Do the Impossible

Apple_gray_logoToday I had the good fortune to speak with George Blankenship at Fund Forum International 2015. In his long and storied career he has been a key customer experience architect at Gap, Apple, Microsoft and, most recently, Tesla Motors. During his presentations today, he took his audience inside Apple and Tesla to look at the ways of working and, more importantly, the ways of thinking that have made both of these companies such groundbreakers.

Blankenship was recruited from Gap by Steve Jobs to help Apple launch its retail stores. Until that time, Apple products were sold by people who were not Apple employees in places that were not owned or managed by Apple.  Before designing what became the phenomenally successful Apple retail approach, Blankenship went out into the field to observe their potential customer in the wild.  He discovered that most customers came into computer shops knowing that they wanted to buy any computer except an Apple computer.  To their mind, Apple computers were for oddballs, not for regular people. So the first challenge was to help customers actually get to know the real Apple and, along the way, develop an understanding of how an Apple computer might in reality be a good choice for them. To do this, Blankenship and his team decided to “ambush” potential customers in their natural habitat at times when they were not thinking about buying computers.  This meant creating stores in malls that might catch their attention as they walked by on their intended errand to another store.

As they came to know their potential customers, Apple came to understand better than the customer what would delight the customer. As a result, they were able to create products and services that customers did not even know they wanted.

How did they create this want? According to Blankenship, it was because of Apple’s strict fidelity to four key principles:

  • innovation
  • design
  • simplicity
  • the ownership experience

Having designed great products, the next challenge was to actually reach the customer.  For Blankenship, reaching the retail customer is easy if you do four things:

  • design great space
  • hire great people
  • treat them well
  • turn them loose on the public

Even if you do not aspire to overturn Apple’s dominant position in retail, you can learn lessons from Apple about how it rigorously develops its products and services, cultivates its staff and delights its customers.  You can also learn from Apple’s incredible focus and resolve. In Blankenship’s words, “Don’t let anyone get in your way when you know that the thing you are doing is the right thing to do.”

Blankenship left us with the following challenge:  “Things always seem impossible…until someone does it.”  Apple has redefined the retail experience, the mobile experience, the music experience, the babysitting experience.  Someday someone will redefine the funds industry or the legal industry. Will that someone be Apple or you?

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Making Better Choices

scales-36417_1280What do Leonardo da Vinci, Ludwig van Beethoven and you have in common besides talent and intellect? The 24-hour day. Each day we make choices about how we will spend our time. And those choices determine our output and impact.

Here is the underlying truth. We all operate within constraints — whether it is the 24-hour day or the limitations of a budget. So the challenge is how to make better choices that yield better results.

This issue of making better choices is critical in law firm knowledge management (“KM”). I have yet to meet a KM professional in any industry who says that they have all the resources necessary to cope with the demand for their work and attention. So if we all are struggling with demand that outstrips resources, what is the sanest way of responding? Make sure you are allocating your time and resources to the projects that deliver the greatest good for the firm.

To be clear, this is not merely philosophical advice. It highly pragmatic and admittedly tough. We don’t always understand what will yield the greatest good for the firm. Because of this, we sometimes let our work priorities get skewed by the person who is most senior, most influential or, sometimes, most annoyingly persistent.

It was to address this challenge that I earlier asked law firm KM professionals whether they themselves were force multipliers and whether the work of their teams had a force multiplier effect on their firms. In the same vein, I am now asking law firm KM professionals if they are allocating their resources to the most impactful projects. The definition of what constitutes an impactful project varies with each firm and its strategy. Nonetheless, regardless of the strategy, each KM department must align its resource allocation and effort to that strategy.

You have to tackle the task of prioritizing and then re-prioritizing regularly. Situations change, expectations change, and then suddenly you have new pressing priorities. It is for this reason that I use the concept of a portfolio of KM projects that, like an investment portfolio, should be rebalanced from time to time to reflect changes in priorities and circumstances.

The key to any successful portfolio is to make sure that you have the right mix of investments and that you are not over-invested in a category that does not yield the desired results. To achieve this, you must understand your strategic goals, the range of available investments, and how particular investments serve those strategic goals. You also need to be disciplined to cut back on investments that demand too much of your resources or do not deliver as planned. This is how we rebalance our personal investment portfolios and it is the same principle that applies to your KM investment portfolio.

The white paper, Rebalancing your knowledge management portfolio,  takes a closer look at what a properly balanced KM portfolio might look like. It also discusses the real challenge of managing a big project, like an intranet project, which can demand a disproportionate amount of your resources if you lose sight of your strategic goals and fail to put the project in its proper place. No matter what your intranet choices are, the key is to make sure that those choices support your efforts to reach your strategic goals with the resources at hand.

Whether you are working within the constraints of a 24-hour day or over-stretched resources, the key is to keep making better choices.

[Photo Credit: Nemo]

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Your Innovation Angle

Bent Pyramid EGRWThere are the facts about an event. And then there are the stories we tell about an event. Sometimes the facts and the stories do not match entirely, but there are valuable lessons to be learned from both the facts and the stories if we are willing to pay attention.

The facts I have in mind relate to the building of some pyramids for Pharaoh Sneferu. It was during his reign that Egyptian engineers made the giant leap from a stepped pyramid to a smooth-sided pyramid. Thanks to their work, Sneferu’s son, Pharaoh Khufu was able to build several smooth-sided pyramids, including the Great Pyramid of Giza.

The facts are interesting enough, but the story I was told in Egypt about Sneferu’s building effort is much more interesting if innovation is your focus:

Pharaoh Sneferu and his engineers had an audacious goal: they wanted to build the first smooth-sided pyramid and they wanted to make it larger than any pyramid built before. One key to increasing the size of the pyramid was the angle at which the sides rose from the base. So the engineers began to build the pyramid using a 54-degree angle. Part way up, they made some disquieting discoveries:

  • the base of the pyramid was built on unstable ground and could not support the heavy structure,
  • a larger pyramid required larger stones, which were cut in such a way that their weight pushed down towards the center of the pyramid, potentially causing the pyramid to collapse in on itself, and
  • without the stable base and the larger stones, they could not build a pyramid at the desired 54-degree angle.

The physics of the project kept Sneferu’s engineers from achieving the vision. Rather than tearing down what they had built and then starting over again, they simply adjusted the angle of the sides, reducing it from the original 54 degrees to 43 degrees. In addition, they changed the way they cut and lay the stones, thus relieving some of the pressure on the structure.

These adjustments allowed them to build a smaller but stable pyramid. However, the resulting structure looked nothing like the intended design. Instead, the sides of the pyramid were bent to reflect the change in angle. For this reason, the pyramid is known as the Bent Pyramid.

Now here is where the story takes a really interesting turn. The Pharaoh had commissioned the largest and smoothest pyramid in the history of the world. What he got instead fell far short of that goal. Building a pyramid was typically a 10 to 20-year project, so he had what appeared to be a very expensive and time-consuming failure. Under these circumstances, firing the engineers or even executing them might be perfectly understandable.

Sneferu, however, did neither of these two expected things. Because he was inspired by the vision and convinced by the theory regarding the building angle, he gave his engineers another chance to achieve the vision. These highly innovative engineers next did something that smart innovators do: they examined their prior attempt, identified their errors and then modified their design to incorporate the lessons learned from the bent pyramid. The result was the Red Pyramid: the world’s first smooth-sided pyramid and, at that time, the world’s largest pyramid. How did they accomplish this? They built it at an angle of 43 degrees from its base.

A few years later, Sneferu’s son, Pharaoh Khufu, built the Great Pyramid of Giza that still stands today as a testament to the brilliant engineers of ancient Egypt. Its angle is 51.5 degrees.

Innovation Lessons

For innovators there are several powerful lessons in this story:

  • To improve your chances of success, do not make the mistake of innovating in a haphazard manner. The better approach is to innovate by using a series of disciplined experiments that are thoughtfully designed and carefully executed.
  • While others may judge an experiment a success or failure based solely on its outcome, innovators need to take a different approach. An experiment that is not examined for lessons learned is a failure — regardless of its actual outcome.
  • As you innovate, collect and share your knowledge. Your insights may form the basis for further innovation by others.
  • Keep your sponsor on side. This means ensuring you both share a clear and compelling vision of the intended results of your innovation effort. And, it means clear communication throughout the project to ensure the sponsor understands when a flaw in method does not necessarily indicate a flawed vision.
  • To the extent you can, choose a sponsor who knows the value of second chance in the hands of an intelligent innovator. What’s the sign of an intelligent innovator? You may not get it right the first time, but you can guarantee that you will not squander the experience.

The person who told me this story claimed that the key lesson was: choose your sponsor with care! As a practical matter, we cannot always choose our sponsors. In fact, I suspect that Sneferu’s engineers did not have much choice either. That said, we are not static creatures.  Most of us do change and grow as we experience life. When you are engaged in innovation, you have to be open to that change and growth as you learn from your experiments. Just as importantly, you need to help those working with you change and grow at a similar pace — whether they be subordinates or sponsors. It is as you grow together that you develop the resilience to learn from disciplined experiments and then push forward with a better design and stronger execution towards your ultimate goal.

That is Pharaoh Sneferu’s angle on innovation. What is yours?

[Photo Credit: Evangeline Warren]

This post also appeared on LinkedIn.com

 

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Under Attack

cyberattack_080812One of the biggest challenges in knowledge management is how to increase responsible knowledge sharing in the face of heightened security concerns. To be honest, I had heard IT colleagues talking about the growing number of network incursions, but since I had not seen any evidence of these incursions, it all seemed a little abstract.

Today some of our students in Columbia University’s Masters of Science in Information and Knowledge Strategy program showed me two cyber attack maps they have been monitoring. Suddenly, I had an almost visceral appreciation of the scope of the problem.

I invite you to spend a few minutes watching each map to get a sense of what is going on. It should give you new empathy for your IT colleagues. It also should give you greater impetus to find responsible ways to share knowledge within your organization. If we are unable to balance healthy knowledge sharing with safe networks, our organizations will effectively be hobbled. That is not a result you want to have happen on your watch.

[Photo Credit: Trend]

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Why Your Firm Does Not Innovate

barrier roadsign-30907_640What is holding your law firm back?

You hear about exciting things happening in other industries. You hear about exciting things happening in other law firms. Meanwhile you and your colleagues are told to keep your heads down and just work harder. Do what is expected. Don’t rock the boat.

Innovation is not on the menu.

What is keeping innovation off your firm’s menu? In 2008 I wrote about Claudia Kotchka, an extraordinary business executive who helped lead the revitalization of Procter & Gamble. She did it by using design principles to understand better how P&G’s customers lived their lives and how P&G’s products could make those lives better. In my earlier post, Why KM Needs Good Design, I borrowed from Kotchka’s work to suggest ways in which law firm knowledge management professionals could use design thinking to improve their products and services.

Clearly my focus was too circumscribed. In fact, not just KM departments, but also the businesses that house them can benefit from this approach to innovation. None of this is news. So why don’t more firms try it?

In Kotchka’s view, there are three major barriers to innovation:

  • Complacency. Success makes a company very resistant to trying new things;

  • Risk-aversion. Many big companies have what Roger Martin calls a tension between validity and reliability. The punch line is that companies are very reluctant to take any risks that would upset the profit that flows from reliably making a high quality product that lots of people want to buy; and

  • Functional silos. Kotchka observes that when required to work in cross-functional teams, different functions — such as marketing, finance, and manufacturing — look at problems only from their functional perspectives. However, she noticed that when those team members take off their functional hats and take responsibility for solving the business problem — as start-up teams do – the results are much better.

Chances are you will find at least one of these (or, more likely, all three of them) in your law firm. That is why your firm does not innovate.

Which leaves me with one question: what will you do about this?

[Photo Credit: Nemo]

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Operating at Imagination’s Frontier

Killerwhales_jumping“Does my dog know that whales exist?”

When that curious question popped up on yik yak* yesterday, it sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole: Whales are beyond the experience of most dogs and, therefore, presumably can’t be imagined by most dogs. This, in turn, led me to the following question: How much more is beyond our personal experience and possibly beyond our imagination?

As technologists, we often find ourselves in the position of having to do the human equivalent of explaining the existence of whales to disbelieving dogs. Our colleagues understand the material world and they understand the tools they have at hand. However, they may not always be able to appreciate how something new can improve their professional or personal lives. They really need to see it before they can believe it.

Is it any wonder that adoption of new technology is tough and creation of new technology is tougher?

Our role as technologists is to operate at the frontier of imagination, creating out of whole cloth new possibilities and capabilities that simply did not exist before. Our role is also to act as guides and translators for colleagues whose experience and imagination may not extend as far as ours. When we get it wrong, everyone’s lives are diminished. When we get it right, we open the door to even greater possibilities, and push the frontiers of imagination out just a bit further.

* * * * *

*In case you haven’t tripped across yik yak yet, here’s wikipedia’s description of it:

Yik Yak is an anonymous social media app. It is available for iOS and Android and it allows people anonymously to create and view “Yaks” within a 10 mile radius.[1] It differs from other anonymous sharing apps such as PostSecretand Whisper in that it is intended for sharing primarily with those in close proximity to the user, potentially making it more intimate and relevant for people reading the posts.[2] All users have the ability to contribute to the stream by writing, responding, and “voting up” or “voting down” (liking or disliking) yaks.

 

[Photo credit: Wikipedia]

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Back to School

harvard law school logoTuition at Harvard Law School is not a trifling matter. At a price tag of $57,200 for the 2015-2016 academic year, it is worth asking from time to time if students are getting good value for their money.

In this spirit, three members of the HLS faculty recently surveyed 124 practicing lawyers at the law firms that hire the most HLS students*:

The survey had two main objectives: (1) to assist students in selecting courses by providing them with data about the relative importance of courses; and (2) to provide faculty with information about how to improve the curriculum and best advise students.

The first question they asked had to do with which law school “business-methods” courses would be most beneficial for current law students. The responses were quite consistent across transactional lawyers and litigators:

  • Accounting and Financial Reporting
  • Corporate Finance
  • Negotiation Workshop
  • Business Strategy for Lawyers
  • Analytical Methods for Lawyers
  • Leadership in Law Firms
  • Statistical Analysis/Quantitative Analysis

When asked which of the courses in the area of Business Organization, Commercial Law, and Finance were most useful, transactional lawyers and litigators all agreed that Corporations and Securities Regulation were key. In addition, the transactional lawyers recommended Mergers & Acquisitions, while the litigators recommended Securities Litigation.

With respect to courses outside the area of Business Organization, Commercial Law, and Finance, the courses judged most useful fell along practice lines:

  • Litigation: Evidence, Federal Courts, Administrative Law
  • Transactions: Intellectual Property Law, Patent Law, Copyright Law

The next area surveyed was the skills and knowledge bases that law firms considered to be most important for students to acquire:

  • Accounting/Financial Statement Analysis
  • Teamwork
  • Financial Markets/Products Negotiations
  • Business Strategy/Industry Analysis
  • Statistical/Quantitative Analysis
  • Legal Services Industry

It is interesting to note that the lawyers surveyed viewed Teamwork to be almost exactly as important as Accounting/Financial Statement Analysis. In the words of the authors of the study: “Taken together, these results suggest that law firms value softer skills and institutional knowledge as well as rigorous analytical skills.”

So why does any of this matter to your law firm knowledge management department? The respondents to the survey are your current colleagues. The student beneficiaries of the survey will be your colleagues shortly. This survey identifies the subjects they find most useful. This leads to some important questions for you:

  • Are these subjects and skills well-supported by your KM program and resources?
  • Are your KM personnel trained and able to assist practitioners in these areas?

If the answer to either of these questions is no, isn’t it time you took a leaf out of the HLS playbook and started to realign your program, resources and personnel?

* The law firms surveyed were “the 11 largest employers of HLS students over the last several years: Ropes and Gray, Davis Polk, Skadden Arps, Latham & Watkins, Kirkland & Ellis, Cravath, Cleary Gottlieb, WilmerHale, Covington Burling, Gibson Dunn, and Sidley Austin.”

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When Dinosaurs Roamed the Web

800px-Triceratops-vs-T-Rex001From our grandparents’ time back to the dawn of oral history, we used the phrase “once upon a time” to indicate a long time ago. Then we started to use some variant of the phrase “back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.” Again, this is not a literal indication of time, but rather a figurative one. (If you want to be literal, they walked the earth between 230 million years ago and 65 million years ago. In other words, a long, long, LONG time ago.)

When dinosaurs roamed the web

When you are considering such long spans of time, you naturally expect massive changes. Now that life is speeding up, however, we are experiencing massive changes over a much shorter period of time. Take, for example, the changes that have occurred since “dinosaurs roamed the web.” A recent article by Jamie Carter, The internet is everywhere – but where has the web gone‘ summarizes the sweep of these changes nicely:

“The web started out as a content repository where search was the key enabler,” says Richard Moulds, VP Strategy, Thales e-Security. “Web 2.0 was about user-driven content and social media was the big enabler, and Web 3.0 is all about personalisation where different users experience different things based on their history and preference. For this transition, big data is the key enabler – without massive data analytics, personalisation on a grand scale is not possible.”

Three Eras of Knowledge Management

This quote brings to mind the seminal work by Nancy Dixon in which she discusses the Three Eras of Knowledge Management:

  1. Leveraging explicit knowledge: capturing (i.e., documenting) knowledge, organizing it into databases, providing easy access to the knowledge.
  2. Leveraging experiential knowledge: enabling teams, groups and communities to share tacit knowledge rather than merely explicit knowledge. Focusing on tactical, frontline  knowledge rather than strategic or managerial knowledge.
  3. Leveraging collective knowledge: conversation-based knowledge sharing, in which the role of leaders is to convene strategic conversations.

These two views do not map exactly. For example, Nancy Dixon suggests that social media tools (i.e., Web 2.0) would be useful in leveraging collective knowledge across physical or geographical boundaries. In her view, social networking technologies provide “greater organizational transparency and give rise to more diverse perspectives in the organizational conversation. The use of crowd sourcing, cognitive diversity, and predictive markets draw on a wider base of thinking, both internally and externally, that increases organizational innovation.” It would be interesting to see how she might think about the personalization capabilities of Web 3.0 and its place in knowledge management.

Escaping the dinosaur age

Even in the absence of a neat one-to-one comparison, it is still useful to take a moment to consider where your organization’s knowledge management efforts are focused today. Starting with Nancy Dixon, where is your organization’s KM program with respect to the Three Eras of Knowledge Management? Are you still in the first era, trying to build a foundation of good content management? Or have you moved to more conversation-based knowledge sharing?

Now, take a look at your intranet. Where is it in terms of Richard Moulds’ breakdown of Web 1.0, Web 2.0 or Web 3.0. Are you still focused on simply providing as much centrally vetted content as possible? Or have you moved beyond that to include a wide-range of user-generated content. Better still, do the users of your intranet or knowledge management program have the benefit of thoughtfully personalized resources that allow them to focus on the things that matter most to them at any given time?

In law firms, for example, some rudimentary personalization occurs based on role (e.g., partner, associate, staff), client, practice group and location. Do you go beyond these basics to provide personalization based on search terms, user behavior, talent management (e.g., providing content that supports a user’s development goals) and time management (e.g., providing content that fits with a user’s current time management challenges or opportunities)?

If you are stuck in the stage of basic content wrangling and presentation, you are living when dinosaurs roamed the web. Isn’t it time for you to move into the 21st century?

[Photo Credit: Marcin Chady]

 

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KM Guardian or KM Guide?

World_Map_1689What is knowledge management’s core function? Are we to be guardians or guides?

When I started in law firm knowledge management, my role was fairly clear: I was to be a guardian. What does this mean? My job was to gather and guard the intellectual capital of the firm. I was to help filter the useful material from the less useful, put the useful material in a central location, and then provide easy access to it based on the firm’s confidentiality rules and permissions structure. While this was a fair amount of work, it was not hard to grasp. Further, it fit nicely with one of the traditional roles of law firms: gatekeeper of esoteric knowledge. Just as law firms accumulated knowledge of the law and then provided it to clients, I was to provide the same service to the lawyers who were my internal clients. In a sense, I was to be the firm’s gatekeeper of gatekeepers.

In many law firms today, this is still the primary function of their KM personnel. They hunt down or create legal content. They cajole or harass fee-earner colleagues to draft, review and approve materials for the central repository of firm crown jewel documents (e.g., model documents, practice guides, matter process maps, etc.) They tangle with IT in an attempt to create a user-friendly environment for that central repository (e.g., an intranet/portal or even a simple wiki). And once they have some content in this collection, they then need to start the work of finding fee-earning colleagues who will actually keep those materials current and relevant.  On the best of days, being a KM guardian is a sisyphean task.

Being a KM guide is no less time-consuming, but I would suggest that it is far more productive.

What is a KM guide? The role of a KM guide is not that different from a tour guide: identifying the trail, illuminating the path, providing context, enabling fellow travelers to discover and learn from the experience.  The pathways in question here are not physical pathways, but rather pathways to learning and knowledge.  Accordingly, rather than saying “this document contains what you need to know,” we would instead say “this how others in a similar situation found what they needed to know.”

Before you dismiss this as an inefficient, roundabout method, consider the following example. If you come to me looking for information and I hand you something off-the-shelf, generally one of two things will happen: either it will be exactly what you were looking for (and you will thank me profusely) or it will not be what you were looking for (and you will wonder why you wasted your time). This is the experience many people have when they go to their intranet looking for information.

There is also a variant on the second experience that can be profoundly aggravating: they find something that is almost, but not quite, what they were looking for. So they have to reverse engineer it to figure out how much they can salvage and how much they must create from scratch. However, because there rarely are any “reverse engineering instructions” attached to the document, they often have to reinvent the wheel in order to meet their goal. Talk about a colossal waste of time! Yet it goes on every day in organizations around the world.

Now are you ready to consider an alternative?

What if we had a map of the path the earlier traveler took to their destination. You would know that you didn’t need to go as far as they did, but you could follow the map until you reached the point where you had to take a turn onto another road. Obviously, your path on that other road would be beyond the map you were given, so you would have to figure that part out for yourself. However, that would be the ONLY part you would have to create from scratch. For the earlier part of your journey, you would simply have to follow the map rather than creating your own trail (machete in hand) through the undergrowth.

The beautiful thing about working with journey maps rather than destination documents is that these maps show the next traveler where the previous trailblazer was trying to go and how they did it. Then the newcomer can determine how best to plan their own journey. In doing so, they will build on the work of others rather than being forced to reinvent the wheel.

While I have not yet had a chance to test the software, there is a new tool that promises a similar experience by mapping the research path people take through the internet in pursuit of answers to life’s burning questions. Twingl’s Trailblazer is an extension to Chrome that shows what sites you visited and, in the process, reveals something of your thought process. There are several benefits to this approach:

  • You can step away from your research and then return later without having to repeat steps.
  • You can review your map to see where you might have missed something or taken an unproductive turn.
  • You can share your map with others — thereby transferring both the knowledge of where you ended up, as well as how you got there.

Now imagine if we could create similar maps of how the lawyers in our firms arrived at certain judgments, negotiation stances or language in documents. Then we could share within the firm a much deeper and better quality of knowledge — not only what we decided, but how we got there. These knowledge pathways set one lawyer apart from another. Aggregated, they could set one law firm apart from the others.

KM personnel have a role to play here by being KM guides.  A KM guide helps lawyers uncover and map their journey. Then that KM guide can maintain and share those maps. Just as we groom cross-country ski trails,  a KM guide keeps the knowledge trails within an organization accessible, well-tended, free of debris and easy to follow. Over time you will have a collection of overlapping maps that build on the work of earlier generations of lawyers and then extend the collective learning in new directions. What a fantastic outcome for a KM effort!

In an era of disintermediation, it makes less sense to be the guardian of information that often can be found by a variety of means in multiple places. It is more productive to help all the people in your firm rise to a higher point on the learning curve by building systematically on the knowledge maps of colleagues. You can accomplish this by being a KM guide.

 

[Photo Credit: Wikipedia]

 

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Intranet Ignorance is NOT Bliss – Part 2

Roosevelt and Churchill in conversationA constructive conversation is one that leads to greater understanding. While blogging sometimes feels like a solitary activity, occasionally readers pay a writer the compliment of commenting on her work. Then the conversation begins. When the participants in that conversation are good-natured and well-intended, that conversation can become a constructive one that leads to greater understanding.

Last week I hoped to start a conversation that I believe is long overdue in the legal industry. That conversation concerns how law firms go about deciding to purchase intranet/portal technology. Law firm knowledge management departments often see an intranet as a core part of their offering to the firm. Yet too often the technology is chosen by the IT department and does not always serve the needs of the KM department. Unfortunately, some KM professionals are not aware that there are alternatives readily available in the market, so they cannot engage their It colleagues in a more productive conversation about the relative merits of the various technology offerings.  The result is rarely good for the KM department or the lawyers it serves. Consequently, my assertion was that Intranet Ignorance is NOT Bliss.

My solution to this problem was not to recommend a particular technology solution. Rather it was to urge my law firm KM colleagues to make sure they had done their due diligence to understand fully what the market offers before choosing any product. I closed my blog post by asking my readers to do themselves the favor of exploring alternatives to SharePoint before they make their purchase decision. If SharePoint is the right choice, then they should go ahead with it. If it is not the right choice for them, then they should choose another intranet product.

There is nothing radical about this advice. I would give it to someone contemplating a home purchase, a car purchase or even a toaster purchase. We make better decisions when we have better information. I’m simply asking my law firm colleagues to ensure they have better information.

In the spirit of better information, I am reproducing below two comments I received on my blog post via LinkedIn. Normally I would simply have responded in LinkedIn, but the word limitations there did not permit a thoughtful response. Therefore, I have moved the conversation here:

Comment from Doug Horton, President and CEO, Handshake Software:

Mary, I realized you got paid to review this software but having downloaded and read their SharePoint v. Interact whitepaper, there are many false assumptions in their comparison when viewed in the context of law firms. You know that Handshake Software is the #1 provider of SharePoint products and services to the legal market. You may not know that we have at least one client that is using our software and integrations to create an Intranet without SharePoint. Anyway, I would be happy to discuss offline with you or anyone else.

My response to Doug’s comment:

Doug, thanks very much for reading and commenting on my blog post.

I was asked by Interact to prepare a knowledge management white paper for the legal industry. I was not paid to review their software. My blog post on intranets was intended to start a conversation about right-sizing intranet investments in law firms. The white paper has the same goal. Your comments help by pushing this conversation forward and, for that, I thank you.

You mention in your comments that the company you founded and lead, Handshake Software, “is the #1 provider of SharePoint products and services to the legal market.” I congratulate you on the success of your company. In light of that success, I must note that my economic interest in Interact is infinitesimal in relation to your economic interest as the founder, president  and CEO of a company that continues its Microsoft SharePoint-focused growth in 2015.  Consequently, I was disappointed when you suggested that economic interests would sway me. This seems unfair in light of our relative economic interests.

You mention there were false assumptions in the Interact document to which I linked,  but you did not provide any specifics. That paper cites sources such as Gartner and AIIM. Are you questioning those sources or something else?  I would like to learn more specifics about your concerns. Until then, it is hard to respond to a general allegation. You offered to have an offline conversation on this, and I would welcome that opportunity.

Finally, I am delighted to learn from your comment that you have at least one client that is using your software and integration to create an intranet without SharePoint. Would you be willing to tell me more about that case so that I can feature it in one of my blog posts? The experience of that firm would undoubtedly be instructive for other firms weighing an intranet purchase decision.

– Mary

 

Comment from Ted Theodoropoulos, President, Acrowire:

Like Doug, I would also challenge the validity of Interact’s assessment of SharePoint. SharePoint doesn’t include workflow and forms? You can’t have a SharePoint environment stood up in weeks? There are no search analytics in SharePoint? All these assertions are completely inaccurate. I would also challenge the assertion that no CIO has been fired for deploying Microsoft products. I know a few legal CIOs personally who were let go for embarking on initiatives in which SharePoint was leveraged for uses in which it is not particularly well suited (i.e. legal DMS).

My response to Ted’s comment:

Ted, thanks for your comments on my blog post.

You noted that you share Doug’s analysis, so I’d invite you to take a look at my response to Doug.

In your comments, you referred to assertions that (i) SharePoint doesn’t include workflow and forms, (ii) you can’t stand up a SharePoint environment in weeks, and (iii) there are no search analytics in SharePoint. I did not make those assertions in my blog post and I did not see those assertions in the Interact document to which I linked from my post. Can you tell me where you found them?

Finally, you stated “I would also challenge the assertion that no CIO has been fired for deploying Microsoft products.” In fact, that was not my claim. I said: “No CIO of a law firm was ever fired for buying Microsoft products.” (emphasis added)  My point was simply that Microsoft is often seen as a safer choice at the purchase stage than smaller, less-established vendors. However, I understand that the Microsoft label will not protect a CIO who has not deployed the software appropriately. Your example proves my understanding to be correct.

Would you be willing to tell me more about the examples you have in mind regarding CIOs who failed to deploy SharePoint properly? In particular, I would be interested in learning about the failed SharePoint-as-DMS examples you mentioned. This topic comes up frequently in law firm KM circles, so it would be good to have more facts at hand about why SharePoint does not deliver as a DMS.

– Mary

Conclusion:

As I stated earlier, a constructive conversation is one that leads to greater understanding. It is my hope that Doug, Ted and others in the legal industry will join me in creating this constructive conversation regarding intranets. I know there are some law firms that are happy with their SharePoint deployment. I also know that there are law firms that are not as happy. As we raise everyone’s understanding about intranet technologies and opportunities available in the marketplace, we ensure that people make smarter purchase decisions. Obviously, the implementation is in each purchaser’s hands, but if they correctly make the first critical decision — buying the right software — that should put them miles ahead in terms of implementation, adoption and engagement.

At the end of the day, isn’t that where all of us want to be?

 

[Photo Credit: Roosevelt and Churchill in conversation (Zorba the Geek) / CC BY-SA 2.0]

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