Change (offered on Coursera).

One of my goals will therefore be to test various social impact consulting models.  For example, would virtual coaching of social entrepreneurs make sense?  Could I provide one specific project with ongoing advice, KM and M&E support?  Could I provide a KM and M&E course or collaboration space for social entrepreneurs?

Social impact consulting isn't a new concept.  Consulting for any organization working in international development may be considered social impact consulting.  Many corporations have social responsibility programs.  Working with or for such programs may count as social impact consulting.  Those may well be key potential clients/customers for me in the future, but the true test of social impact consulting would to provide direct support to social entrepreneurs and non-profits operating on the ground, whether domestically in the US or globally.

And of course, there's a map for this....

Social Impact Consulting, Map # 22

I've also posted the map in its html version (with working hyperlinks) in my new space for insight maps. Check it out here.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Dealing with Complexity in Knowledge Management

This week, two LinkedIn posts and conversations and one MOOC made me reflect upon the way we deal with complexity.  This week was all about knowledge, the complexity of the world we live in and more specifically the complexity associated with knowledge capture and knowledge transfer, and the hidden dangers of simple solutions.

  • Nick Milton's post, "When "Copy Exactly" Pays Off in KM" discusses one possible strategy for going from development to large scale production from a knowledge transfer perspective.  The argument is that if you don't fully understand a complex system but you know that it works, don't mess with it.  If the black box works, don't open it up to try to understand how it works.  Just find a way to replicate the black box.

    This may work in a very narrow range of contexts. I just helped write a lesson learned in a very different context that suggested something completely different:  Beware a calling something a "rebuild" or a copy and assume the copy will be cheaper to build because we now know how to build it. Obviously, context is critical. I'm talking about rebuilding an instrument for a space mission.  Nick was talking about mass production of computer chips.

    In yet another context, international development, the idea of piloting an activity somewhere on a small scale and then implementing a "copy-and-scale" either in the same country or elsewhere is going to raise a few red flags.  Any push to scale or repeat in another geographical, economic, political and cultural context will likely require some "adaptation" when transferring knowledge.  In an international development context, I'd be very weary of replicating something just because it works somewhere, without understanding why / how it's working.

  • In another LinkedIn conversation, Chris Leljedal asked about best practices for collecting tacit knowledge from retiring employees. Of course, there are a number of ways to do it and again, the context is going to be critical in deciding what approach is both feasible, practical, and likely to yield the best results.  I would like to argue, however, that it would help to step back, pause for a second (or two) and ask a few other questions.

    For example, how did these retiring employees share their knowledge throughout their careers? The image that is perpetuated of "knowledge walking out the door" is a little misleading in my view.  Hopefully these retiring employees did not work in isolation and they've shared their knowledge through ongoing interactions with colleagues and through the normal workflow.  Putting the emphasis on trying to capture critical knowledge before employees leave is the wrong approach. There's nothing wrong with giving retiring employees an opportunity to celebrate their career and tell a few good stories as a way of transferring some last minute career lessons, but it's too little too late if the knowledge hasn't circulated through the organization already.

    This is where knowledge management meets human resources and talent management, where you can deal with the immediate threat of knowledge loss due to retiring employees with a relatively simple set of KM best practices, but the better option would be to look at the broader, more complex issues associated with long-term knowledge acquisition and knowledge retention through a human resources perspective in addition to the KM perspective.    I'm sure someone would also come in with an IT solution but I won't go there.

  • Finally, the MOOC I was keeping up with this week was "L'avenir de la décision:  connaitre et agir en complexité" (Translation: The future of  decision-making:  Knowing and Acting in Complexity).  The key insight I gathered was that we shouldn't ignore complexity and come up with simplistic solutions just because it's difficult and we shouldn't thrown the towel either.  We need to recognize complexity, accept it, but don't let it paralyze you.  Move forward with simple, short- and medium-term practical solutions based on realistic expectations and humility and keep trying to understand how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together (the complexity behind everything).  (see my puzzle post of late August and whether it ties in)

Monday, September 05, 2016

Improvements on the Horizon - Interactive Maps

Until now, I've always posted maps as static images.  While seeing a static map is better than just reading a description of a map is an improvement, it's still a long way from the enabling the viewer to truly understand the power of interconnected maps.  Until now, my inability to post interactive maps (i.e., maps that visitors can click on and navigate across) was a key challenge that forced me to post simple, individual maps that were disconnected from each other.

I'm excited by the improvements that are coming.  I'll be leveraging the mapping tool's cloud capability, which will allow me not only to build maps in the cloud, but also to publish clouds directly to the web for easy sharing.

As a first step, I've posted one map as proof of concept, which has already given me some idea of the limitations of the approach and some of the possibilities.

Here is another approach, posting the map to a Google Site open to the public but with my domain.

Much more to come....

Saturday, August 27, 2016

A Knowledge Management Puzzle

What does this picture have to do with knowledge management?

It's a picture of the box cover for a puzzle I'm working on.  I am now going to attempt to use that picture to talk about knowledge management.  I hope you're smiling.  This isn't too serious.

First, knowledge management is a puzzle.  It may not have 1500 pieces like the puzzle in the picture but it has a number of interlocking pieces and like a 1500-piece puzzle, it may seem overwhelming at first to try to tackle it all at once.

Second, if you're like me and you've worked on such puzzles before, you start with the edges and you frantically search in particular for the four corners.  I'm not sure there is a strong advantage to the approach but it ensure some quick wins because the edges are easier to find and then place so that within an hour or less you've accomplished something.  You need the positive feedback, the feeling that you CAN do this. The same can be said of knowledge management initiatives.  Fixing the big picture may seem intimidating but there are quick wins that can be found.

Third, the puzzle represented in the picture is two-dimensional but if you step back, you can pay attention to the picture, what it represents.  It's colorful but it's silent.  What's missing to give you a good sense of that environment, the context for that small village cobblestone street? This is just one angle and it's not even complete.  Our knowledge is never complete.  If we read a lesson learned without the appropriate context, we might miss the bigger point it's trying to make.  In working on a puzzle, if you focus on the mechanics (finding pieces of the same color for example), you might completely fail to pay attention to the picture that is emerging.  Don't lose sight of the big picture, the larger culture change that may need to happen for the organization to become a learning organization.

Fourth, there is a great deal of culture embedded in that piece of technology in the picture; the car.  It's an old "deux-chevaux".  Perhaps its knowledge management equivalent is the continued practice of using email (and attachment) to transfer knowledge.  It's part of the culture.  Don't ignore it.  Of course, that car is now a classic.

Fifth, you can't have a french street without a café. You need a café for conversation and some benches to take time to pause, think, reflect and talk with colleagues.

Sixth, you have flowers and plants flourishing here and there.  They need watering and nurturing on a regular basis.  These are perhaps your communities of practice.  I know it's a stretch but we're almost done.

As a first step, for a very quick win, I would recommend fixing the grammatical error on the puzzle's title:  Rue Français... No, it would have to be "Rue Française."

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Customer Journey Mapping

I've been exploring different types of maps.  The last post introduced a Knowledge Map.  This post will be introducing my first attempt at creating a customer journey map.

For a basic video introduction, see "How to Create a Customer Journey Map" by UX Mastery.

Consultants are often hired to help organizations develop their customer journey map. Do they ever apply the approach to their own services? (Click to Tweet this!)

Below is my initial map.  I suspect this would evolve over time to be more based on real experience than current expectations/wishful thinking.

Click on the image to open the map in a new tab.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A "Knowledge Map" for Fillip Consulting, LLC

The APQC refers to knowledge maps as "powerful tools to inventory an organization's critical knowledge and pinpoint areas that may be at risk."(APQC)

Here is a draft knowledge map for my own independent consulting (planning) effort.  In my case, I'm not thinking in terms of knowledge "at risk" but rather in terms of strengths and weaknesses, areas I might want to strengthen and areas that help me differentiate myself from the competition.

I identified three broad knowledge areas:
1. Management and business knowledge that is critical to thrive as an independent consultant;
2. Knowledge management knowledge since it is the domain where I am a subject matter expert; and 3. Technical skills that are essential for the successful delivery of the consulting services I want to focus on.

A variation of this could also be used as a taxonomy for my internal lessons learned.  If these are critical knowledge domains, it would make sense to document lessons and/or good practices over time using a consistent scheme. I will want to revisit this map regularly and adjust it.  It's a work-in-progress document.

Such a map is much easier to develop for an organization of one, but it helps to demonstrate some key principles that apply regardless of the size of the organization.  It can be developed at the project or team level, and within individual business units.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Mapping Lessons Learned to Improve Contextual Learning at NASA - APQC's August 2016 Webinar

A special invitation to join Dr. Rogers and I for a presentation on Mapping Lessons Learned at NASA. 

"If you missed APQC's 2016 KM Conference this past April, we've got a treat for you! Join us on Thursday, August 18 at 10:30 a.m. CDT for the August KM webinar, Mapping Lessons Learned to Improve Contextual Learning at NASA.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Chief Knowledge Officer, Dr. Edward Rogers, and Barbara Fillip from Inuteq, will repeat their highly-rated session from the conference on how Goddard has designed a KM program to fit the needs of the organization, focusing on one of the most essential aspects of the program: the process for documenting lessons learned from projects using concept maps.

This presentation will have a very brief intro to concept mapping, followed by an explanation of how and why it is used at NASA. Dr. Fillip and Dr. Rogers have worked on this together for seven years and will jointly address benefits of the approach as well as remaining challenges.
Can't make the webinar? Register anyway and you will receive a copy of the slides and recording, regardless of attendance. "

FOLLOW UP:  We had more than 400 live attendees and the webinar was very well received.  It worked well that we talked for 30 minutes and had 30 minutes of Q&A.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

KM and Integration

Yesterday's meeting of the Knowledge Management Association's DC Chapter was about integration (the joys and frustrations).  Integration can mean many different things.  To me, from a Knowledge Management big picture perspective, it has to do with making sure that KM activities and the overall strategy are a good fit for the organization, are as embedded in the workflow as possible, and well "integrated" with related functions such as HR, training/mentoring/coaching, but also IT, business strategy development/planning, etc... In other words, KM should not be an add-on; it's part of how the organization works.

Integration could also mean that as an employee looking for knowledge and information within the organization, I don't have to go to 20 different databases and disconnected networks that overlap and/or are incomplete.  Most people would welcome a personal dashboard with key job-related resources at their fingertips. We often attempt to create something that resembles such a dashboard.  For example, I use an image of my key performance goals on my desktop to serve as a framework for organizing key resources.  It's my personal dashboard. The more common alternative is an overloaded bookmark manager in the web browser.

I have struggled over the years with integrating my own set of personal knowledge and information management tools.  I take my personal knowledge management very seriously (perhaps obsessively) but I have often felt quite disorganized about it.  I always interpreted my perceived lack of organization as the result of my inability to stick to one tool for note-taking.  I'm sure I've written at least one blog post -- if not multiple posts -- about deciding between paper and electronic notebooks, mapping tools vs. wikis, etc...when in fact the solution was perhaps just to re-frame the question and think about it from an integration standpoint.  Consolidating everything into one or two tools does not necessarily make sense.  The key is to be consistent in the use of each tool and find ways to connect and integrate when necessary.  Below is a little map I came up with.

I have now resolved to maintain three separate TiddlyWikis.  I suppose everything could be combined in one but I prefer to separate them.  Specific pieces can easily be imported and synchronized from one to the other and therefore full integration is not critical.  Here are the distinctions between the three:
  •  Barbara's Notebook:  The headers in this wiki are things like Toastmasters, Gardening, Food, Bike & Hike, etc... The first entry dates from 2008. It has 240+ entries with the tab "garden" and 122 with the tab "fiction".  I also found journal entries from my first days working at NASA in 2008.  Obviously at the time I wasn't following my current scheme of separating personal from work-related items.  It would be quite interesting, since the data is there, to do a visual representation of the tags I used over time.  I know I was very heavily into soundtrack music for a couple of years for example.
  • Fillip Consulting, LLC is a TiddlyWiki I started in the fall of 2015 when I made the decision to go back to consulting.  It's fun to read my journal entries from less than a year ago and realize how far I've already gone.  This is where I will keep consulting related items from an operational standpoint.  I've added some functionalities to handle task management and a simple taxonomy with the tag function.  This will be for the business side of things.  It has major content tabs like "Business Plan", "tasks", "projects", and "customers".
  • Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning is a TiddlyWiki apparently started in 2009 (the timeline tells me so) entirely focused on readings and research related to my area of profesisonal specialization or domain of expertise.   Here the key tabs are "readings", "experts", "KM practices", and a glossary.
It feels reasonably organized at the moment.  Time will tell how long it lasts. :)

I also have a closed/inactive TiddlyWiki that was called "Learning Log", which was a fascinating experiment in writing a didactic novel using a wiki format. 

A big shout-out to the inventor of the TiddlyWiki, Jeremy Ruston, and all the people who have worked on its improvements and variations over the years. 

Don't get me wrong, when I'm sitting in my hammock in the backyard to read a book or to brainstorm, I go for the old-fashioned pen and paper to take notes (and now, reading glasses). 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Lessons Learned... again

"Lessons learned" is a perennial topic within knowledge management, one that is typically misunderstood and maligned.  I suspect many who pontificate about lessons learned (either saying they know how to do it very well or saying it's a waste of time) haven't spent a huge amount of time working (hands-on) with lessons learned.  As always, I could be wrong.  I just find it difficult to reconcile either extremes with my own experience.

I'll try to synthesize my views below:

1. Lessons learned activities have the potential for providing a great deal of value to individuals, teams and organizations, yet it's easy to completely miss the boat.

2. We often look for benefits of lessons learned activities in the wrong places.  Those who argue that lessons learned are a waste of time will point out that lessons tend to end in databases that are not used, where they languish and soon become obsolete.  I don't argue with that.  Instead, I think it's a mistake to assume that the primary benefit of lessons learned activity are to be derived from other people consulting a database.

3. The primary beneficiaries of lessons learned activities -- assuming the activity is done as a group -- are the people involved in the activity themselves.  This ensures that a) they take the time to reflect on an experience to articulate lessons; b) they do this as a team to avoid individual biases and narrow points of view.

4. Aggregating the lessons into some form of database has value even if not a single person comes to consult the database, as long as someone is responsible for doing analysis on the repository of lessons to identify trends, critical knowledge, issues to be addressed at the institutional level, etc...

5. Lessons learned activities are a source of valuable insights for other types of knowledge management activities, such as knowledge sharing workshops, where the issues emerging in lessons learned activities can be discussed in the context of panels of practitioners who can share their experience in much more engaging way than a database of lessons learned will ever be able to achieve.

  • Reframe the way you talk about lessons learned activities and their benefits.
  • Don't ditch the database idea.  Make sure the person responsible for the database isn't just uploading lessons.  You need an analyst, not a database administrator.
  • Continuously work to improve the way lessons learned are captured and to educate employees about what constitutes a valuable lesson.
  • Broaden your view of what a database of lessons learned might look like.  Hint:  It could be a collection of 100+ concept maps hyperlinked into a rich web of knowledge.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Future of Knowledge Management

In a recent LinkedIn post, Chris Collison addressed "the future of knowledge management - births, deaths or marriages?," in which noted the following, among other things:
Some things are 'evergreen'. People will always need to talk, learn, reflect, network, collaborate and interact.
I couldn't agree more but I would go even further.  I suspect reminding people of "the need to talk, learn, reflect, network, collaborate and interact" will only become more important as technology continues to change how we interact, communicate and learn. 

I see my role in the next 15-20 years as precisely that, focusing on helping individuals, teams and organization accelerate learning (ironically by pausing to reflect) while dealing with rapid changes. Sounds like a good challenge to me!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Knowledge Management for Project-Based Organizations

Here's a list of resources I had created in an internal wiki.  I'll recreate it somewhere and update.
The focus was Knowledge Management at the project level.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

MOOC Evaluator: Can I get paid to learn?

I must have mentioned in the past that I am a learning junkie.  MOOCs have found a way into my life and they're here to stay.  If MOOCs die I will find something else.

I have now established what is almost a routine of signing up for and completing a couple of MOOCs in parallel at all times.  I've learned not to try to do more than two at a time and while I've given up on a few, I've completed most and I'm generally satisfied with what I've learned.  I'll admit that I did give up on Calculus and in retrospect my reasoning for signing up for that in the first place wasn't very solid.

More recently, I've completed my first French MOOC:  L’écotourisme: Imaginons-le ensemble. Why  did I sign up for that?  It was a combination of 1) wanting to take a MOOC in French to awaken French neurons that have been asleep for too long; 2) a long standing interest in the topic of ecotourism because I come from several generations of family involved in tourism, I fancy myself an amateur environmentalist and ecotourism is an approach meant to support sustainable economic and social development, which is very much in my academic and professional background.

I'm explaining this because articulating the reasons for signing up for a particular MOOC has a lot to do with whether I'll stick with it, cruise through it or sip it slowly to get maximum enjoyment.  The French ecotourisme MOOC was a more personal choice than most other MOOCs have completed and I completed it in spite of its weaknesses.

This brings me to my insight of the week, which might be a crazy idea or just not a very good idea but as someone once said, you've got to have a lot of ideas for one or two to be any good.

The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas. 
~Linus Pauling

I have now accumulated a great deal of experience as a MOOC learner.  I've taken courses in different subjects, on different platforms, and I know a great deal about adult learning outside of that MOOC specific experience as well.  Would someone pay me to evaluate MOOCs?  I'm not talking about rating them, I'm talking about providing the MOOC developers with very tangible, specific feedback.  I doubt they're getting that from the average MOOC learners.

Think about it, getting paid to satisfy your addiction to learning... wouldn't that be sweet?

I've just signed up for Foundations of Business Strategy offered on Coursera by the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business.  That choice was very "strategic".  For the purpose of maintaining my Project Manager certification, I need to accumulate a certain number of education/learning points around technical, leadership and strategic management skills.  This course will definitely satisfy the strategic management skills area where I have a gap.  In short, there is a good strategic rationale for taking this course.  Perhaps more importantly, there is a very good motivational rationale.  It fits very neatly into everything I've been doing to prepare for full-fledged launch of Fillip Consulting, LLC.   I was working on the business plan yesterday.  Lots of fun... and a little scary.

I've also signed up for my second French MOOC:  Comprendre l’économie collaborative.  I really enjoyed thinking in French again, mapping in French  (map 1, map 2) and forcing myself to interact in French with fellow learners.  The course on the collaborative economy doesn't start until September but Business Strategy should keep me busy until then AND help me refine my strategy and business plan.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Weekend Percolations

This train of thought started earlier this past week when Jane Hart posted a link to an article about making time for learning (5 hours a week to be precise).

"Why Constant Learners All Embrace the 5-Hour Rule," (Michael Simmons with Ian Chew)

The article can be summarized as follows:  Eveyone should set aside an hour a day for deliberate learning.  

It only adds up to five hours a week if you don't learn on weekends.  I'm all for deliberate learning on a regular basis and reading the article triggered this comment on my part, posted in the MWL Association discussion area:
"I like to think of it [deliberate learning] as building a learning and thinking habit and embedding thinking and learning within daily routines. Perhaps to establish the habit you need a "rule" and some structure but once the habit is well-established, the number of hours is irrelevant. In fact, once the habit is established, the focus might be on ensuring the right balance of reading/absorbing, percolating/ruminating and taking action/experimenting as a result. I used to read a lot, percolate a little and do very little with it. Now I read less, percolate more and I do much more with what I learn."
I'm not following a 5-hour rule, I do a lot of deliberate learning on weekends, and this weekend, I was very deliberate about focusing on the percolating element of learning.  To do that I set myself up outdoors with white paper and pens.  This ensured that 1) I eliminated the potential distraction of an internet feed or two (to replace with slightly less distracting birds and rabbits in the backyard); and 2) I avoiding reading or listening to another book.

I ended up with two pages of scribbles about ideas related to going solo next year and setting my the consulting practice, including a half-dozen key insights and three specific action items.

One of those action items was to research readiness assessments for going solo as a consultant. While that brought me back to an internet search, I was satisfied that the deliberate percolating had achieved its purpose.  I should make it a habit to set aside time to percolate, not just read and surf.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Book Conversations for a KM Lead Job Transition

The first step my successor and I took was to agree on a weekly informal conversation and I knew that conversations would be THE MOST SIGNIFICANT component of this transition effort.

Keeping these conversations informal doesn't mean we can't inject some planning and structure into them.  Since I also wanted to have a background reading component to the transition, I was already thinking about a list of books I could recommend.  Obviously, book reading isn't an ideal way of transferring knowledge, so I thought about making at least part of our conversations related to specific KM books. We could talk about the key concepts and insights from the books, but most importantly connect them directly to the context within which my successor will be working.

I couldn't help myself, I created a map of books I could recommend for these conversations.  These are books I've read and books that have influenced my thinking.  Out of the more than 20 books on the map, perhaps a dozen can be selected for their more immediate applicability and fit with the context my successor will face.  At the pace of one book a month, we can cover 12 books during this coming year.

This sounds great in theory.  I don't know that it's going to work in practice.  We'll see.

Click on the map to open in a new tab.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Planning a Job Transition

Most job transitions result in a great deal of knowledge loss. Some of it may be inevitable. However, that knowledge loss can be mitigated by having the successor identified early and planning for some job overlap with the person leaving. This is often not possible because either the successor cannot be identified early and/or funding the overlap time is challenging. In most cases of job transition that I have recently witnessed, the person leaves and even when he/she is replaced swiftly, there is no handover.

One notable exception to mention: A colleague, knowing that she would not be able to meet her replacement, spent some time creating onboarding videos for her successor, using simple video tools resulting in instructions based on narrated screencaptures. This was invaluable to the successors who would otherwise have struggled for weeks to understand how things were done and where the relevant documents were to be found. This seemed to be more powerful than any written down instructions. My own instinct would have been to create written instructions with screen captures. A document can be scanned faster to get to what you need, but a collection of short videos can do the job as well.

What if you had 12 months to transfer what you know about your job to your successor? I know what you're thinking: No way. This doesn't happen. This scenario is highly unlikely. Obviously, this assumes that you would know a year before your departure exactly who is going to be your successor.. which by itself is an unlikely situation.. AND YET, that is exactly the situation I am facing today:

  • More than 12 months before my departure;
  • A known successor internal to the company;
  • An employer and a customer who both know about my departure and who support the transition.

It was up to me to set this up, and I'm glad I did in spite of some of the risks involved. It is now up to me to make it work. I have now two interesting challenges to address:
1. How to prepare for the next stage of my career (full time consulting on my own).
2. How to prepare my successor so that she can successfully take over my current job.

The initial analysis is very similar in both cases.

  • What are my current skills, experiences, expertise? How will they transfer to consulting?
  • What are some of the skills and knowledge gaps I can identify now and address in the coming year?
  •  What are my successor's current skills, experiences, expertise? How will they transfer over when she takes over my job? Obviously she has been selected as my possible replacement because she is perceived to be a good match for the position to begin with.
  • What are some of her skills and knowledge gaps and how can I help address these in the coming year?

We're not going to have a full year of overlap, but we're already set to have lunch conversations once a week.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

The Organization of 2030


Three takeaways for me:
1a. Independent workers (freelancers) are becoming more important and will continue to become more important as a % of the working population.  Managers within organizations will need to learn how to work with them.  Half of the work might be done by these independents.
1b.  Independent workers will continue to innovate with collaborative models, collaborative commons, collaborative platforms.

2. Information overload is only going to increase and it's going to get worse in terms of how we interface with technology at work and increasingly, within the home as well.  There will be a need for training on how to disconnect (comment se débrancher).

3.  Embracing technology and all it can do to enhance and transform our work and life models also means we need to keep strengthening human connections, get people to really talk and listen to each other.  Technology can and should enhance collaborative models that are the future of work.

There is a lot more I want to pursue for more in-depth exploration.  Merci, Mr. de Rosnay.  I am now following you on Twitter, and following your advice to be fully bilingual, although in my case, I am trying to ensure that I strengthen my original mother tongue, French.  It truly awakens different neurons to listen to a sophisticated talk in a language other than English.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Mapping to Support Decision Making

This morning, I was scanning through a book I've owned for a while and not fully read.  It's called Visible Thinking: Unlocking Causal Mapping for Practical Business Results, by John M. Bryson, Fran Ackermann, Colin Eden, and Charles B. Finn.

 There was one example of how causal mapping can be used to support decision making and immediately I thought of a specific personal application.  I've been ruminating about a decision.  For an upcoming trip to Morocco, I have identified two potential biking activities.  I have to choose between a five-day trip in the mountains and one or more day-long trips on reasonably flat terrain. I have to decide soon because should I try to do the five-day trip in the mountains, I will need to seriously train for it.

Here is my map.  It's hand-drawn, with no rewrites and edits, which in most cases is good enough.
Decision-making Map: Biking in Morocco

Note the couple of insights:
1. The map helped me make the decision to stick to the less challenging day-long bike trips without feeling like a loser for failing to take on the challenge of the five-day trip.
2.  Beyond the decision itself, the map helped me identify additional actions to take ahead of the trip to maximize benefits in the context of the decision taken.  The day-long bike trips can be combined with biking in the city itself and hiking or some other physical activity.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Insight Mapping 201 - LIVE on Skillshare

My second Skillshare class is now live. This will be a different experiment.  While the first class was free, this second class is going to be set as a "premium" class.  Under the Skillshare model, it means that you need to be subscribed to Skillshare to take the class. You cannot pay per class, you pay a monthly subscription.

I have more than 100 students in the first class but none have been overtly active, meaning that none have posted a project or interacted with me in any way.  There are four positive reviews and no negative reviews.  

Here are my questions:
  • How many of the students in the current class will enroll in the second?
  • How many new students will enroll at no added cost to them because they are already subscribers?
  • How many new students will subscribe because they want to take this class (or because I brought them to the platform and they saw other premium classes of interest)?
Getting new students to subscribe is entirely up to my external marketing efforts.  Getting students to enroll in the class from within the existing Skillshare membership was relatively easy when the class was free because there are many ways of getting a free trial membership. 

Creating this second class was MUCH, MUCH easier than the first and I think it is at least 50% better in terms of production quality.  The first class almost looks like a draft of something that should never have been published.  I'm considering redoing it entirely.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Another milestone - 100 students

Today, I reached 100 students in my Skillshare class and I'm still at 100% positive reviews.  I'm going to celebrate those two numbers and NOT go into what such wonderful metrics don't tell you.  There's always a story behind numbers.



Friday, February 26, 2016

KM and Happiness

There are two types of meeting notes:  1) Notes meant to reflect what was said, so that anyone not in attendance would get a sense of what the meeting covered in terms of content, and 2) notes that reflect what you, as a participant in the meeting, thought was relevant for you, what you connected to and what it meant for you.

The following notes are of the second category... in no way meant to be construed as an accurate summary of the meeting.  They also feel very much like a work in progress.  They connect to a pattern of ideas I've encountered in a variety of settings in the past year or so and to a range of interests that I did not previously see as very connected.  For example, my interest in neuroscience started around a research focus on synesthesia for a personal fiction project which at the time I did not connect at all to my work around Knowledge Management.  Now, the cognitive psychology and neuroscience aspects of Knowledge Management are surfacing while AI and cognitive computing still remain a great mystery.

Click on the image to view larger in separate window. 

A great "thank you" to Michael Lennon of George Washington University who was presenting great materials for insights and further questions.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Insight Mapping 201 - Mapping for Creatives

Insight Mapping 101 is doing well with 55+ students.  To be honest, the target was 25 students in the first two weeks, so having doubled that, I am wondering if 25 wasn't a very low threshold.

I'm working on the second class now, which is going to be a little more advanced and tackling three different insight maps.  Since Skillshare is a platform primary designed to allow creative types to share their knowledge and learn, I've decided to develop something that is going to help all of them, whether they are students, teachers, or both: Insight Mapping 201: Mapping for Creatives.

Here's the outline for the class:

Outline for Insight Mapping 201; Mapping for Creatives

Key insight from the process of creating Insight Mapping 101:  There has to be an easier way to put the videos together and a better way to manage the audio stream.

Yes!  The learning curve is steep at this point, so the leaps ahead are quite interesting.  Instead of creating "slides" which I can then narrate, I am creating each video lesson using the concept mapping tool's presenter mode and recording all of it as a screencast. After about 8 hours of working with the presenter tool, I think I know what I'm doing.  Each slide in presenter mode is a "view" that can be used the same way a step in animation can be used in PowerPoint.  Individual presentations (a set of related animations) can be easily hyperlinked and they will transition automatically in presentation view.  I had no idea this was possible until I tried.

Here's what it looks like for the introduction video.

Coming up
  • Insight Mapping 101: Workshop when I reach 75 students
  • Insight Mapping 201: Launch early March 2016

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Insight Mapping 101 - Key Milestone Reached on Skillshare

Hurray!  I received my 25 student "pin".  This must be an example of the gamification of teaching.  
Teaching a class on Skillshare is rewarding in many ways, some of which I had not anticipated.  
For example, while I was fully aware of the 25 student milestone, I was determined not to pay too much attention to it because my goal is very long-term and trying to reach 25 students in the first two weeks after launch wasn't going to do much for my long-term strategy.  

Still, there is nothing like a target.  This one is almost an anchor.  Twenty-five students is a key milestone because that's when Skillshare starts giving you some attention, in two ways:  First, you class starts trending in the class catalog; second, you can start getting paid.  Of course, you need hundreds of students to make it an income-generating activity, and you need at least a dozen courses to keep the momentum going.

There is a temptation to stop the marketing when you reach 25 students.  That would be a mistake.  The next big milestones are probably those I need to set for yourself to make sure I both work well with the Skillshare platform, understanding how to make the most of it, AND keep moving towards my long-term objectives.

  • 20% enrollment (visits to page/enrollment)
  • Five positive written reviews, with specific comments, not just the "yes, I recommend the class" variety.
  • Ten projects posted for every 100 students (10% conversion from enrolled to project posted).
  • Five comments/questions from students in the discussion area.
  • Develop a complete curriculum around insight mapping
  • Create and launch one new class every 6 weeks