March 31, 2008
In each case, it's a seemingly simple thing that is the point of failure.
What's your point of failure? Do you have critical business processes that can be completely undermined by a single design flaw?
One classic KM system design flaw has to do with gathering content. You may have technology that is a thing of beauty, but if content collection depends on the voluntary participation of your knowledge workers, that's a flaw that could be fatal. They often are (or feel that they are) too busy to contribute. Or, as I discussed in my recent posts on capturing content and hardwiring KM into client engagements, if content gathering is not baked into your client engagement process, but is shunted off to the side as something that is nice to have rather than necessary, your content collection business process will fall apart.
Another classic point of failure in law firm knowledge management is appointing KM "guardians" who have the responsibility of ensuring the purity and currency of the KM collection. What happens when those guardians become bottlenecks? That's another design flaw.
Yet another point of failure lurks in the Outlook folders of every lawyer in your firm. If they don't faithfully send copies of their e-mail correspondence to your central records system, how will your firm have an adequate record of your client engagements?
So how do you prevent these potential O-Ring disasters within your systems? The best approach seems to be extremely pessimistic planning. In the midst of project planning it's so easy to get caught up in the excitement and anticipation. That's when you make the mistake of believing that reality will follow your planning. The better approach is to ask at each critical juncture of the design phase: What if this doesn't work as planned? What if users don't comply? If they do not comply, what are they most likely to do? These questions should help you identify potential points of failure.
After launch, repeatedly tracking user behavior and system results can help identify where reality departed from planning. Sometimes the results are serendipitous. More often, these departures from plan indicate a point of failure that wasn't properly analyzed and addressed in the planning phase. Then, the next question is: Should we fix this? That's when you get into some interesting cost-benefit analysis. However, if the design flaw goes to the heart of a critical business process do you really have a choice? Just ask the folks at NASA.
March 26, 2008
- After Action Review
- Collegial Coaching
- Yellow Pages
- Good Practice
- Knowledge Fair
- Exit Interview
- Experience Capitalization
- Peer Assist
For each technique there is a definition, followed by a brief description of how to implement the technique. Dare to Share also provides a link to a much longer discussion of the approach for readers who want to delve deeper.
Not every one of these techniques will work for you or your organization. Even still, this is a great resource if you're looking for new ways to expand knowledge sharing and learning with your colleagues.
March 24, 2008
(i) identify knowledge needs for policy, strategy, and operational efforts; (ii) draw up an inventory of existing knowledge products and services; (iii) recognize gaps in knowledge products and services; (iv) analyze knowledge flows within the organization and knowledge exchanges with outside agencies; (v) identify blockages to knowledge flows; (vi) create knowledge maps; and (vii) suggest agenda for organizational change.This booklet documents how they did it and what they discovered in the process. The lessons learned are universal and could be applied to many other organizations.
March 22, 2008
In the world of law firm knowledge management, we have not always had an integrated approach to these three elements. Practitioners and practice support lawyers are usually given the task of knowledge creation. Knowledge dissemination has become the province of the technology experts. Meanwhile, professional development and KM have too frequently run on completely separate tracks, thereby limiting the opportunities for knowledge application.
Here are some of the authors' key observations regarding each of these critical elements:
1. Knowledge Creation
The organizations with the best knowledge-creation programs define in advance the type of information they need and why they need it—say to improve customer service or to develop easier-to-use products. They solicit ideas, insights and innovations from rank-and-file workers, customers and business partners, rather than relying solely on the R&D staff to come up with the ideas.The authors then point to collaborative technologies such as internal corporate blogs and wikis as helpful new ways of encouraging a larger population with your organization to participate in knowledge or content creation. On the flip side, it's still not clear these new technologies actually do that. If the experience of Wikipedia is any indicator, only a tiny fraction of the population actually contributes. Nonetheless, these technologies are an improvement in that they reduce the barriers to entry for people inclined to participate.
2. Knowledge Dissemination
Disseminating knowledge via technology is the most common activity within knowledge management. Organizations share knowledge through a variety of platforms, including corporate intranets, Web portals and database-software programs.
Under old approaches, knowledge content often was collected, organized and displayed in its own repository, kept separate from more structured types of information like sales figures or corporate reports so as not to dilute its value. That thinking, however, forced employees to go to different Web sites and databases to get the information they needed to do their jobs.
In contemporary approaches to knowledge sharing, the focus increasingly is on putting in one place all of the content a specific group of workers needs, regardless of its source. To that end, many organizations are using Web portals or intranet sites as one-stop information shops designed to support the jobs or work processes they deem to be most critical.
Interestingly, the authors are still focused on a separate repository, but the one they envision is bigger than its predecessors. The new corporate portal gathers vetted information regardless of source, but that still leaves out of the equation all the other information and snippets of knowledge that haven't yet graduated to the portal. This is where enterprise search can be extremely useful in unearthing these undiscovered nuggets of knowledge.
3. Knowledge Application
Obtaining and sharing knowledge is beneficial only if employees use it to get better at what they do—that is, they learn from it.In law firms, we've often relied on the drafting process within a matter to capture and apply knowledge. However, this approach limits the application of knowledge to the matter at hand and the few lawyers involved. It doesn't provide a means to reach and teach a wider group of lawyers. This is where more focused collaboration between the professional development and knowledge management groups can make a real difference. By collecting the learning across a wide group, reflecting it in model documents and training materials, and then organizing teaching sessions based on these materials, we can give a huge boost to knowledge application.
In the past, most companies treated knowledge and learning as separate entities. These functions were managed by different departments, and the groups didn't coordinate their activities or work toward the same business objectives.
That is starting to change. A survey of 20 high-performing businesses conducted in 2006 provided strong evidence that learning and knowledge initiatives increasingly are being intertwined and targeted at mission-critical work forces.
The authors take a very pragmatic view of what knowledge managers can and should do. Ensuring that all three elements are present and accounted for in your knowledge management program is a big step forward in achieving meaningful KM gains.
[Thanks to Mark Gould at Enlightened Tradition and Ron Friedmann at Strategic Legal Technology for pointing out this article.]
March 20, 2008
Don't kid yourselves. If you haven't realized that knowledge management is about leadership, you're in the wrong business. It takes leadership to analyze and implement system reforms. It takes leadership to achieve behavioral and cultural change. It takes leadership to get all of this done when your colleagues aren't entirely sure they know what it is you do for a living.
Leadership is a huge topic in the business press and gets scrutinized regularly. Much of what we read is not terribly deep, although occasionally someone publishes an insight that can help broaden our view. Often we are distracted by the razzle dazzle of celebrity CEOs whose personal flair (and adoring press) tend to obscure the basic fact that at the end of the day the core components of leadership remain remarkably consistent over time. -- regardless of personality.
In "Driving Lessons," Knowledge @ Wharton interviews Dr. Dieter Zetsche about lessons learned while with Chrysler. In the article he talks about his experiences running and then selling the company. What emerges is a summary of those core components of leadership:
In Zetsche's experience, "if your people sense you are not prepared or don't have the right stuff to get the job done, you're in trouble. Even if they don't like your personality, they will respect your ability." He then discussed how basic competence is the building block to creating a sense of common purpose that helps colleagues tackle change. "`As a leader, you have to be consistent in implementing the program and making very clear that sitting out is not an option,' said Zetsche. Good leaders make change and common goals part of the corporate culture. `The key for any leader is to make sure everyone on the team is on the same page and understands where he or she is going….'" For knowledge managers, getting everyone on the same page is a huge challenge. Having a reputation for competence will help win both the support of management and the cooperation of your colleagues. And, this support and cooperation are necessary for most KM initiatives.
With respect to taking responsibility, Zetsche referred to the famous sign on President Truman's desk: The Buck Stops Here. For Zetsche, "[t]hat remains a simple and powerful statement about the responsibilities of leadership. As a leader, you simply can't pass tough decisions up and down the line and neither can the people in the organization." Finding a business leader who actually walks the walk is a rare thing. It's far too common to work with people who are happy to claim the credit when things go well, but then point fingers when a problem arises. Given the nature of KM, knowledge managers often end up as de facto risk managers, quality control officers, professional trainers, chief cooks and bottle washers. With this comes huge opportunities and commensurate responsibilities. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is for knowledge workers to have a clear understanding for which buck stops here. We rarely have the wherewithal to be responsible for the entire firm. Once you and your firm are clear about the scope of your responsibilities, then you know which buck stops with you.
On the subject of authenticity, Zetsche notes, "`[y]ou have to be the real deal.' Don't pretend to be John Wayne if that description doesn't fit you. `And if you are John Wayne, don't pretend to be Woody Allen. If you try to be someone you are not, the analysts and the media will see right through it.'" And, perhaps more frequently, your colleagues will see right through it. In the context of knowledge management, this means having clarity about who you are and what you are supposed to be doing. It is very hard to get colleagues to do things they would not otherwise do if they aren't sure who you and what you stand for. A lack of authenticity leads to a lack of trust. And trust is critical if you are trying to bring about lasting change.
Leadership and knowledge management are inextricably entwined. While great leaders may be born not made, none of us is incapable of developing competence, responsibility and authenticity. It all starts with a good faith effort in the right direction.
[Disclosures: (1) The Knowledge@Wharton article may require a password, but registration is free. (2) My firm has had the privilege of working with Chrysler for many years. (3) I'm posting this using the mail to blogger functionality -- let's see what happens...]
March 19, 2008
The speakers emphasized that the only truly effective DM system is one that makes compliance involuntary. Human nature and office culture are both such that staffers will always look for a way to get around the new system of naming, filing and locating documents in order to use their own. This reminded me of what I’ve been hearing more often in knowledge management circles, that the most reliable way to harness lawyers’ knowledge is to automate the process, extracting the information from lawyers without them knowing it or participating in the process: many law firms have not found ways to sufficiently motivate lawyers to freely share what they consider their stock in trade. It makes me wonder about the bad habits we’ve developed in the legal profession regarding the information we use every day, that we’re at the point of needing to circumvent choice and remove human activity to guarantee success. That’s not good.Where did we go wrong? To begin with, earlier generations of document management systems set up enormous barriers to entry in the form of over-reaching profile pages. These pages collected information that lawyers didn't care about or didn't care to share. Truly useful information (e.g., client matter numbers) was mixed up with much less helpful information (e.g., randomly-selected document types). At bottom, there was a huge disconnect between the source of the information -- the lawyer -- and the DMS. Unfortunately, there were few incentives or cogent explanations to bridge the gap.
And then, there are the lawyers. What is it about lawyers that makes us so uncooperative on these issues? First, the pressure of the billable hour pushes us to move as quickly as possible through our work. When you are playing "beat the clock," who has time to fill out an extensive profile page? Second, we are tightly focused on client demands. This necessarily makes the non-billable needs of firm administration and systems much less compelling. Third, it is the nature of big law firm practice that very few first-year associates will actually stay in their firm long enough to become partners. So what's the incentive to contribute to the institution and its systems?
The other problem with lawyers is that we're only human. And most human beings don't like to do what they don't like to do. In fact, some will go to great lengths to launch workaround wars on systems they haven't specifically endorsed. (To be honest, when was the last time the managers of your DMS sought user feedback much less endorsement?)
And what are the "bad habits" lawyers have developed regarding the types of information that allows us to marshal and manage lawyer work product efficiently? Lawyers have grown accustomed to noncompliance with impunity. Law firms have not made compliance a priority. If they had, they would have found more successful ways of convincing us that sharing this information is useful not only to the firm at large, but to the individual lawyer as well. And, they would have enforced compliance more effectively. Firms have also allowed lawyers to focus on very short term goals (e.g., meeting the client requests of the day no matter what the cost) at the expense of long term goals (e.g., building a knowledge infrastructure that allows tomorrow's client requests to be met with much less effort).
Jordan Furlong's observation applied to the full range of KM systems leads to a disquieting conclusion: if we are not able to elicit the voluntary participation of lawyers in the creation and sharing of knowledge, then we will be compelled to build KM systems that "circumvent choice and remove human activity to guarantee success." But that is success at a high price.
March 17, 2008
So how do you create and nurture a culture of collaboration? Once again, KM4Dev has found an interesting resource on collaboration: Seth Kahan's article entitled "5 Guidelines for Creating a Culture of Collaboration." He proposes the following guidelines:
1. Build engagement in the workplace. This means creating an environment in which employees feel that they have a stake in the outcomes of the enterprise -- that their contribution matters.
2. Increase trust through emotional intelligence. It's hard to collaborate with people you don't know or trust. So this means creating opportunities for people to get to know each other and learn to rely on each other. This also means providing emotional support in difficult times and times of celebration.
3. Create space for connection. Provide physical places where people can gather informally. An interesting question is whether virtual spaces are as effective as physical spaces for these purposes.
4. Condone connection time. Let people know that the organization supports their efforts to get to know each other. This, of course, sets up an interesting tension in organizations like law firms which count every minute since they depend on the billable hour for their livelihood.
5. Favor flexibility. Acknowledge and support diversity, not only in terms of physical attributes, but also in terms of work styles. Having this variety makes the organization more adaptable and less rigid.
In his book, The Culture of Collaboration, Evan Rosen notes that collaboration thrives best in organizations that promote informal, non hierarchical relationships within a culture that encourages innovation. He has identified 10 cultural elements of collaboration:
- Sharing -- as opposed to hoarding
- Goals -- everyone pursues the same group goals
- Innovation -- the culture emphasizes the value of innovation
- Environment -- the physical and virtual environment facilitates collaboration
- Collaborative Chaos -- permitting the unstructured exchange of ideas
- Constructive Confrontation -- learning to disagree about and discuss concepts and issues
- Value -- the point of collaboration is to create value for the enterprise
In thinking further about creating a culture of collaboration, Rosen notes that a critical element is ensuring that everyone has access to and ease with collaborative tools. In his post Too Old to Collaborate? he debunks the notion that younger generations are naturally more collaborative than older ones. In his work he has found that the thing that often divides the generations is the ease with which they pick up and use collaborative tools such as IM, web conferencing and video conferencing. But merely providing the tools is not enough to create collaboration. You also have to provide the training so that everyone can use the tools comfortably.
So is collaboration our natural mode of work? Possibly -- if we work within organizations that make it a priority to create and maintain a culture of collaboration.
March 15, 2008
So, before you spend megabucks on the latest cool search tool, think about what repository you're searching. If your office is anything like most offices, you've got tons of ephemera -- stuff that probably isn't going to matter 30 minutes from now -- and tons of materials that really ought not to see the light of day. However, a decent search engine has the effect of shining a klieg light on the shortcomings of your content.
In fairness, a great search engine can help filter out much of the suboptimal content, but if there isn't anything worth finding, what have you really achieved?
One solution is to stack the deck: make sure you put a goodly amount of useful content into your repository before you turn the search engine on. And what constitutes "useful content"? Not just something that someone might possibly need someday. (That's the sort of rationale the turns a document repository into a cluttered and confusing packrat hell.) "Useful content" is content that is vetted: someone has reviewed it and given it a seal of approval or it's been used with good results enough times for you to know it's a great resource.
With that kind of content, you're going to look like a genius every time the search engine does its thing. How often can you say that about a KM project?
For more information on the benefits of vetted content, see my article "Loading the Deck" in ILTA's 2007 Knowledge Management White Paper.
March 14, 2008
The key is to make knowledge capture and reuse an integral part of the work flow of every client engagement. You'll know you've accomplished something when it is no longer viewed as an alien, artificial activity, but rather as a perfectly normal and rational thing to do. That's a KM success.
March 13, 2008
March 10, 2008
This apparently contrarian advice is rooted in the field of Appreciative Inquiry, which starts from the perspective that it's ultimately more productive to identify and build on your strengths than to constantly battle your weaknesses. This approach may not sit well with our Puritan forebears, but it can provide valuable insights as we think through new projects and old challenges. By contrast, the Puritans would more likely have championed a problem-solving approach in which you identify a problem, analyze its causes, and then work to ruthlessly stamp them out.
The focus of Appreciative Inquiry is to figure out what we've done well in the past and then determine how to do more of it in the future -- building from strength to strength. Because the plan for proposed action is grounded in what was successful before, the people involved in executing the plan start with the advantage of working from a position of demonstrated success.
So going back to that knowledge management project we want to evaluate, how would it look through the lens of Appreciative Inquiry? First, we'd need to identify what actually worked -- where that project actually succeeded. And then, identify what steps we took or what circumstances were in place to make that success possible. Next, imagine what more could be done and focus on how to repeat those steps or circumstances in order to facilitate another, bigger success. Then, just do it.
The key is that we are simply doing something we've done well before, with every expectation of success. That's very different than taking a chance on implementing untried methods in order to address a perceived problem. However, Appreciative Inquiry is not about sticking to the status quo or mindlessly repeating prior actions. One of Appreciative Inquiry's key strengths is that the confidence people experience from their demonstrated success gives them the creative energy to think productively about how to expand on that success. This constant raising of the bar allows incremental improvement without causing paralysis from fear of failure.
We've had years of training to think critically about our work and the work of others. We can spot a problem a mile away. It's much harder to think as carefully about what went right. It wasn't all just luck or good timing. Once you've identified the key ingredients of your past success, you're in a much better position to deploy those elements to create a new success. And isn't that a lot more satisfying than focusing on failure?
March 5, 2008
By autopsy, I don't mean simply keeping a list of user complaints. What I have in mind is actually cutting the project open, digging around its inner organs and comparing them to the inner organs of a healthy, functioning KM project. (Sorry for the mixed metaphors.)
So what might a KM autopsy involve? A thorough examination along the following lines:
1. Did the project end up as you expected? If not, check your premises. Did you start with the wrong assumptions? Or were correct assumptions translated into the wrong objectives?
2. If you had the right objectives, did you bungle the execution? Where did you go wrong?
3. If you built it in conformity with sensible specifications, was there a problem with the roll-out?
4. Did your project require significant user training?
5. Did you provide all the necessary support for change management?
6. Is the rate of user adoption appropriate given the investment in the project?
Once you've completed this examination, you should have a clearer picture of the cause (or causes) of death. In medicine, the pathologist can stop right there unless the death in question is a criminal matter. In knowledge management, the death of a project is a criminal matter. So you have to push the analysis further -- not to identify the culprit, but rather to understand what needs to happen differently next time to avoid another dead project. In KM, some of the most valuable knowledge we have to manage is the knowledge we gain about our own processes. That's why we need to conduct KM autopsies.
March 4, 2008
- 62% of respondents said that they first search the Internet before searching more specialized resources such as their own company's website or intranet
- while 13% of the time the respondents said they were searching for information about their own companies, they began their search on their company intranet only 2% of the time
- respondents tended to ask their colleagues for help before they tried their company intranet
- business users spend a lot of time searching for information at work (approximately 9.5 hours per week)
- knowledge workers tend to search using general indices like Google and Yahoo rather than specialized web sites or search engines
The picture that emerges is troubling:
- companies aren't doing a good job of making their intranets the first choice for company information
- despite the hours spent searching, many knowledge workers are not searching efficiently
- knowledge workers don't seem to understand the inherent weakness of general web search engines like Google and Yahoo when it comes to finding specialized, high-value content
- searchers tend not to use content aggregators, specialized vertical search sites or topical sites to find data
For knowledge management, these findings pose some real challenges. In many companies, it's the knowledge management group that's responsible for the intranet. The findings of this survey are a real indictment of the job we're doing. So what must we do differently to make our intranets the first choice research resource for our colleagues? It might be worth asking them.
And while we're talking with them, we should investigate why it is they are using sub-optimal search methods. Is it a lack of awareness about how search engines like Google and Yahoo work? Do they simply not understand that high-value content can get buried in the Web, but will tend to be more visible on specialized web sites? According to the author of this article, people in the online industry know that "the `good stuff' gets hidden if it is thrown into the larger web grab bag. And very often, it isn't even in the grab bag because it isn't indexed." Clearly the average knowledge worker doesn't know this or they wouldn't be using the grab bag search engine.
Despite this (or perhaps because of this), the author notes that there are some signs of progress in the growing recognition of the value of finding high-quality information rather than merely relevant information. As a result, there is renewed interest in recommendation engines, contextual search and vertical search sites. These are "tools that will tell [knowledge workers] what they need to pay attention to in the pile" of information they face. In this age of overload, this sounds like a step in the right direction.