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.
  • Kindle app for iPhoneDig deeply enough and you’ll find that every knowledge management or IT professional has a story about a deployment gone bad.  If you push them hard enough, they might even confess that they were partially responsible for the unsatisfactory results.  Of course, the less than honest will blame the vendor or, more often than not, the end-user.  But, at the end of the day, shouldn’t adoption by the end-user be the whole point of your project?

    If you don’t believe me, consider the Kindle.  It wasn’t the first eReader and perhaps wasn’t technologically the best.  However, it has been a commanding presence in the world of eReaders, even in the face of competition from acknowledged technology stars such as Sony.  According to Adrian Slywotzky, Amazon beat Sony not on the strength of its technology or design but rather on the strength of its vision. Unlike Sony, Amazon envisioned and delivered a complete package.  Where Sony offered decent technology to deliver a tiny collection of books. Amazon took that technology and found a way to deliver an enormous collection of books wirelessly.  Slywotzky refers to this complete vision and package as the “behind-the-screen elements that make up a product’s backstory” and build consumer demand. In The Real Secret of Kindle’s Success, Slywotzky writes:

    Look at the Kindle, and you don’t see the wireless connection, the relationships between Amazon and the publishers, the vast online bookstore, or the personalized book recommendations. But all these backstory elements dramatically enhance the e-reader experience, making Kindle magnetic in a way the [Sony] Librie never was. The first production run of Kindles sold out within five-and-a-half hours.

    Now let’s come back to those failed deployments.  Did you have all the critical backstory elements in place? Did you have a complete vision, a comprehensive package? Did you offer something that would have a magnetic attraction for the end-user? In other words, was your deployment planned and executed from the perspective of the end-user?   Did you figure out what the end-user really wanted?  Amazon certainly did.  To its credit, Amazon realized that we weren’t really interested in buying eReaders.  Rather, we were interested in reading.  So Amazon gave us an unrivaled opportunity to read and then supported that with adequate technology.

    But here’s the kicker:  through Kindle, Amazon made it so easy for people to think about purchasing and reading eBooks that many of us have stopped buying eReaders altogether and simply read eBooks on our smartphones, tablets and computers.**  And how do we buy and read books now?  Via a free Kindle app that lets Amazon focus on its original business of selling books.  However, now it has the added advantage of lower costs since there is no need to store physical inventory.

    So in exchange for its complete vision and backstory elements, Amazon has happy customers and a booming business in eBooks.  How does your deployment compare?

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    ** If you have an Apple device, you should note the new App Store restrictions on purchasing books from Amazon. (Here’s a work around or do as Amazon suggests and bookmark amazon.com/kindlestore on your iPhone. For the  iPad, consider the Kindle Cloud Reader.)

    [Photo Credit: K. Todd Storch]

     

    2 Comments
  • Reading to the Kindergarten Students The Florida Supreme Court wants lawyers to behave nicely with respect to their opponents.  Here’s how the court’s recent action is described in a press release by the American Board of Trial Advocates:

    Commenting that `concerns have grown about acts of incivility among members of the legal profession,’ the high court noted ABOTA’s efforts to stress the importance of civility in the practice of law.  The Supreme Court emphasized to Florida lawyers old and new that practicing law is an honor that comes with responsibilities, paramount among which is civility, an often overlooked cornerstone of the legal profession.  The Court added to the Oath of Admission the following: `To opposing parties and their counsel, I pledge fairness, integrity, and civility, not only in court, but also in all written and oral communications.’

    It’s well and good that some lawyers will show their kinder and gentler sides to their opponents, but what about colleagues within their own firms?  The hard truth is that law firm knowledge management faces some rather particular challenges based on the population we serve.  If you doubt this, take a look a some of my earlier posts on lawyers and lawyer personalities:

    Now, let’s consider some specific challenges that all knowledge managers face.  Jack Vinson has done a terrific job of gathering in one place some things we know to be true about how people share knowledge.  In Rules of Knowledge Management, Jack starts with a summary of Chris Collison’s amusing take on Tom Davenport’s “Kindergarten Rationale” for sharing:

    • You share with the friends you trust
    • You share when you’re sure you’ll get something in return
    • Your toys are more special than anyone else’s
    • You share when the teacher tells you to, until she turns her back
    • When toys are scarce, there’s less sharing
    • Once yours gets taken, you never share again

    These observations of kindergarten children are entirely consistent with what we know about “mature adults” operating in a work context.  In fact, the lack of trust coupled with some nasty lessons learned about the downside of sharing can lead to an epidemic of information hoarding within an organization. If this is what happens in the general working adult population, what can you expect from a lawyer population? Given their natural skepticism, high degree of autonomy, low sociability and resilience, and adversarial natures (see What Makes Lawyers So Challenging?), this group may find it even harder to share than your typical kindergartener.  While I’m not sure it is possible to change anyone’s fundamental nature (and that certainly is well beyond the capabilities of a knowledge management group), we can work with senior management to change the environment in which lawyers operate. Taking guidance from Fighting the Knowledge Hiding Epidemic, I’d suggest the following strategies:

    • Build trust — emphasize positive relationships among employees
    • Demonstrate the mutual benefits that result when colleagues share information
    • Treat all workers fairly and respectfully, thereby reducing feelings of injustice and the need for retaliation

    At the end of the day, perhaps we are really about trust management rather than knowledge management (to the extent either trust or knowledge can, in fact, be “managed.”) [Photo Credit: Kathy Cassidy]

    1 Comment
  • multiply On most days, my To Do List seems longer than the Nile River.  It contains everything from the quotidien (remember the milk!) to the critical — tasks that trigger serious consequences. On days when it seems like I add two tasks for every one I complete, it can be tempting to focus on the noisiest ones.  What are noisy tasks?  The tasks with the most pressing deadline or the most vocal sponsor. And so it goes, racing from one due date to another, with barely enough time for a breath much less a moment to consider the true results of what I am doing.

    Writers on productivity, time management and strategy have told us for a long time that we should focus on the IMPORTANT not the URGENT. That’s excellent advice.  However, I’ve recently started thinking about another lens through which to view and prioritize tasks:  Will the completion of the task (or project) act as a force multiplier?

    To understand this better, let’s spend a moment on force multiplication.  The military calls a factor a “force multiplier” when that factor enables a force to work much more effectively.  The example in Wikipedia relates to GPS:  ”if a certain technology like GPS enables a force to accomplish the same results of a force five times as large but without GPS, then the multiplier is 5.”  Interestingly, while technology can be an enormous advantage, force multipliers are not limited to technology.  Some of the force multipliers listed in that Wikipedia article have nothing at all to do with technology:

    Now come back to that growing To Do List and take another look at those tasks.  How many of them are basically chores — things that simply need to get done in order to get people off your back or to move things forward (perhaps towards an unclear goal)? How many of them are (or are part of) force multipliers — things that will allow you or your organization to work in a dramatically more effective fashion?  Viewed through this lens, the chores seem much less relevant, akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, while the force multipliers are clearly much more deserving of your time and attention.

    The challenge of course is that the noisy tasks grab your attention because others insist on it.  They want something when they want it because they want it.  They may not have a single strategic thought in their head, but they are demanding and persistent.  So how do you limit the encroachment of purveyors of noisy tasks?  One answer is to limit the amount of time available for chores.  To do this credibly, you’ll need to know where you and your activities fit within the strategy of your organization.  If the task does not advance strategy, don’t do it.  Or decide upfront to allow a fixed percentage of your time for chores that may be of minimal use to you, but may be important to keep the people around you happy.  Another approach is to get a better understanding of the task and its context.  If your job is to copy documents, one page looks much like another.  However, it matters if the document you are copying contains the cafeteria menu or the firm’s emergency response guidelines. Finally, you need to educate the folks around you.  With your subordinates, do your decision making aloud — explaining how you determine if a particular task or project is a force multiplier. With your superiors, ask them to help you understand better the force multiplication attributes they see in the tasks they assign.  (This will either provide you with more useful contextual information or smoke out a chore that is masquerading as an important task.) Finally, with the others, engage them in conversation. When you cannot see your way clear to handle their chore, explain your reasoning.  They won’t always be happy about it, but they will start learning when to call on you and when to dump their requests on someone else.

    Of course, the concept of force multiplication goes far beyond your To Do List.  Do your projects have a force multiplying effect on your department?  Does your department have a force multiplying effect on your firm? These are important questions for everyone, but especially for people engaged in the sometime amorphous field of knowledge management. Sure, most of what we do helps.  But do we make a dramatic difference?  If not, why not?

    [Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds]

     

    5 Comments
  • Sun and clouds Is it true that there’s nothing new under the sun? Given my fondness for innovation, I always find myself hoping there are at least a few exceptions to the rule.  In this spirit, I went to several knowledge management sessions at the recent International Legal Technology Association Conference looking for something new in KM.  I’m not sure I found anything that completely fit the bill — lots of interesting things, but not much that was truly startlingly new.  Now, to be clear, this is not in any way intended to be a criticism of ILTA.  By all accounts, the conference committee did a great job organizing the conference. [Disclosure: I was honored to be a member of that committee.] And, it’s not in any way intended to be a criticism of the terrific legal KM folks who made presentations at the conference.  Lots of them are engaged in useful and interesting projects.  However, I was left with the persistent feeling that what I was seeing was largely more of the same.

    So if this was not the year of massive legal KM breakthroughs at ILTA, what could we take away from the KM sessions?

    • Legal KM is maturing.  Most firms I heard from seem to be focused on improving and upgrading incrementally rather than on doing something radically new.
    • I don’t remember hearing about any provocative new technologies. However, there was lots of interesting news about vendors in the legal vertical.
    • People are trying really hard to make SharePoint work for them.  Some have gone so far as to customize SharePoint heavily in order to make it user-friendly.  Meanwhile, other firms have decided that they will NOT use SharePoint because it doesn’t provide the flexibility and support they need.  Still others are concerned about Microsoft’s commitment to the legal vertical.  These are discussions that need to be held more openly.  We could all learn from them.
    • A few firms are doing some interesting work with respect to providing clients with legal resources and, above all, access to their legal teams.
    • While some firms are “playing” with iPad apps, others have decided that the key is to provide full mobility of data to their legal teams. (I heard from attendees at this session that the highly innovative team at Mallesons is working on some wonderful tools to help clients and lawyers on the go.  However, I didn’t have a chance to see this presentation. (For information on their impressive Mallesons Connect tool, see my earlier report.))
    • Alternative Fee Arrangements are providing an interesting place of engagement for some legal KM folks.  However, it sounds like many are still trying to figure out how to crack the code.
    • Balancing information sharing and data security is becoming tougher, especially in light of increased regulatory and client demands for data protection.
    • Kingsley Martin (President and Founder of KIIAC) has made a fascinating and potentially very powerful tool available for free.  His contract analysis website can help the smallest firm undertake detailed analysis and rapid document assembly.  If this gains widespread adoption, it could be an interesting way to crowdsource legal knowledge sharing.

    Even if we didn’t have many presentations on innovations, there were hints about the next new thing.  Here’s what I heard:

    • Firms are struggling with email filing and management.  Look for announcements about firms that believe they have cracked this puzzle.
    • The legal process outsourcers are growing in strength and penetration of the legal market.  Some firms are looking for ways to use this trend for their benefit.  Perhaps by co-opting the LPOs?
    • Social media advocates have been promising big wins for organizations that can harness the “power of social” behind the firewall.  While some firms have internal blogs and wikis, I didn’t hear of many firms that had a well-integrated, well-utilized social business platform for legal work.
    • Some believe that the next big win will result from conquering the Electronic Matter File Challenge. Do you know of any firm that has done this yet?
    • The presentation on Future-Proofing Your Law Firm spawned lots of hallway conversation during the conference.  What concrete steps are firms taking to ensure their viability? How do IT and KM play a role in this?
    • One ILTA session that was definitely forward-looking focused on Transformation Through Emerging Technologies.  (See David Hobbie’s report on the discussion.)

    Finally, if your firm or KM department is committed to innovation.  I’d commend to you the keynote presentations on innovation by Chris Trimble and Tom Koulopoulos.  In addition, take a look at the three nominees for ILTA’s award for the Innovative Member of the Year. There is lots of food for thought there.

    Based on what I saw and heard at the ILTA conference, my sense is that most of the legal KM community is consolidating past gains rather than forging ahead in new directions.  This may be a reflection of the recent tough economic times.  Hopefully it’s not a sign that law firms are investing less in their knowledge management systems.  Perhaps next year we’ll see some real innovation.  In the meantime, please do let me know if I’ve missed some noteworthy innovation in legal KM.  As Ambrose Bierce said, “There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of old things we don’t know.”

    [Photo Credit: wili_hybrid]

     

     

    7 Comments
  • James Bond Island No man is an island. And no single person can do everything that needs to be done to meet client needs. So why do so many of us operate at work like islands within an archipelago?

    To be fair, not everyone is misanthropic.  Some work in solitary fashion because they have not yet developed the necessary network within their organization to get things done in a way that leverages all the assets of that organization. Meanwhile, others work by themselves because they have not been given (or have not learned to use) the latest tools that facilitate collaboration. Others may work largely on their own because their organization does not have a culture that fosters information sharing.

    No matter what the cause of this lonely approach, it is useful to consider the alternative. While the video below is admittedly a marketing piece, it does provide a graphic example of the type of efficiency that is possible when you have the tools and culture to connect people and share information effectively:

    Now, because I can’t help myself, I have to ask you this:  do you know of a law firm that operates like this?  If not, please tell me how your law firm would handle “The Ask” if your client needed something done quickly? How many emails and phone calls over what length of time would it take? How does your organization’s approach compare to the approach in the video?  And, please be honest — which approach do you prefer?

    If you think this is all too much like science fiction and isn’t appropriate for your organization, don’t be misled. It could be the future for all of us. In fact, some lucky organizations may already be enjoying it today.  Don’t you wish you could too?

     

    [hat tip to John Tropea for sharing this video.]

    [Photo Credit: Joan Campderros-i-Canas]

     

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  • Twin Towers, New York It’s raining in New York City. In fact it’s been raining for days and days with no end in sight. The net result is a subdued, gloomy, sodden town.

    Although I’d much prefer blue skies and sunny weather, I must admit that the weather is strangely appropriate this week as we prepare for the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. All around us are signs of that anniversary:  notices of solemn remembrance services, TV and radio shows recounting the events and their aftermath, and a heightened police presence.  This week of all weeks we are reminded that things have not been the same since 9/11.

    In a post I wrote in 2008, 9/11 and Knowledge Management, I noted that investigations after the attacks revealed that the government had had much of the information that it needed to identify and counteract the 9/11 plot. However, some of that information was located in silos and protected by departmental rivalries. According to the 9/11 Commission’s Report:

    The FBI did not have the capability to link the collective knowledge of agents in the field to national priorities.

    The missed opportunities to thwart the 9/ 11 plot were also symptoms of a broader inability to adapt the way government manages problems to the new challenges of the twenty-first century. Action officers should have been able to draw on all available knowledge about al Qaeda in the government. Management should have ensured that information was shared and duties were clearly assigned across agencies, and across the foreign-domestic divide. … The U. S. government did not find a way of pooling intelligence and using it to guide the planning and assignment of responsibilities for joint operations involving entities as disparate as the CIA, the FBI, the State Department, the military, and the agencies involved in homeland security.

    Last week, John Moore published an article entitled How knowledge management helps keep the US attack free in which he describes how much has changed since 9/11:

    Although the attack and its aftermath affected broad swaths of IT, it also helped transform one area of particular importance to the homeland security community: the collection of tools, technologies and practices, known as knowledge management.

    Originally considered a means of preserving the institutional memory of longtime workers as they moved from one job to another or retired, the 2001 terrorist attacks brought an urgency to the uses of KM as a tool for intelligence collaboration and coordination, according to experts in the government IT community.

    …knowledge management practices expanded to accommodate more ways to aggregate and share critical information. From an architectural point of view, installations are less monolithic. Single knowledge repositories are giving way to multiple databases. Agencies may wield a number of collaboration tools to curate intelligence insights as opposed to a single, specifically designated knowledge management system. [emphasis added]

    In that article Moore gives some interesting details regarding how government agencies have used the experience of 9/11, coupled with the availability of new tools, to change the way they handle their information:

    • Widespread use of tools such as portals (e.g., Microsoft’s SharePoint), unified communications and social media “have pulled knowledge management in new directions.”
    • “Defense Knowledge Online, which had been a critical DOD knowledge management system, is giving way to file sharing among the rank and file using Microsoft SharePoint.”
    • “DISA’s Defense Connect Online, a 380,000-user network … lets personnel exchange unclassified and secret information with authorized mission partners” using conferencing and chat tools.
    • The Army is emphasizing communities of practice, in which personnel with longtime professional interests in common share information. Its Army Professional Forums include more than 200,000 members. These forums use collaboration tools such as wikis, Google Docs and online conferences.
    • Rather than acquiring a single monolithic purpose-built KM system, agencies are working to harness the various resources they already have and then to share those resources across agencies.
    • Key elements of this new approach are portals, collaboration products, unified communications systems and social media tools (including effective search engines).

    As a taxpayer, I’m relieved to learn that our public servants have been improving how our government works.  But I must admit that I’m curious to know the extent to which private organizations have improved the way they handle information.

    • How widespread is the use of collaboration tools and social media within your organization?
    • Do you have a portal or other significant knowledge repository that is central to your business and widely used?
    • Do your personnel operate in a vacuum within their own information silos or is there widespread sharing of critical information across functional groups?
    • Do you have an effective search engine that can help surface information hidden in silos?
    • Have you created communities of practice that actively share useful information?

    If you don’t have positive responses to these questions, what has your knowledge management group been doing these last 10 years? Paul Romer once famously quipped that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” If the most significant result of 9/11 is enhanced security in your office building, you have wasted a wonderful opportunity to change things for the better.

    [Photo Credit: Guillaume Cattiaux]

     

    2 Comments