Above and Beyond KM

A discussion of knowledge management that goes above and beyond technology.

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This publication contains my personal views and not necessarily those of my clients. Since I am a lawyer, I do need to tell you that this publication is not intended as legal advice or as an advertisement for legal services.
  • What a wonderful surprise!  Today the ABA Journal released its Third Annual Blawg 100 List and I’m delighted to report that Above and Beyond KM has been included in that list along with some truly remarkable law blogs.  The list was compiled by the Journal’s editors, who this year asked readers of legal blogs to recommend their favorite blogs.  Those recommendations are like gold to any blogger, and I am truly grateful to all of you who suggested this blog.

    Now that the list has been published, the next step is for readers to vote for the blogs  that they like the best in each of the 10 categories.  This blog is in the “Legal Tech” category along with the following impressive blawgs:

    The voting has begun and the results will be reported in February.  If you are so inclined, I’d be grateful for your support.  All you have to do is cast your vote before December 31.  Regardless of whether you vote or not, please do check out the blogs on the list.  They are a terrific entry point to the riches of the legal blogosphere.

    Before I sign off, I do want to thank all my readers.  As I’ve learned over nearly two years of blogging, you are an extraordinarily generous group of people.  Some of you leave comments when you read something of interest.  Others of you tweet a blog post that has caught your fancy.  Still others send me e-mails from time to time just to let me know that something in the blog has resonated with you.  And then, there are those of you who don’t contact me, but are kind enough to recommend Above and Beyond KM to your colleagues and, in this case, to the ABA Journal.

    Please accept my deepest appreciation.  It’s a great pleasure to write for and with you.

    5 Comments
  • We all know that dinosaurs and dodo birds are extinct. What about extranets? I know we’ve got them, but for how long?

    With the increasing pressure from clients to have access to the wealth of knowledge generated by law firms, some firms have tried to lance the wound by offering a small collection of their content on password protected extranets. The problem with this approach is that it puts the burden on the client. For example, the client (and in this instance I mean every member of the client’s law department) must (i) know the extranet exists, (ii) figure out its design quirks and how it works, (iii) have some sense of its collection, and (iv) remember the unique password every time they want to consult that archive. Multiply this across the sites of various law firms and you’ve got a major challenge.

    I know that a great driver of this approach is to provide access without compromising security and confidentiality, but does it really work for clients? We’ve heard in-house counsel express the desire for law firm content without having to hunt for it. They would like it in an environment of their own choosing and design. So instead of providing content access tools like extranets, should law firms be thinking harder about better content delivery tools?

    Imagine a virtual umbilical cord stretching from a law firm to its client’s knowledge management system, providing a regular supply of helpful resources? Imagine being an in-house lawyer who doesn’t have to go to a thousand places on the internet to find information, but rather can simply surf a single familiar internal platform? Imagine that in-house lawyer’s delight when they can find easily the information appropriate to the decision at hand, and can identify and follow-up with the lawyer and firm that made the retrieval so pain free? Imagine the impact of these experiences on the relationship between that law firm and its client?

    This isn’t farfetched. As more and more law firms and law departments move to a SharePoint platform, we will approach a common technical vocabulary for making content available.  Next, we need to push this further to see how to provide that content outside the law firm firewall safely.  This could be a wonderful opportunity to provide exactly the level of law firm transparency and support that clients have been asking for.

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    If you’d like to learn more about new ways of using extranets (before they become extinct!), read Are Law Firms Ready for Transparency?

    [Photo Credit:  Kevin Zim]

    12 Comments
  • How often do you hear someone say after a disaster, “if we only knew about the warning signs…”? And then you discover that the warnings were there all along, but we missed them. In other words, the information was available, but the right people did not find it and were unable to act on it.  We heard these words in the aftermath of 9/11.  And now we’re hearing it in the aftermath of the Fort Hood tragedy.

    Today’s news included a report on a supervisor’s assessment of Maj. Nidal Hasan:

    Two years ago, a top psychiatrist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was so concerned about what he saw as Nidal Hasan’s incompetence and reckless behavior that he put those concerns in writing.  [...]

    Officials at Walter Reed sent that memo to Fort Hood this year when Hasan was transferred there.

    Nevertheless, commanders still assigned Hasan — accused of killing 13 people in a mass shooting at Fort Hood on Nov. 5 — to work with some of the Army’s most troubled and vulnerable soldiers.

    We may discover that the supervisors at Fort Hood saw and ignored this letter.  Presumably, there will be legal consequences for that behavior.  But what if they never saw the information?  That’s a classic case of inadequate knowledge management.

    If the only thing knowledge managers do right is to set up systems that help get the important information before the decisionmakers, we’ll have done a great deal.  It’s critical to focus on this issue every day — otherwise you may end up with incomplete information leading to bad decisions and horrible human consequences.

    [Photo Credit:  Flags lowered at Fort Hood, The U.S. Army)

    7 Comments
  • Every group has its mantra. “Four legs good, two legs bad”  helped underscore the proper social and political order in Animal Farm.  For proponents of social media behind the firewall, the mantra has been “Collaboration good, silos bad.” Like motherhood and apple pie, collaboration is one of those things it’s hard to criticize  — until you meet the dark side of collaboration.

    What’s the dark side of collaboration?  Collaboration done badly.  Here’s what McKinsey has to say on this issue in their article, Using Technology to Improve Workforce Collaboration:

    Unfortunately, the productivity measures for collaboration workers are fuzzy at best. For production workers, productivity is readily measured in terms of units of output; for transaction workers, in operations per hour. But for knowledge workers, what might be thought of as collaboration productivity depends on the quality and quantity of interactions occurring. And it’s from these less-than-perfectly-understood interactions that companies and national economies derive important benefits. Consider the collaborative creative work needed to win an advertising campaign or the high levels of service needed to satisfy public citizens. Or, in a similar vein, the interplay between a company and its customers or partners that results in an innovative product.

    Raising the quality of these interactions is largely uncharted territory. Taking a systematic view, however, helps bring some of the key issues into focus. Our research suggests that improvements depend upon getting a better fix on who actually is doing the collaborating within companies, as well as understanding the details of how that interactive work is done. Just as important is deciding how to support interactions with technology—in particular, Web 2.0 tools such as social networks, wikis, and video. There is potential for sizeable gains from even modest improvements. Our survey research shows that at least 20 percent and as much as 50 percent of collaborative activity results in wasted effort. And the sources of this waste—including poorly planned meetings, unproductive travel time, and the rising tide of redundant e-mail communications, just to name a few—are many and growing in knowledge-intense industries. [emphasis added]

    If you continue to read the McKinsey article, you’ll learn about their recommendations for matching tools with types of collaboration work, thereby reducing wasted collaborative activity.  But even as you think about improving the quality of collaboration, you need to remember the emergent essence of Enterprise 2.0 tools and strategies:

    Furthering collaboration excellence demands mind-sets and capabilities that are unfamiliar and sometimes even counterintuitive to many business managers. It requires trusting your collaboration workers to arrive at creative solutions rather than enforcing top-down policies. Business managers should allow time and provide forums for collaboration workers to brainstorm solutions to productivity problems. Corporate technology providers will need to provide tools that are flexible enough to enable experimentation, so that usage and adoption are widespread.  [emphasis added]

    As you roll out your new Enterprise 2.0 tools, pay careful attention to their impact on collaboration.  Have you provided the means for knowledge workers to experiment and create more productive collaboration?  Or do your systems lead to activity that is no more than wasted effort?

    [Photo Credit:  gonzalo ar]

    2 Comments
  • He nearly broke my nose yesterday. We were both walking at the typical New York City pace (fast), when I rounded the corner and almost ploughed right into him. If we hadn’t stopped ourselves in time, we would have had a broken nose or two.

    What happened?  We were walking in opposite directions in tunnels that connected two separate subway lines.   The problem was caused by the architect and builders of those tunnels who clearly didn’t spend even one nanosecond thinking about traffic patterns. If they had, they wouldn’t have created a path that put this man and me on a  collision course.  Since we both were essentially blind going around that corner, we had to rely on the foresight and thoughtfulness of the architect and builders.  Unfortunately, their design let us down.

    Now think about the paths you create in your various knowledge management systems.  Have you designed them thoughtfully, taking care to make things simple and intuitive for your users?  Or, have you set your users up for frustration and, possibly, a broken nose?

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    Here are some additional resources if you’re interested in reading about usability and design:

    [Photo Credit:  rytc]

    1 Comment
  • There aren’t many things I regret in life, but every year at this time I remember one particularly bad decision. It happened when I was in graduate school.  A group of my friends thought it might be fun to get a cheap flight and visit a new town. I was broke and so rather than run up additional debt, I decided that it was time to be a grown-up and behave responsibly. Consequently, I turned down the trip and stayed at school in order to save my pennies.  My friends left for their holiday and found themselves in Berlin watching history happen as the Wall fell.  To my everlasting regret, I spent those pivotal days back at school watching history on TV.

    During the course of the last 18 months, many firms and their managers have made seemingly prudent decisions regarding spending.  I suspect that a large number of them have opted to stay at home and save pennies rather than to venture out in search of something new.  While this may be a safe choice, is it the right choice?  What opportunities are they foreclosing?  What Berlin Wall will they miss?

    [Photo Credit:  Romtomtom]

    3 Comments
  • It may the closest thing to mind reading we’ve seen yet. Starting today, Loopt is offering a new service called Pulse, which claims to be able to provide you with an extraordinary array of helpful information as you move around town:

    Pulse produces a personalized and ever-changing list of recommendations based on where you are, the time of day and Loopt’s own data on where you and your friends have been. It shows editorial descriptions and reviews from the partner sites and averages the ratings a business has received.

    In other words, before you can formulate the query, Pulse offers some pertinent answers.

    So here’s my question for you:  once your internal clients get used to this level of service and convenience in their leisure lives, how long will they put up with the clunky, outmoded, painful-to-use technology provided in too many law firms?  And, how long will those folks be willing to use a knowledge management system that can’t pull off the neat trick of appearing to read their minds?

    It’s a race against time.  Have the knowledge management and IT personnel in your law firm found the starting block yet?

    [Photo Credit:  sunny laid back L.A.]

    5 Comments
  • Are you resistant to change? Are you an obstacle to change? What kind of questions are those for a knowledge manager? Important questions.

    So much of what we do involves change. In fact, we’re constantly urging our internal clients to try new things, adopt new methods, be open to change — provided it’s the change we’re recommending. But are we willing to eat our own dog food?

    You can’t be an effective change agent unless you yourself are open to change. To be sure you are open to change, see how you measure against a professional change agent’s 9 Tips for Change Agents:

    1. Be open to data at the start — when you are open to the data, you are no longer trapped by your preconceptions and prejudices.
    2. Network like crazy — the more people you know, the more inputs you have.  This increases the challenges to your mindset, which is a good thing.
    3. Document your own learning — this process of reflecting on what you are doing will accelerate your learning.
    4. Take senior management along — involve management in benchmarking, help them understand when your recommendations are standard or unusual.
    5. No Fear! — to promote change is to invite challenge and resistance.  You can’t do this if you’re worried about job security.
    6. Be a learning person yourself — unless you are learning (the right lessons), you won’t be effective.
    7. Laugh when it hurts — a sense of humor and optimism is critical when asking people to do what they most resist (i.e., change).
    8. Know the business before you try to change anything — Do you have real experience on the front line?  If not, it will be harder to help.
    9. Finish what you start

    While all of these are important for knowledge management, item 8 poses a special challenge for law firm knowledge managers who do not have experience as practicing lawyers or paralegals.  Here’s what the author of these 9 Tips has to say about her business:

    I don’t think you can do this work if you’re just a theorist. I’ve been a sales rep, I’ve been in a marketing job where I worked with the operations side. So when I go about the work of creating a change strategy, I already have an understanding of the people in our organization and what they do.

    if you aren’t either a practicing lawyer or paralegal, how do you address this issue?  How do you gain practical knowledge of the business and stop being a law firm knowledge management theorist?  Is your method effective?

    Being open to being wrong, being open to the learning that comes from failure — these are key hallmarks of a person who is ready for change and ready to be change.  What about you?

    [h/t to @weknowmore for pointing out this Fast Company article.]

    [Photo Credit:  nhussein]

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