The Knowledge Supply Chain #KMWorld

KMWlogo_Stacked_Session Description: The business value of knowledge is to enable the knowledge worker, and support them in making the most effective and efficient decisions. Knowledge is as much a raw material for the knowledge worker as parts and tools are for the manual worker. We can therefore think of KM as being the supply chain for knowledge, providing just-in-time knowledge to support  the front-line knowledge worker. This allows us to take models and insights from other supply chains in order to improve how KM works, including the “elimination of 7 wastes” from Lean Supply Chain theory, and the clear focus on the knowledge user.  Hear about the supply-chain view of KM, its implications, and ways to develop and/or improve a KM Framework.

Speaker: Nick Milton, Director & Founder, Knoco Ltd

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2015 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • Slide Deck
  • Peter Drucker.  The biggest management challenge of the 20th century was to increase by fifty times the productivity of manual workers in manufacturing. The biggest management challenge for the 21st century is to increase by fifty times the productivity of knowledge work and knowledge workers.
  • Manual Work Productivity.
    • The manual worker. Nick’s grandfather was a blacksmith, a manual worker, a craftsman.  When he made something, he made every part of it. His workmanship was superb.
    • The manufacturing worker. Management achieved a productivity increase in manual work by moving from the solitary manual worker to the manufacturing worker who made only one part of a finished product. By dividing labor, factories could make products significantly faster.
    • Other causes of increased productivity in manual work:
      • mechanization
      • a ready and available supply of the materials needed to create the product
  • Knowledge Work Productivity.
    • The knowledge craftsman is the expert who knows it all
    • The knowledge worker.  Today, however, the knowledge worker no longer needs to know it all. Knowledge is held collectively by the community and the network. In fact, an expert is almost always outperformed by a network. This is the knowledge work equivalent of improved productivity through the division of labor. However, in this case, it is a division of knowledge.
      • this requires a cultural shift = a fundamental change from knowledge as personal property to knowledge as collective property
        • this is challenging to some people because they believe that knowledge gives them worth and security
    • Automation: The knowledge equivalent of mechanization is automation.
    • Knowledge supply change — if you no longer own/have all the knowledge you need, then you need a reliable supply chain that gives you the knowledge you need when you need it.
  • Lord Browne of Madingly
    • Lord Browne was a former CEO of British Petroleum.
    • In Unleashing the Power of Learning (an interview published in the Harvard Business Review), he stated that if a company wants to gain and keep a competitive edge it must learn better than its competitors and then must apply that knowledge faster and more widely than its competitors do.
    • In the same interview he also stated that anyone who is not directly involved in profit-making activities should be fully occupied in creating and sharing knowledge that the company can use to make a profit.

Knowledge Supply Chain.

A supply chain is “a sequence of processes involved in the production and distribution of a commodity.” A knowledge supply chain is a sequence of processes involved in the production and distribution of knowledge. In other words, a knowledge supply chain provides “the right knowledge at the right time to the right people, so they can make the right decisions.”

To have an effective knowledge supply chain, we need the following:

  • We need a set of knowledge processes:
    • Knowledge creation
    • Knowledge capture
    • Knowledge synthesis
    • Knowledge seeking
    • Knowledge application
  • We need the related knowledge roles.
    • Knowledge managers
    • Knowledge engineers
    • Practice owners
    • Knowledge workers
  • We need the supporting technology .
    • Lessons learned management systems
    • Community portals
    • Discussion
    • Knowledge bases
    • Search engine
  • We need Knowledge Management Policy = Governance for this set of processes, roles and technologies.
  • Attributes of good supply chains:
    • They are user-focused (focused on the profit-maker)
    • Everyone in the organization is committed to this system
    • The supply chain must be reliable — when someone seeks knowledge, it should be there
    • The supply of knowledge should be high quality
    • Efficient
    • Pull-driven
    • Lean
  • Lean = a systematic method for the elimination of waste within a manufacturing system, and a focus on value add
    • Waste #1 = overproduction:
      • Info overload
      • Technology complexity overload
      • Producing more than and /or ahead of demand = a massive oversupply of knowledge
      • Davenport & Prusak, Working Knowledge: “Volume is the friend of data and the enemy of knowledge.”
    • Waste #2 = waiting = clock speed = the speed of learning
      • Waste = knowledge that is waiting to be used
      • Huawei has the Rule of 3 Ones:
        • you should be able to find something in one minute
        • you should get an answer to a question in one day
        • you should circulate new project knowledge within one month of the close of the project
      • Read Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto
        • they use checklists to speed learning
    • Waste #3 = unnecessary transport = unnecessary steps or handoffs
      • This usually is the result of too much bureaucracy/hierarchy
      • You can eliminate this by allowing people to connect directly/horizontally with each other
    • Waste #4 = inappropriate processing = doing more work than is necessary
      • When knowledge is in a jumble, everyone who needs that knowledge will need to sift it and sort it every single time. The way to eliminate this form of waste is to sift and sort the content once on behalf of everyone.
    • Waste #5 = unnecessary motion = going to multiple places to get your knowledge
      • Some organizations have too many collaboration tools (e.g., yammer, jive, slack, etc.) — this is waste
      • In some organizations, every division has its own lessons management system
      • Schlumberger has provided only one tool for each knowledge function. They built a successful expertise locator. Later, when they deployed SharePoint, they turned off MySite because they believed it would function as a duplicate expertise locator.
    • Waste #6 = excess inventory
      • A lessons management system is helpful provided it has just enough lessons to cover the work being done. One lesson on an issue is good. Ten lessons may be better. However, 100 or 1000 lessons constitute an oversupply. A knowledge worker will never be able to read and apply all of them.
      • Don’t give users too much — give them just enough. Overproduction constitutes waste.
    • Waste #7 = defects = the cost of wrong knowledge
      • this arises when you fail to clear out of your knowledge systems old or outdated materials
  • Best approach to lessons learned
    • Complete the project or activity
    • Identify, document, store the new lessons learned, best practice, cases
    • Review, validate, take action >> update the practices and training
    • Access the database and apply lessons learned
  • The Knowledge Supply Chain
    • Raw materials = experience
    • Supplier = team members
    • Manufacturing = creation of lessons
    • Distribution = lessons management
    • Assembly plant = improved process
    • Consumer = knowledge re-use and application
  • How to incentivize knowledge seeking and re-use?
    • Make it easy
    • Promote success stories
  •  Questions:
    • If you view your own KM system as a supply chain, where is the waste?
    • How will you eliminate the waste?

Learn It! Do It! Share It! #KMWorld

KMWlogo_Stacked_Session Description: Knowledge management is in the business of helping organizations learn, use, and remember-the antidote to corporate amnesia. O’Dell shares APQC research aimed at helping organizations get smarter. She talks about the need for speed and ways of accelerating learning-not only for individuals and groups but for organizations themselves. Get KM best practices you can use to nudge people in your organization. Grab O’Dell’s nuggets of information for those who are at the beginning of their KM journey, those who are in the messy middle of their efforts, and those who are operating in mature KM marketplaces. Good tips for all!

Speaker: Dr. Carla O’Dell, CEO, APQC Author, The New Edge in Knowledge

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2015 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • The Velocity Challenge.  Speed of execution has increased, but so has speed of learning.  There are three different speed challenges:
    • getting new employees up to speed quickly
    • helping “Nextperts” learn more rapidly
    • absorbing knowledge, which is growing faster and faster
  • What is driving the need for speed in your organization?
  • People and organizations learn differently.
    • Start by reading How We Learn by Benedict Carey.
    • We can said to have learned something if we can recall it at the appropriate time and put to use.
    • Focus attention and reading does not enhance learning.
    • Space and recall enhances learning. Walk away from the reading and ask yourself what you learned. Then go back and fill in the blanks.
  • People learn better when they realize that something is missing. They learn better when they are trying to solve a problem.  This is when they are most motivated to learn. It is a key teachable moment. That is why Googling at the moment of need is so important. It is a valuable mode of informal learning.
  • Forgetting is the Brain’s Spam Filter.
  • Primacy and Recency Effect. People remember the first thing you tell them and the last thing you tell them. That is why onboarding is so important.
  • People remember how you make them feel more than what you say. Therefore you need to create a rich tapestry of emotion.
  • KM is how organizations learn. Just because I know it doesn’t mean we know it. Therefore, KM is critical to help overcome organizational amnesia.
    • KM can alert people when something has changed in business rules and practices.
  • Avoid dead ends, empty shelves and desert islands. There must be a human being watching to make sure that people get the answers and resources they need. Otherwise, they will never come back.
    • Desert Islands = expertise location. People don’t want to be alone, they want an expert to help them.
  • What does it mean to say that the group has learned something?
    • The power of a group is the power of the collective. As long as there is trust in the group, members are assured that if one person knows it, everyone knows (or can know) it.
  • Communities are KM’s killer app. My allegiance to this voluntary group makes me willing to contribute and learn. According to MIT, the most productive and creative groups do two things:
    • the members of the group seek new ideas outside the group and bring them in
    • inside the group, they vet the new ideas and use them to improve their own ideas and work
  • What is the best way to learn?
    • The people approaches to learning make the system approaches work. In-person or virtual training, mentoring/apprenticeship are far more effective than remote efforts such as content management and document repositories.
    • The technology matters, but what matters more is the change management processes we use to help with technology adoption.
  • Making the Business Case for KM
    • see for information on their maturity model
    • There is a correlation between KM maturity and financial performance. As KM maturity increase, the financial performance increases (in terms of sales and assets).
    • When making a KM business case, it is important to explain clearly what the payoff for the organization will be. You will be 3 times more likely to get a KM budget and 5 times more likely to expand it.
  • Why conduct financial analysis and documentation of benefit to show the value of KM investments? It secures and expands the budget, you get senior leadership support, it gives you traction to grown the KM program.
  • Cognitive computing and machine learning are on the horizon for KM.  What will this look like for us in the near future?
    • We are on the Gartner hype curve, so expect lots of expensive failures until we learn how to use these tools.
    • We will be able to give better and more customized search results.
    • With narrative tools, machines will be able to write up our lessons learned. (See NarrativeSciences.)
  • If we in KM do not get ahead of the cognitive computing curve, things could end badly for KMers. (Spoiler alert: the computer almost never loses.)
    • “Not since ‘2001 : A space odyssey’ have things ended badly for the computer.”

Stan Garfield: 16 KM Myths Debunked #KMWorld

KMWlogo_Stacked_Session Description: Join our breakfast tutorial led by longtime KM practitioner Stan Garfield, who discusses 16 views of KM that are widely held but not necessarily supported by practice. He debunks these myths and shares research to support the misconceptions.

Speaker: Stan Garfield, Community Evangelist, Global Knowledge Services, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited; Author, Implementing a Successful KM Programme; Founder, SIKM Leaders Community

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2015 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • Download Stan Garfield’s Slides
  • Push.  Believers in Push say if only we publicize it, promote it, shove it into someone’s email inbox, they will participate in and use KM. The problem is that we all have learned to ignore this noise. It is far better to create Pull — demand — for the things you are offering. Make it appealing, make it easy to consume.
  • Someone else will do it.
    • This occurs when leaders initiate a KM project and then leave.  You also see this when leaders delegate participation in KM to someone else — asking someone else to fill in their profiles, write their blog posts, etc.
    • When KM professionals do not use their tools themselves.
    • When organizations benchmark their competitors in order to determine their own KM priorities and actions.
    • The misplaced belief that the KM systems will work perfectly without my contribution or my leadership. If you won’t supply the necessary content, how can you expect someone else to?
  • KM is Dead. Or it’s on life support. Or it’s irrelevant.
    • Even Tom Davenport wrote a recent article on this — proclaiming the death of the child he helped create.
    • Whether we call what we do KM, the need for what we do will never go away.
    • What is dead? Focusing on collections and document repositories, tracking intranet activity metrics.
    • The name, knowledge management, is often derided. Worrying about whether it’s a good name or not is a waste of time — it’s better to learn how to do the work better.
  • Incentives don’t work. Stan believes that well-designed incentives do work. While people will always be tempted to game the system, relatively few actually do.
    • The key thing is to signal the importance of the effort.
    • Incentives work well at IBM and Accenture.
  • Roll it out and drive adoption.
    • This approach focuses too much on a tool or function. “Rolling out” SharePoint doesn’t explain why or what it is for. Telling people to collaborate more is an equally open-ended and vague direction. People cannot act on this.
  • Social is frivolous.
    • People do not often use social tools to post nonsense (e.g., what I ate for breakfast).
    • If employees are being criticized for “wasting time” on social tools, you need to educate everyone regarding why these tools make sense and how they benefit the organization.
  • Don’t Control.
    • There are a variety of views on whether it is wise to control communities online.
    • In Stan’s experience, it is better to limit the number of communities. This makes it easier for the user to find their group. It also increases the chance of building critical mass.
    • This is not about top-down control, it’s about respecting your user and their time.
  • Eliminate Risk. This arises in security-conscious organizations. It is often expressed in the form of shutting down internal social tools or blocking access to external social tools.
    • It’s actually better to enable sharing in a common place where inappropriate sharing can be observed and corrected.
    • If the sharing is happening outside a common shared space, the organization will never know about inappropriate until it is too late.
    • Focus on educating people on appropriate sharing.
    • Hire well and then trust your colleagues more.
  • Be like Google and Amazon.
    • Google and Amazon functionality work best at scale. Most organizations do not have that scale.
    • Asking people to rate content is challenging. It is better to ask simpler questions.
      • Did you find this content helpful?
      • Are you likely to recommend this content?
      • Do you like this content?
  • We need our own. Often people ask for their own online community for comfort or convenience reasons. However, often they do not really need their own and would derive greater benefits from joining a larger group. Encourage them to join the larger group (perhaps as co-leaders) and bring their energy  into that larger group.
    • Beware of the narrow niche — where people are asking for a community/tool for a very narrow need. It is better to work in a larger space with a larger group.
    • If you do not achieve critical mass in a community, it is unlikely to be active.
    • According to Lee Romero’s research, an online community needs at least 200 members before it will be truly active.
  • I don’t have time. This implies that learning is not as important as more mundane tasks.
  • We should work ourselves out of a job. After all, knowledge management is everyone’s job so we should not need a separate KM department. What about finance? Is that everyone’s job? It is naive to believe that people will be able to lead and shepherd KM — this requires specialists.
    • Stan suggests a KM team that includes, at a minimum, someone to focus on people, someone to focus on process and someone to focus on technology.
  • Bigger is Better.
    • The larger the team, the greater the time required for administration and management.
    • More is not better. Google proved that simpler was better.
    • The exception to this rule is: the more active members of a community the better.
  • Make People Do It. It is better to work with volunteers rather than conscripts. If we make people do it,  the will comply — but only to the minimum extent possible.
  • Everything is a community. For Stan, a community is a volunteer group you choose to join because you  want to get something done. It is not an assignment based on a common trait — e.g., gender, ethnicity, etc.
  • Our IP will be stolen. Some companies say that specific content must be locked down or else another part of the company might use that content in the wrong way. Sometimes this is driven by risk concerns. Sometimes this is driven by a fear of internal competition.

Learning from Federal CKOs #KMWorld

KMWlogo_Stacked_Session Description: A panel of chief knowledge officers from federal agencies discuss key aspects of KM in the federal space. Topics include starting a KM program; quick wins; institutionalizing and sustaining KM; skills needed in the central KM organization; effective KM, HR, and IT partnerships; and KM as a driver of employee engagement.


Turo Dexter, Knowledge Management Officer, US DOT / Federal Transit Administration
Dr. Susan Camarena, Chief Knowledge and Learning Officer, Federal Transit Administration
David Oberhettinger, Chief Knowledge Officer, NASA/Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
William Balko, Chief Knowledge Officer, Defense Information Systems Agency

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2015 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • Related Slide Decks:
  • How to begin a KM program.
    • You need an effective executive champion
    • Know your message — be able to explain succinctly what you are doing
    • Be a people connector
    • Start by finding ways to share critical information — a good place to begin is capturing and sharing lessons learned
  • Institutionalizing and Sustaining KM
    • house the KM function in the frontline operation, not IT
      • this gives the KM function credibility and access to frontline information/people
    • recognize pre-existing KM-ish activities — [if possible, build on them]
    • publicize success stories
    • track agreed measures of KM program maturity
  • Success relies on.
    • strategic alignment
    • user involvement and acceptance
    • improved effectiveness
    • information sharing and visibility
    • active and effective sales effort to market the KM effort
  • How to expedite learning?
    • have people shadow each other — this gives them a new perspective on the people and their work
    • create collaborate work spaces where people with different expertise work together for a time

Why Change Management Strategy Places KM at the Forefront #ArkKM

Session Title and Description: Why Change Management Strategy Places KM at the Forefront

The Intersection of KM, Innovation and Change Management at FMC Technologies At its most basic level, knowledge management is about connecting and collecting. Connecting people so that they can share what they know, and collecting critical knowledge for reuse. When based on achieving business outcomes and done strategically, both connecting and collecting accelerate the rate of knowledge transfer – and therefore the rate of change, the diffusion of innovations, the ability for organizations to learn from their experiences and evolve. Knowledge management underpins the “learning organization”, for which one definition is: “an organization that acquires knowledge and innovates fast enough to survive and thrive in a rapidly changing environment.” There’s a process at FMC Technologies for capturing and leveraging collective knowledge. It is an organizational capability that harnesses synergies between KM, quality, communications, change management and other process improvement initiatives. This talk will illustrate how the company utilizes knowledge management strategies and tools to accelerate collaboration, support innovation and manage change, resulting in cost savings and continuous improvement.

Speaker: Kim Glover, Manager of Knowledge Management, FMC Technologies

[These are my notes from the 2015 Ark Group Conference: Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession.  Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error.  Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • KM Depends on Culture. The core values of the organization set the stage for (or against) knowledge management. Key core values are quality, safety and innovation.
  • Quality. Instead of talking about change, talk about being a learning organization. That focus on effective learning will drive higher quality across the board.
  • Collaborative Environment.
    • Agile/adaptive
    • Efficiency
    • Diverse/Equal
    • Safe — create a “safe-to-fail” environment
    • Accessibility/reciprocity/trust – “You know trust exists when the pronoun ‘we’ is used more often than ‘I’.”
  • A Map for more innovative collaboration and knowledge management:
    • collaboration
    • facilitation
    • learning
    • knowledge architecture
    • knowledge capture
  • Their KM toolbox.
    • Wikis
    • Facilitated collaboration
    • Advanced search and auto-categorization
    • Datamining services — this can provide data and surface trends
    • Surveys
    • Events — including KM events (wikithons) and events regarding corporate values such as safety.
    • Discussion Forum — it allows for up-to-the moment conversations by people at the frontline, which then fuels new learning/teaching opportunities and possible changes in procedures and documented knowledge.
  • 70-20-10 Model of Learning. 
    • 10% of learning happens in formal training sessions.
    • 20% of learning comes through social or informal interactions.
    • 70% of training is experiential and happens on the job.
  • How to support change with KM.
    • Your KM team should perform as internal consultants. Help your internal clients identify their business problems and potential solutions
    • Embed KM in the flow of work.
    • Think big, but execute isn bite-size pieces.
    • Try things!
    • Cultivate favorite internal customers.
    • Be humble and let happy customers sing your praises.
    • Listen. Listen. Listen.Then Listen again. Learn what your internal customers want/think/feel.
    • Tie everything you to do business outcomes.
    • Connect with other departments. Empower them with KM.
    • Repeat your mantra/message again and again. But use plain language. Market internally until your internal customers start using your words to describe your services and impact.
    • Bring diversity to your program and your outlook.
    • It takes both a top-down and bottom-up approach to achieve good KM.

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]


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]


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]



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]



Who Needs to Know?

Who_is_it“Who needs to know?”

This is a question we ask often. Unfortunately, it is a question we do not always answer correctly. Sure, we might identify the obvious people, based on our personal experience or knowledge. However, we occasionally forget some key people, and there may be yet others of whom we are completely unaware.

As a result, we share knowledge with the smallest possible group. But that group may not even be the right group. We may explain our approach as well-intended efficiency or even a bid for security. However, at the end of the day, by failing to ensure that information reaches the right people, we have ensured that any decisions we make will be made on the basis of incomplete information.

Is it any wonder so many organizations make so many mistakes?

These are real questions in the context of law firms and law firm knowledge management departments that are trying to thread the needle between firm-wide knowledge sharing and concerns about protecting confidential information. While I do not want to minimize in any way the importance of protecting client-confidential information, I wonder if in our zeal to limit access to information we are actually depriving ourselves and our clients of the ability to make decisions and provide advice based on complete information.

It is instructive to see how another organization faced this challenge of holding knowledge tightly versus sharing it widely.  The organization I have mind plays for stakes that are very high indeed. It is the US military. In his TED talk (posted below), General Stanley McChrystal explains how he came up through the ranks in a security-conscious, need-to-know organization and yet came to understand the importance of sharing knowledge beyond the small group he initially identified as those who need to know. He describes the need for information security as something that was “in the DNA” of the military. He speaks of the organizational silos that served the purpose of ensuring information was kept safely contained.

Despite that security-conscious DNA, General McChrystal came to a startlingly different answer when he asked the question, “Who needs to know?” He discovered that “in a tightly coupled world, that’s very hard to predict. It’s very hard to know who needs to have information and who doesn’t.” So they changed their approach. They started asking “Who doesn’t know, but needs to be told as quickly as possible?” In fact, they went so far as to start knocking down organizational silos physically by having cross-functional teams work together in “situation awareness” rooms in which they could share, discuss and disseminate information quickly.

The results were impressive:

…as we passed that information around, suddenly you find that information is only of value if you give it to people who have the ability to do something with it. The fact that I know something has zero value if I’m not the person who can actually make something better because of it. So as a consequence, what we did was we changed the idea of information, instead of knowledge is power, to one where sharing is power. It was the fundamental shift, not new tactics, not new weapons, not new anything else. It was the idea that we were now part of a team in which information became the essential link between us, not a block between us. [emphasis added]

Admittedly, the army does not serve financial services companies who insist on rigorous data security audits and will withdraw their business if you do not meet their demands. The army does not have clients who refuse to allow any of their information to be shared within the firm even as they expect that they will have the benefit of learning and experience derived from the firm’s other clients. The army does not have owners who have grown up with a need to protect confidentiality that goes beyond professional obligation owed to a client, to cover even the most basic information about the health of the firm.

On the other hand, the army does make life and death decisions on a daily basis. And in this context, the army has learned that if it wishes to have effective teams that make good decisions, it must share information so that information becomes the “essential link” and not a “block” to team effectiveness and good decisionmaking.

Given the army’s example, isn’t it worth thinking harder about how to share knowledge safely and efficiently within law firms? At a minimum, it must mean moving beyond simply asking “Who needs to know?”


[Photo Credit: Wikipedia]