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.]

NOTES:

  • 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?
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Content Catalysts

Knowledge managers  sometimes divide the world into two camps:  content creators (the folks on the front lines of an organization, as well as a small handful of knowledge managers with subject matter expertise) and content managers (the bulk of the knowledge managers and librarians). In this scheme, most knowledge managers are working well behind the front lines and feel best suited to the task of organizing content rather than creating it. And, the content they seek to organize is explicit knowledge.  In reading Nick Milton’s post, KM and content management – the turf war,  I was struck by the fact that the disputed turf at the heart of this war (i.e., explicit knowledge) is relatively small.  If you look at his Venn diagram, you’ll see he identifies three types of turf:  non-knowledge information, explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge.  The first usually is the domain of librarians, and the last the domain of knowledge managers.  Both areas provide ample challenges and rewards.  Yet the turf battles continue with respect to managing explicit knowledge.   When you consider whether many (or any) of us should be fighting over KM 1.0 efforts to create and organize document collections, the turf battle seems even more pointless.

Therefore, in an effort to shift the conversation, I’d propose to expand the roles available for information professionals.   What if we were to add a new category:  Content Catalysts?  Rick Ladd pointed to this function in his comment on my previous post, Librarians vs Knowledge Managers:

It seems to me we KM professionals have been saying for years that an organization’s most useful knowledge lies between the ears of our people; up to 80% (obviously an approximation) of the total available. What I’m seeing is the use of social media to discover, connect, build relationships . . . in other words, greasing the skids of close to real-time knowledge transfer . . . is transforming how we deal with information and knowledge.

I’m of the opinion most value – at this time – lies in developing those “social” capabilities in an organization. Not to say managing the explicit knowledge assets isn’t important (precedent and all that comes with it isn’t going to go away, whether it’s judicial or the laws of physics); merely that connecting people to people and facilitating their ability to make sense of their collective information/knowledge, etc. is likely to have a bigger payoff than organizing our explicit assets.

This seems like a more productive route for knowledge management.  As information explodes around us, we’re finding that we’re able to corral less and less of it.  Our best hope is to have search engines that find what is necessary in the moment of need while we spend our time as Content Catalysts ensuring that information flows rapidly and is shared easily within our organizations.  (This is the promise of Enterprise 2.0.) It seems to me that knowledge managers should be able to add a great deal of value to their organizations as Content Catalysts, without the distraction of engaging in outdated battles over questionable turf.  What do you think?

[Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk]

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