Archive for the ‘KnowledgeManagement’ Category


(c) 2012 Michigan Employment Law Advisor

There are two kinds of people when it comes to change: (1) those that hate change, and (2) those who dislike it. This includes those who thrive on it (i.e. first responders or management book authors). I count myself in the latter camp although I leave it to the bravado of the rescue squad and the ambulance chasers to rise above their milder disdain for change.

This dislike stance told me to seek out the next change before it found me first. So I opened the door this fall on the “job market” — two words that always play better in speech and policy-making than in actual qualifiable positions. My forte is in making information useful and I have yet to see a single opening with that line of work involved. Perhaps that’s why job security and professional competence have had a casual relationship through-out my so-called career.

No suprise then I was both shocked and delighted to see a position for a reconciliator of enterprise architectures — someone who could make those disparate systems talk amongst themselves as well as the isolated teams who rely on them for designing products and supporting processes.

The delight kicked in with the realization that I could work from strength as an information architect on behalf of information technologists (the people with the positions to fill in actual job markets). The deal was cinched by the fact this is a product-driven company and thus a culture of politically tone deaf, socially challenged, and problem-smashing engineers.

A Numbers Game of Two Number Teams

I had served the better half of the past two years at the pleasure of CPAs in a Big Four accounting firm that had acquired the operational engineering talents of a mid-size management consulting firm where I did knowledge management via Microsoft SharePoint starting in 2005. Here the main value proposition remained constant: “what do you make?” However the corollaries could not be further apart:

Engineer: How do you make it?
Accountant: How much do you owe on what you make?

One was exact, unbending, and interpreted from an unassailable regime. The other was approximate and multidimensional, and crafted from a fluid and complex set of proprietary assets, market forces, and the immutables, i.e. electronic properties of materials, laws of physics, etc. Accountants and engineers are both introverted, consultative “numbers people.” But there’s an oil and water schism going on here that makes Arabs and Jews look like ancestral soul mates.

Unlikely Teammates

The guys from my old firm liked to tinker. They liked to take companies apart (batteries not included) and reassemble them so they ran better. They would turn the problem on its head just so they could figure out the right questions to be asking. The tax and audit people have multiple authorities to answer to — but they never change. It’s the same regulated economy from one nation state to the next. Accountants do not review problem sets in search of reductionist logic. They seek “the number.” It’s the tax code that confers their authority — not patterns in data, not arrays of silicon nanocrystals. Show an accountant a data cloud as the answer to GPS and he’ll be more interested in the cloud’s locality than his own whereabouts. It comes with the territory.

The accountant formulates what the engineer rationalizes, assuming the government’s a no-show. It might not be the melodic orchestration of a more perfect union. It’s an arms length hand-off but a collaboration nonetheless. What I’ve spent the better half of two years trying to rationalize is how a trade bent on document preparation refuses to practice knowledge management. How it’s a higher value function for those documents to be sequestered in a vault than leveraged as the missing piece in some future unsolved puzzle.

So about that new job…

Live and Let Engineer

I could approximate the moment in the interview process where I thought I couldn’t walk away from a return to engineering culture. It occurred when my future boss began recounting the tangle of acquisitions that had brought fresh thinking to augment the firm’s strategy. But much of that inspiration was trapped in an airtight silo that had never been provisioned to the larger knowledge base. The opportunity was presented as a difficult conversation that no one was especially keen on having, let alone a solution for integrating these silo-bound wikis, file shares, and discussion lists where feudal geeky orders form apart from the larger community. I told the guy that wasn’t going to be a problem because I was going to let these coders go on developing in whatever comfort zone met their climate control patterns.

This was not going to be a power grab in the form of:
“You can have any color content so long as it’s SharePoint…”

This was about indexing large chunks of undocumented outputs and then auto-classifying them for community review through a federated search. This is the ultimate success factor that us KMers keep a secret to our own detriment. It’s not about imposing a single platform. It’s about getting on the same page. It’s not about shutting down renegade skunk works. It’s about opening up the pathways of collective know-how by freeing our users from the tyranny of document location, i.e. knowing where stuff is.

Well, I didn’t sound so preachy during the interview and I’m not sure my new boss bought my argument. All I know is he suspected that I believed in what I was telling him. And that was enough to get us to the next round. That’s when I tapped my engineering network. Former bosses and colleagues testified that they too drank from the same punch bowl and gave the intrepid, nonplussed tip of operational approval that only an apolitical and resolute dilemma smasher could resolve. These are my people.

As a result I have a once in a lifetime opportunity. It took 50 years. But I finally found a way of firing myself from a job I needed because I found another job I actually wanted. That’s a stroke of luck I will value above and beyond any status of vocation or income stream. You don’t have to worship a dollar to go to work every day. And you don’t need to be (a) starving, or (b) an artist to cherish the intellectual freedom that comes with problem-solving as its own reward.

Sharing Hidden Know-How: How Managers Solve Thorny Problems With the Knowledge Jam

In Hidden Know-howHow Managers Solve Thorny Problems with the Knowledge Jam (Josseybass: 2011), author and corporate strategist Katerina Pugh unpacks the swollen, daunting, and sloppy world of organizational learning:

  • Swollen in the size of its ambitions and all the nonverbal and unscripted baggage it entails
  • Daunting in its disparity between high-minded concept and lame execution
  • Sloppy in a sincere but misplaced faith that a seat at the table ensures a productive exchange of agreed-upon outcomes

Pugh leaves as little to chance as a planned communication can contain within its unscripted boundaries. She zeros in on the transfer point in the knowledge transaction between knowledge originators and recipients. Pugh takes immediate aim at recipients who are too passive and one-sided exchanges where impervious originators are more interested in addressing their expertise — not their colleagues:

“People who use the knowledge should drive the conversation, as they are more likely to draw out context that would make applying knowledge easier.”

All too often a static presenter is appointed expert and does a brain dump. The recipients are then faced with two off-putting choices:

  1. Follow the presenter’s logic through and accept or question the conclusions based on the originator’s perspective (poking at the dumping pile), or
  2. Wondering off-script by asking the expert to apply these rationales to the recipient’s own circumstances

Either way, these situational roles impose their own limits: (1) being lectured at, or, (2) deviating from the presenter’s preparations and the group being presented to. Pugh’s methods for sparking meaningful exchanges center on the practical matter of liberating originators and recipients from the self-imposed limitations that impeded the transfer process. Here are a few ripe examples of such roadblocks and counter-steps or probes the facilitator can take to redirect the conversation:

1) Impatience: Participants are worn down by excessive detail.

Probe: Ask the group whether to continue the drill-down or table for further offline deliberation, a.k.a. “the parking lot.”

2) Silence: Participants hold back their knowledge through suppression and distraction.

Probe: Build on pre-established trust in drawing out tight-lipped originators — “Sally, you recently had something like that. Can you explain how you handled it?”

3) Passive-Aggressive: Some key players may weigh-in by sitting out the transfer or what Pugh terms “the discover/capture event” which ensues after the planning stage.

Probe: Connect the goal orientation of reticent participants  to the event results; mainly the knowledge gained and shared to support these goals. In effect, “make it worth their while” by making them accountable for these outcomes.

4) Argumentative: Some actors fancy their participation as the devil’s advocate or out-and-out contrarian, injecting skepticism or doubt into the mix or even into the knowledge jam itself. Pugh intimates that a hostile edge in a disbelieving stance stems from participants who perceive the limits of their own authority to affect change, or even the questioning of that authority by the group.

Probe: “Don’t let the argument be between the facilitator and doubter,” writes Pugh. “Instead, use the group to address the argument.”  

These four examples are but a sliver of a rich and deep roadmap for engaging participants, repairing breakdowns, and advancing difficult but ultimately productive knowledge transfers. By articulating the protocols for consensus-building Kate Pugh has assembled a beckoning refuge for harboring the tensions and frictions that need to be addressed in any open and honest team-building effort.

Throughout the book Ms. Pugh maintains her insistence about the need for openness — (in quoting Williams College President Adam Falk) “… to extend and refine our thinking in the presence of others who bring their own experiences and motivations.” That goal seems all the more achievable as the methods detailed in Hidden Know-how find their way into the toolkits of knowledge brokers and conversations across conference room tables in all walks of organizational learning.

There are two reasons that economies exist: (1) to remunerate the owners of capital to the optimal degree; and (2) to maintain social stability, a.k.a. so the renters of capital keep the roofs on their backs and don’t storm the gates of McMansionville

The further the U.S. strays from reason #2 the more convinced I am that there is a price for greed. There is a cost for fear. What us humans will stumble over the brambles of adversity in the life auction to bid for at any price is stability. What’s the market doing today — name your price. It’s stability that’s priceless. There’s actually a third reason — electing more Republicans to public office by promising to cut the taxes of all Americans (dead or alive). But I digress. 

I showed you my economic cards to foreshadow a recent get-together with a former colleague once removed. It happened at a completely pass-up-able trade show in Boston few weeks back. I wasn’t speaking, I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t paying or expensing or conventioning any of it. But I went because it gave me the opportunity to run into folks I normally graze indirectly through a fleeting tweet or a bump on a blog. The fact that these are “chance” meetings with no formal agendas or hard stops is sometimes as appealing as the names that drop into these calendar openings.

However, there was one meeting of particular merit because it reminded me of a time in the past where terms like “career-building” and “ladder-climbing” were more than platitudes to gold watches and indentured supplicants. The gentleman I was meeting with had just accepted a job to work as a KM grunt with a prestigious and high-flying brain factory fired from piping, fresh HBS idea ovens

George (I’ll call him here) had a much better run than I as an independent KM consultant with longer feasts, shorter famines, and enough returning engagements to get him on the short list of folks who are called into bless, validate, and handicap most big ticket enterprise content decisions.

What search engine do we buy? Why is garbage-in, garbage-out the only process flow that works with any regularity in our document life-cycle? George was the guy who could address the daunting and predictable questions  looming on  the radars of cash-rich, strategically impoverished IT shops left minding the information management store.

Maybe it was another college tuition to meet? Perhaps it was a spouse furloughed by the uncertainty that the future includes a place for over educated Americans who expect promotions and raises? Maybe it was the shock of knowing that mom and dad are now not just confusing our names with our siblings but referring to us as their own siblings

Whatever landed over the top on the wrong side of the watershed  bed, George decided that being paid twice a month was preferable to the prospect of fatter, inconsistent pay days. He confided that it stung a little to see no press release parading the new home of his worthy track record and talents. The simple fact is that companies don’t crow about their costs and George’s new employer doesn’t sell KM consulting for a living. 

Do they want to deliberate about how the only thing standing between them and bigger deals is better knowledge-sharing? Nope. And especially nope if they can’t bill for it. Community-building? IP propagation? That’s what we hired you to do, George. Let us know when you’ve fixed it and we’ll have something.

I sympathize with George — to a point. But then I need to remind him — not of his senile parents or farcical former clients but that he is now firmly under the radar and cleared for take-off. This is a glide-path where he can pilot the hypotheticals. The slideware is gone.  Every new hire is not just a collegial grunt but a recruitment opportunity: what is it from me you expect? If the answer is a blank stare, I’ll mold the fillings. You’ll be pedaling your fulfillment right out of our showroom (or intranet for those of you viewing at work).

It’s worth noting that in my own family my wife had her own recent breakthrough on working stiff etiquette.  Rather than lamenting the fact that her basket case nonprofit closes its firewall to remote access, she saw her dysfunctional IT operation as the gift that it is — six uninterrupted hours on Acela to wifi her way to a job that leaves her alone long enough to live her life.  

In conclusion, George, believe your indoctrination into the land of working stiffs will offer its own rewards – not the least of which is far greater flexibility to unleash your pragmatic creative problem-solving in an environment that will benefit your new colleagues in ways they scarcely know.

It sounds like a Monty Python sketch.

The most telling search I can use to introduce a new hire to the collaborative dynamics of consulting communities of practice is to shine a bright search light? On display: the compromised zealotry of an overextended consultant who needs the kindred consensual wisdom of the domain experts (a.k.a. group list in MS Outlook) in order to move forward with a proposal.

Even among the most self-assured practitioners the apology always grabs the lead. Every message is prefaced by the “sorry for the SPAM’ proviso, meaning Please pardon this untimely interruption. I know I’ve just potentially added another item for you to check off from your appointed rounds today and it may have little or nothing to do with your own immediate priorities … until you too seek the endorsements and experience of the crowd sourcing elites and find yourself offering up the same humbled state of manic curiosity.

This is real. This is sincere.

This can also be effective in a systemic and scalable way if the rules of the road are written to include the Must-Ask-Must-Tell (“MAMT”) give-back. Before that mating call heads offline and skirts under the radar the information seeker owes it to the betterment of the community to post the most useful responses to SharePoint.

That’s how interruptions become know-how pumping arteries into hearts of matters settled many times before. FAQs are not in and of themselves uninformed or brilliant. But frequently answered questions swallowed by poor documentation is a sure sign of a scatterbrained and underperforming community.

To sum it up: MAMT means that if you interrupt your colleagues for advice, the burden falls on the requester to share the counsel and attached IP they receive. if you’re going to spam your colleagues you have an obligation to share what you learn. 90% of all CoP messages have no follow-on thread. That’s not so much due to hoarding but to not wanting to cause further distractions to the community. The answer is to cc: the CoP discussion board (or the KM grunt).

Here’s the platitude it serves: Establish leadership communities that inspire and reinforce the sharing behaviors to develop a sharing culture.

I think the social norm – at least in terms of sharing – is maybe 1-2 degrees of separation over email. Any more extended than that and trust factors drift out of one’s immediate circle. The model is still in-network. But the collaboration is based more on a friendly rivalry than an extended peer group.

The compliance rate for documenting epic projects has doubled over the past two years. Is that because everyone wants to reinforce sharing behaviors or because no one wants to be seen as an IP freeloader?

The choice of text versus numbers is starting to ring false. The trade-off between relational tables and keywords is no longer a stretch or a compromise. The missing ingredient isn’t the optimal content database or the more responsive search tool but the outcomes that live in the cross-hairs between traditional BI and conventional keyword matches, and what began many formatting standards ago as decision support.

The purpose of SearchBoards is to classify content on a granular level. The goal is not panning for knowledge gold but to scratch the itch that prompts the question. Searchboarding doesn’t retrieve articles and files, Search Targeting informs what happens next. As Judith Jaffe, Knowledge Manager from the Risk Management Foundation put it in yesterday’s Boston KM Forum it’s to embed interventions into workflows. It’s us knowledge workers reconfiguring the juggernaut of documentable consequences. In English that means indexing spreadsheets so that the nuggets are discoverable, process-specific, action-based, and quantifiable as assets.

The counting goes beyond raw first and secondary wordcounts inherent in typical SEO analytics and goes to a tender info fantasy older than any taxonomic model. That’s flipping on a switch and having the proposal auto-generate or the diagnosis nestle in a warm bed of evidence. There’s a problem, a set of case tables, and a battery of check boxes. No one is left holding the word bag.

This is a good thing because it takes the conversation away from hit counts and page ranks and into the more tangible matters of solving problems and completing tasks. It’s not about capturing insights — yawn. It’s about the rich conversation between what we’re working with (data sources) and what we’re working on and against (projects and deadlines).

Another promising development is that when our data sources are bullets and talking points, we remove the ambiguities that are full-time occupants of Planet Google. And those doubtful citizens answer to a toppled leader called “intention.” And the lingua franca of intentionality are particles of speech. They disappear with SearchBoards. That’s because SearchBoards eliminates the source of the ambiguity — that troublesome middle man between all causes and effects called the predicate. It’s problematic because predicates are the nerve endings of human logic and they fall apart completely at the mercy of search technology.

And those search engines are as good as teaching how futile this is as they are abysmal at overcoming their own limitations. We’ve been trained well to keep our expectations low. Witness a Stanford University study cited by yesterday’s forum speaker Mark Sprague that suggests 2.4% of all search terms include verbs. No small wonder we have no idea what to do with our global information surplus.

Another tedious argument that goes away here is the Coke vs. Pepsi piss-off that parallels taxonomies and folksonomies. The liberation here is that common meeting grounds like “results” or “teams” or “industries” lend themselves to pattern-friendly sets of finite values (classification schemes). Other more fluid fields like “results” or “objectives” remain open-ended. But the rich variety of how those stories play out become the bucketed narratives on the SearchBoard results queue.

Finally the biggest payback is that we get to keep serendipitous top-of-mind association. Was there ever any doubt? And we can still bask in our most enduring content structures. What’s there not to like when the only thing we have to Google is Google itself?

One of the moribund mysteries of KM craft is the conversational impasse that settles in around the question of who can see what.

On first blush this sounds like territorial jockeying between two rival business units. But I think the fear runs deeper while the rationale runs … shallow. Unlike traditional competition where the enemy integrates our vulnerabilities into a nimble and customer-facing game plan these tender subjects have a lot more to do with vanity and self-preservation than with competitive advantage or go-to-market strategy.

I’m conducting a series of interviews over the coming months for KM World on SharePoint adoption. The focus is not on success but more the fear of success that sandbags so many deployments. I interviewed Marc Anderson of Sympraxis Consulting yesterday. In addition to being a SharePoint integrator Marc is a process management expert who cut his BPM teeth from the Norton Kaplan scorecarding he did with Renaissance Solutions back in the late nineties.

Storing consistently formatted documents triggered by the flow of predictable events is one of those bake-inable gains on the SharePoint adoption curve. But what happens when that reasonable goal becomes a towering expectation? Is a contract really a contract when it was called a statement of work before we merged? Is it my group or yours responsible for unpacking the backlog? Most importantly who’s on the hook when our fail safe security policy takes over and “security by obscurity” is replaced by protocol and accountability?

A more interesting question isn’t about permissions structures and pecking orders but how to configure SharePoint to reduce cycle times for common tasks. And those requirements extend well beyond back end administration. For instance we can move beyond search results to business results. We can deliver answers instead of documents. We can get beyond the ingrained bias that documents themselves more than the records they contain.

For example what if the golden nuggets within a large involved analysis always land in the same section or sub-clause or roman numeral addendum ad item? Microsoft didn’t just add an “X” to .ppts and .xls to make a design statement or an upgrade ultimatum. They did it because XML means never having to hide behind the confinements of file formats. It means being able to chunk content so that granularity happens in the metadata — not in the mass burial of an endless results list.

These modifications can be done without writing a stitch of XML code too by indexing lists and separating them in the results screen from the PDFs and PowerPoints in our site collection libraries. It means re-importing the familiar laundry lists that service the value propositions of most business proposals so that the value adds and situational specifics are anchored in past success and squared with the needs of the prospect being targeted. Querying against a set of tables makes imminently more sense than trying to pull and retrofit every proposal that’s ever deviated from the official script since the beginning of sales cycle time.

More on this as the interviewing calendar unfolds.

I work in an engineering culture. This affords me the luxury of speaking my mind if I can select the correct fact base for supporting my views. This is a license I haven’t had in more politically-charged work cultures and for that alone I will never take this freedom for granted. Views are meant to be: (a) expressed, and (b) challenged. That is both a given and a taken — the taken is this precious benefit of working with engineers.

The challenge for a decidedly right brain in the middle of a STEM (“science, technology, engineering, and math”) population is that I run a system resistant to the way my colleagues are rewarded by their clients. Their mission is to drive complexity out of systems. Simplicity is not just a virtue but a requirement. All outcomes are reducible to X or Y. There is no Z because Z represents chaos. Even if chaos sounds more rational than two choices it still wrecks the model. The third choice invites uncertainty. It tests the faith that engineers can deliver a purely causal relationship: if you do X then Y is a no-brainer.

I’m not wired to perform multiple-step calculations. I can’t steer my way around the break even point or apply the needle-moving macro that will change the expectation or game the system. I’m the artful, conceptual word guy. But even so I can see there are binary outcomes that create clarity, purpose, and a useful instruction for accelerating a plan. Even a confrontation-averse relativist humanist like me can understand that there are only so many parking spaces at the Market Basket in Somerville and many more shoppers. The result is Darwinian dodge ball set to the abrupt stoppage of a musical chairs needle skipping. This is the real world — eat or be eaten — the zero sum game.

The allure of sports is the certainty of outcomes. Even ties need to be decided — there’s no corrupting force of interpretation. No middle ground. What could be as uncompromising as a win or a loss? As a parent it’s hard not to appreciate the clarifying power of ‘no’ as in “what part of you’re-not-allowed into-X-or-Y don’t you get?”

However left to its own limitations this logic can create more false choices than it does true ones. The Profit and Loss (“P&L”) statement is based on the premise that we are either revenue-generating or overhead. This model swallows the inclusionary either/or condition. The third way is the third rail of engineering. It stops the train from ever leaving the station.

A binary bias is at work whenever complexity is driven from the service centers we call to inquire about the status of our bills, terms, conditions, and ignorance (a.k.a. tech support). The computer-voiced router tells us to press “1” for the entire range of acceptable questions. Press “2” to scream what about “1” we don’t find relevant to our consumption of this service or product. End result? Driving complexity from the system also drives customers away from the relationship. (Dial “3” if you want the word people consultants who fix that one).

As a Z team passenger who rides into town on that live, uncertain third rail I often tell my X and Y members that it’s a mistake to equate a fact base with its ultimate usefulness or knowledge-enablement. Zero sum games around learning almost always result in a loss for the knowledge possessor. That’s because it’s less common for two different people to take the same actions with the same knowledge than it for you to do something differently than me. The world is not flat.

If 15 years of the web has taught us anything it’s that access guarantees nothing. Having “possession” of bare facts and figures does nothing either to address their dissemination, analysis, how instructive they are, or ultimately what we intended to do with them. The corollary isn’t that knowledge is power — far from it. It’s the universal pain point of recognizing that unlimited access paralyzes our ability to form plans and take actions. Microprocessors foster the illusion that given enough technology, it is both possible and desirable to know anything about everything. The real secret to our transparent world is knowing when to move beyond X and Y.

The Z world is social, interpretive, multidimensional, and easily colored by perception. It is sloppy and potentially correlated but never dualistic or directly causing what happens next or soon thereafter. Experience laughs at X and Y because no two people have the same Z outcomes in mind, body, or the actual events they trigger. Engineers need to face this music in their waltz steps with systems — whether they partner with Z or pretend it away.

Have you ever been witness to a rear-end collaboration? It isn’t pretty and the traffic slows to a crawl with no clear reason why a perfectly smooth ride turns into a gaggle of abandoned bumper cars in the breakdown lane.

The rear-end refers less to orifice that we use to insult the bad collaboration actors. It’s not even about going stealth or secretive in the one-way exchange of participation-free online lurkers in the shadows of online collaborations. It’s really more about fear of being perceived as an ass than any backwards thinking now in vogue. It’s more about standing out for the wrong reasons. It’s an anxious place where the reward for participation is the absence of penalties.

Some of us like to stand out. Most of us would rather pick the time and the place. In the age of closed circuit camera phone reality exceedingly few of us see any form of personal recognition as positive recognition.

It’s that bridge from stilted collaboration to the exquisite melding of group minds that we crossed over at last Thursday’s meeting of Boston’s SIKM chapter. Sometimes it was about wikis or listservs or task-based or even competitive collaboration. But in each case we all took in the collective smell test and passed our own versions of what’s applicable to our own teams and projects. We also played bumper cars in a freewheeling, agenda-defying forum. I don’t remember any drivers slowing down to inspect the damage.

My favorite part of this meeting was that the majority had no prior SIKM meetings from their calendars. The notion that we could all steer the same rudder over two hours of unscripted ideation was the glue that held our experiences up to the light of peer review. Unimpeded by PowerPoint and the flimsiest of agendas, the most contestable of assertions was made by Ken Cundari: that the road to bad collaboration is paved with riffing on ideas untethered to concrete tasks and goal-setting.

My contention is that dynamic applies to teams but not individuals. That’s because this model puts motive in the spotlight. Most clients desire outcomes devoid of their own personal reasons for wanting it. Yes, productivity unmasks the poker face when the same team is playing to win with the same playbook. But the productivity argument falters under the weight of the fuller disclosure that a stated purpose requires. Besides, I (client) will pay more if you (consultant) really know the worth of your deliverable.

Laurie Damianos and Lester Holtzblatt also contributed some firsthand feedback on their own user communities, including the insight that would-be wiki collaborators need to know the circulation numbers (ocean wiki or pond-sized wiki) before they take the plunge.

Based on the steady stream of inputs from our collective exchange it seems the improvised brainstorming and the orchestrated roadmapping blended into one. To my best recollection here are the testifiers:

Patti Anklam