Improvement


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A couple of weeks ago I spent a day with a Chemical manufacturing company, working with their business improvement (BI) community, 50 miles south of Milan.  The welcome was very warm, but the fog was dense and cold as we donned hard hats and safety shoes for a tour of the site.

One of the key measures which the BI specialists monitor is that of Overall Equipment Effectiveness – which is defined as:

OEE = Availability x Performance x Quality.

Availability relates to production losses due to downtime; Performance relates to the production time relative to the planned cycle time, and Quality relates to the number of defects in the final product.

It set me thinking about what a measure of Overall Knowledge Effectiveness for a specific topic might look like?

How do we measure the availability of knowledge?  Is that about access to information, or people’s availability for a conversation?

What about knowledge performance?  Hmmm. This is where a linear industrial model for operational performance and cycle times begins to jar against the non-linear world of sharing, learning, adapting, testing, innovating…

And knowledge quality?  How do we measure that?  It is about the relevance? The degree to which supply satisfies demand?  The way the knowledge is presented to maximise re-use?  The opportunity to loop-back and refine the question with someone in real-time to get deeper into the issue?

Modelling how people develop and use knowledge is so much more complicated than manufacturing processes.  Knowledge isn’t as readily managed as equipment!

If we limit ourselves to the “known” and “knowable” side of the Cynefin framework – the domains of “best practice” and “good practice” – are there some sensible variables which influence overall knowledge effectiveness for a specific topic or theme?

So how about:

Overall Knowledge Effectiveness = Currency x Depth x Availability x Usability x Personality

Currency:  How regularly the knowledge  and any associated content is refreshed and verified as accurate and relevant.

Depth:  Does it leave me with unanswered questions and frustration, or can I find my way quickly to detail and examples, templates, case studies, videos etc.?

Availability:  How many barriers stand between me and immediate access to the knowledge I need.  If it’s written down, than these could be security/access barriers; if it’s still embodied in a person, then it’s about how easily I can interact with them.

Usability:  How well has this been packaged and structured to ensure that it’s easy to navigate, discover and make sense of the key messages.  We’ve all read lessons learned reports which are almost impossible to draw anything meaningful from because it’s impossible to separate the signal from the noise.

Personality:  I started with “Humanness”, but that feels like a clumsy term.  I like the idea that knowledge is most effective when it has vitality and personality. So this is a measure of how quickly can I get to the person, or people with expertise and experience in this area in order to have a conversation.  To what extent are they signposted from the content and involved in its renewal and currency (above)

Pauses for thought.

Hmmm. It still feels a bit like an “if you build it they will come” supply model.  Of course people still need to provide the demand – to be willing and motivated to overcome not-invented-here and various other behavioural syndromes and barriers, apply the knowledge and implement any changes.

Perhaps what I’ve been exploring is really “knowledge supply effectiveness”  there’s a “knowledge demand effectiveness” equation which needs to be balanced with this one?

Hence:  Overall Knowledge Effectiveness is maximised when

(Knowledge Supply Effectiveness) / (Knowlege Demand Effectiveness) = 1

Not sure whether the fog is lifting or not.  More thinking to be done…

Are we being too hard on silos?

I regularly hear clients describing their workplace as being siloed. It’s common in public, private and third sector.

Sometimes people mean that their organisation is structured in silos.  Sometimes they mean that their information is managed in silos.  Sometimes they mean both.

Picture from amylynn1212

As KM professionals, we can be a bit militant in our language when it comes to silos.

They have become our public enemy number one – we need to demolish silos, tear silos down, break silos up, eradicate silo working…  you get the picture!

A wise leader once challenged me with a simple question.  I was being evangelical about knowledge management, sharing and networking and painting a picture of how the company could be different if it was restructured with knowledge in mind. His thoughtful response was:

“That sounds really good Chris, but can you also tell me what we would lose?”


It’s easy to slip in to a mindset whereby we view our organisations as completely dysfunctional, and “only radical KM surgery can save them”. Of course that’s never true – and raises the dangerous prospect that in our quest to find knowledge-enabled improvement, we fail to recognise what’s good and working well, and how our actions can impact that.

So is the presence of silos always a bad thing?  They seem to work well for managing grain!
Are there areas in your organisation where you need to collect, protect, store, securely develop, and preserve things of value for future use by others?

Perhaps it’s not the presence of silos which is the real issue, it’s their invisibility, anonymity and unnecessary impenetrability!
The problems arise when people don’t know where the silos are, whether they are empty or full, how to access the content and who is working on them.  In which case, there will be times when smashing them down isn’t the solution.  It will be more appropriate to discover and  recognise them, map their existence, understand their contribution, check that there’s no duplication, open them up for access and/or contribution by others (inside and outside?) and finally  to communicate how others can get the benefits.

Here’s a quote from the Organisational Learning Strategy at TEAR Fund, who I had the pleasure of working with earlier this year.

We have a great deal to learn from each other across teams and groups, and so we need to reframe the idea of breaking down our silos, to one of opening them up.  We should be continually finding ways to build bridges between and within our teams and groups.  Silos are used to store grain, and our groups and teams need to nurture their learning, and then communicate it with others.

I think there’s much more than a grain of truth in that.

There was a helpful thread in the sikm-leaders forum last week when someone asked for ten responses to complete the statement “You know knowledge is being effectively managed when…”

I thought it was a really practical way to explore how it feels, and looks – how people behave, when KM is really working.   Here are my ten suggestions:

You know knowledge is being effectively managed when…


Leadership. Leaders in the organisation are role models, challenging people to ask for help, seek out, share and apply good practices this inspires curiosity and a commitment to improve.  The organisation is learning!

Learning. People instinctively seek to learn before doing.  Lessons from successes and failures are drawn out in an effective manner and shared openly with others who are genuinely eager to learn, apply and improve. Lessons lead to actions and improvement.

Networking. People are actively networking, seamlessly using formal communities and informal social networks to get help, share solutions, lessons and good practices. The boundaries between internal and external networks are blurred and all employees understand the benefits and take personal responsibility for managing the risks.

Navigation. There are no unnecessary barriers to information, which is shared by default and restricted only where necessary. Information management tools and protocols are intuitive, simple and well understood by everybody.  This results in a navigable, searchable, intelligently tagged and appropriately classified asset for the whole organisation, with secure access for trusted partners.

Collaboration. People have the desire and capability to use work collaboratively, using a variety of technology tools with confidence.  Collaboration is a natural act, whether spontaneous or scheduled.  People work with an awareness of their colleagues and use on-line tools as instinctively as the telephone to increase their productivity.

Consolidation. People know which knowledge is strategically important, and treat it as an asset.  Relevant lessons are drawn from the experience of many, and consolidated into guidelines. These are brought to life with stories and narrative, useful documents and templates and links to individuals with experience and expertise. These living “knowledge assets” are refreshed and updated regularly by a community of practitioners.

Social Media. Everybody understands how to get the best from the available tools and channels. Social media is just part of business as usual; people have stopped making a distinction. Serendipity, authenticity and customer intimacy are increasing.  People are no longer tentative and are encouraged to innovate and experiment. The old dogs are learning new tricks!  Policies are supportive and constantly evolving, keeping pace with innovation in the industry.

Storytelling. Stories are told, stories are listened to, stories are re-told and experience is shared. People know how to use the influencing power of storytelling.  Narrative is valued, captured, analysed and used to identify emergent patterns which inform future strategy.

Environment. The physical workplace reflects a culture of openness and collaboration.  Everyone feels part of what’s going on in the office.  Informal and formal meetings are easily arranged without space constraints and technology is always on hand to enhance productivity and involve participants who can be there in person.

Embedding. Knowledge management is fully embedded in people management and development, influencing recruitment and selection. Knowledge-sharing behaviours are built-into induction programmes and are evident in corporate values and individual competencies.  Knowledge transfer is part of the strategic agenda for HR. The risks of knowledge loss are addressed proactively. Knowledge salvage efforts during hurried exit interviews are a thing of the past!

Now your top ten will probably be different to mine (although you’re very welcome to borrow and adapt them).
This kind of approach encourages us to look well beyond the technology which often disproportionately demands our attention.

Taken from the Consulting Collison Column in an upcoming edition of Inside Knowledge

I often tell this story (complete with the parrot and gold doubloons!) when engaging leaders in thinking about practical steps thay can take to demonstrate their commitment to learning from others.

To summarise – and for those of you for whom YouTube is still a corporate no-go area:

A business unit leader in Amoco recognized that insular “not-invented-here” behaviour was limiting the potential of his business, which existed within a group of around 100 business units in the newly-merged BP Amoco. He wanted to create a culture of curiosity, encouraging his staff to look beyond the boundaries of their own business unit. He decided to create a simple monthly recognition scheme, under the banner of “steal with pride”.
The award was given to a member of staff who could demonstrate that they had found a good practice from a different business unit, applied it, and created value. Each story would be celebrated on the intranet, and the winner received an award in the form of a cuddly parrot, which would sit on the desk of the winner for a month (prompting questions from passers-by), before moving onto the next winner, and leaving in its place, a solid gold “pirate” doubloon worth several hundred dollars – which was theirs to keep.

I think that the parrot worked particularly well as a recognition scheme because it was visible, lighthearted, symbolic (“steal with pride” – giving permission to look outside), frequently awarded, and both clearly supported – and initiated –  by that business unit leader.

Ironically, the “steal with pride” award scheme wasn’t replicated by the leaders of the other 99  business units. Perhaps they had their own personal struggles with “not invented here”….

Image by Nelson Pavlosky Urinals.  Do you spend much time looking at them?

This is just a guess, but for half of you, I’m assuming that the answer is “no”.  The other half of you are wondering where I’m going with this line of enquiry.

 If you have had the pleasure of using the urinals at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, you will have noticed that each one is embellished with a lifelike image of a fly, under the glaze – just near the drain.  Initially I dismissed this as merely an example of quirky humour from a Dutch sanitary-ware manufacturer, but I was too hasty. Apparently, since incorporating the fly into their urinals, airports and other public places have noticed a decrease in the amount of cleaning required. Some of these have improved to the extent that they have saved money by reducing the number of cleaning shifts.    If you haven’t figured out the link between the fly and the cost reduction, ask any small boy!

All of this got me thinking about how on-target we are in the way we exchange knowledge, good practices, worst practices and stories.  Despite our best efforts, do people sometimes miss the mark when it comes to knowledge exchange? 

As knowledge professionals, we work hard to use processes and social technologies to bring people together collaboratively.  On some precious occasions, we get to design and facilitate face-to-face knowledge-sharing events.  Occasionally, we even get to work on leadership behaviours and organisational design. 

In all of these worthy activities, we sometimes forget that knowledge management can also help groups of people to agree upon and describe their practices – and hence connect and share more efficiently because they have negotiated a common language.

Here’s an illustration.  In KM circles, we have talked for years about the value of nurturing communities of practice, and rightly so.  However, if we were to turn our “Community of Practice toolkits” out onto the table, the majority of our tools play into the notion of Community: role descriptions and training programmes for leaders and facilitators, templates for community charters, designs for launch events, no end of technology options for social collaboration and document management.

But what about the Practice bit?  Do we have anything in our toolkits to offer groups of professionals who want to agree upon “what’s important” and describe “what good looks like”?  Yes, we can provide wikis where people can discuss and build glossaries, definitions and reference material, but that’s a platform, rather than a process.

I’m advocating that as Knowledge Management professionals, we should be able to offer any group a simple process for describing their practices qualitatively, thereby enhancing their knowledge-sharing.   That could involve the creation of a self-assessment tool (maturity model) – or perhaps a knowledge asset which helps others to navigate through a distillation of past learning, current good practice, examples and key contacts. 

That’s more than installing a wiki, a Drupal community or a set of SharePoint libraries.  It requires  us to roll up our sleeves and engage with the subject  experts and practitioners.  It involves us in helping them to agree and describe their practice in an accessible way.  By helping them to produce a common model of the practices which make up their functional area, they will be able to target their knowledge-sharing far more precisely, and hence get more value from KM tools and techniques.

Or to put it another way – if our knowledge workers have something more clearly defined to aim at, then we’ll have to spend less time clearing up after them.

 First Published in the October Edition of Inside Knowledge

At last!  After over a year of blood sweat and tears, a small forest of paper,  a well-used box.net collaboration space and far too many late night emails, Geoff Parcell and I have written another book together.

To the alarm of my wife and children, not to mention my mortgage lender,  this one is entitled “No More Consultants.  We know more than we think.”

So are we really saying that there is no need for consultants?

Jon Theuerkauf, MD at Credit Suisse answers that question perfectly for me in his endorsement on the back of the book:

“Look, of course we need outside input, if not we might as be staring at our belly-buttons.  The point that is being made in No More Consultants is companies spend pennies in mining their own internal knowledge and expertise compared to the multi-millions spent on going outside first!  How does that make any sense or cents?”

And that’s exactly it.   We really do know more than we think.  But we don’t think enough.  Geoff and I wrote the book to guide organisations towards making smarter, more purposeful, more targeted use of consultants.  After all, nobody ever got fired for hiring <<insert your favourite management consultancy here>>.   That might be true – but a whole lot of your staff might have become disenfranchised.  The same staff, who (after the glossy PowerPoint presentation has been delivered, and that large invoice has been submitted) will be expected to help implement the recommendations.  Recommendations which perhaps they could have come up with themselves.

If only they’d been asked.

As Jon so neatly puts it.  How does that make any sense or cents?

Hope you enjoy the video. And the book. And the Ning Community!

Came across this article on the BBC website today. 

Interesting to read the interpretation that power of “social learning” in the chimp community is so strong that  the chimps stopped innovating and adapting, and complied with “what they had learned” – however inappropriate and suboptimal that approach was.

Now we can all smile at the chimps with their sticks and grapes – but I can see some parallels here with how culture develops in organisations, and what we learned once about something which works, left unchallenged becomes a barrier to future adaptation. Which in turn, is why I have such a struggle with the term “best practice”.

Reminds me of the old apes, the banana and the water spray story.

Here’s the BBC article:

Copycat chimps build their own tools after watching video demonstrations.

During a study, the animals were shown footage of a trained chimp combining two components to construct a tool that enabled it to reach a food reward.

When given the same two components, the chimps made their own tools and used them to drag over a tasty treat.

Reporting in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B, scientists say this demonstrates what a “potent effect” social learning has in the primates.

Elizabeth Price, from the University of St Andrews in Scotland, led the research.

“With video, we can control exactly how much information the animals see, so we can understand exactly how much information they need to work out how to do the task,” she explained.

This type of behaviour is very rare in the wild
Elizabeth Price
St Andrews University

Dr Price and her colleagues put the chimps into five groups during the test.

One of the groups was shown the whole demonstration – where a chimp was handed a rod and a tube that it slotted together. The demonstrator then used this longer composite tool to retrieve a grape from a platform outside its cage.

The other groups were shown progressively less information – with one group just shown the chimp eating its grape.

The researchers then recreated the set-up for the subjects.

They placed a grape on a platform against the outside of each chimp’s cage, and handed the animals a rod and a plastic tube.

“Those chimps that saw the full demonstration learned better how to construct the necessary tool (to reach the food),” Dr Price told BBC News.

“The fact that they can learn how to build a better tool for a particular task is very exciting. This type of behaviour is very rare in the wild, and it’s an essential part of human tool use.”

Watch and learn

“A handful of the chimps that weren’t shown the full demonstration learned how to make the tool on their own,” said Dr Price.

Chimp using stick as a tool
Chimpanzees usually modify sticks by stripping them of their leaves

“What was interesting about this group was that, when we presented them with the grape at different distances from the cage, they made the appropriate tool to reach it.”

Rather than faithfully copy the demonstration, these animals switched between using the unmodified tube or rod, and using the combined tool, depending on how far away the grape was.

“Those that had been shown the full demonstration, and had socially learned to make the longer tool, continued to make it even when the grape was so close that it was more awkward to use,” said Dr Price.

“It could be that social learning is such a strong force for the chimps that they apply a blanket rule of ‘go with what you’ve seen’ (rather than work out what’s most appropriate for the task).”

The team is now planning to carry out the same test in young children to find out how much they rely on social learning.

What the team still do not know why this type of tool-building is not seen more commonly in the wild.

“We’ve shown that they’re clever enough, so there must be something else at play,” said Dr Price.

“It may be that when chimpanzees reach an age at which they are… capable of performing these higher level techniques, they may be too old to have access to sufficiently tolerant demonstrators.”

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