Knowledge Pit Stops

Back in 2009, I blogged about some heart-warming examples of cross-industry peer assists,  involving Great Ormond Street Hospital and the Ferrari Formula 1 pit team.  Geoff and I wrote the story up fully in our second book, "No more Consultants". The specific example related to the operating theatre team improving their handover processes during an operation called the "arterial switch" - and the insights of Professor Martin Elliott and his colleagues who had the curiosity and the passion to approach Ferrari and ask for help.

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It reminded me of Thomas Friedman's book "The World is Flat" where he wrote:

“I have concluded that in a flat world, IQ- Intelligence Quotient – still matters, but CQ and PQ – Curioity Quotient and Passion Quotient – matter even more. I live by the equation CQ+PQ>IQ. Give me a kid with a passion to learn and a curiosity to discover and I will take him or her over a less passionate kid with a high IQ every day of the week.”

I was interested to see that Formula One was in the news again this week with another example of curiosity-driven cross-sector knowledge sharing - this time with public transport.  Train manufacturer Alstom, who say that the knowledge they gained has enabled them reduce a 2-day repair job to just 4 hours.

We need more of these "I wonder" moments to bring knowledge together, where curiosity triumphs over the "but we're different" default reaction of not-invented-here cultures which drives those connections and overlaps apart.

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Lessons Learned or Lessons Earned?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtJv4QXE0RA

Earlier this year I presented at Henley Business School's annual KM Forum event, on the subject of "Lessons Earned". They kindly recorded the event, and I have just edited and posted a ten minute excerpt on YouTube.

Watch it to find out:

How project lessons are like a leaky bucket... Why frequently asked questions aren't frequently right... Why captured knowledge is like a dead butterfly collection... How 'not hiding' is different to sharing... And why curiosity is good for business, even if it is bad for cats!

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Lessons Lost

Following on from my last post comparing operational effectiveness with knowledge effectiveness, I’m reminded of the “Choke Model” from my BP days.  The choke model was a way of modelling production losses at every stage in the process, for example during the refining of crude oil to produce the raw materials and refined products which customers want to buy. Starting with 100%, every step in the process was analysed, and the biggest “chokes” were identified and targeted for improvement.  There is a belief in BP that the total of all of these small percentage production losses across all of its refineries was the equivalent to having a brand new refinery lying dormant!  Now when you focus it like that, it’s one big financial prize to get after.

I think there’s a similar perspective that we could take looking at the way in which knowledge is lost during our efforts to “refine it” and transfer it to customers.  Sometimes we are so upbeat about “lessons learned” and “learning before, during and after”, that we start believing that we’ve got organizational learning cracked.  Well I don’t believe that we have!

Let’s take a walk through an organizational learning cycle and see where some of the “chokes” in our knowledge management processes might be.

Imagine that you’re working with a team who have just had an outstanding success, completing a short project. There’s a big “bucket of knowledge” there, but from the moment the project has completed, that bucket is starting to spill or leak its lessons.  (On a longer project, the leakage will start before the project has ended, but let’s keep it simple for now and say that memories are still fresh).

So from this moment, your lessons start to leak.  The team will be disbanded, team members join other projects, and people start re-writing the history of their own involvement (particularly as they approach performance appraisal time!).

Leak!

Let's have a project review or "retrospect" to capture the lessons.  Good – but not a “watertight” process for learning everything that might be needed.

  • Are the right people in the room?  Team?  Customers? Sponsor? Suppliers?  Partners?
  • Are you asking the right questions? Enough questions?  The questions which others would have asked?
  • Are people responding thoughtfully?  Honestly? Are people holding back?  Is there politics or power at play which is influencing the way people respond?  Is the facilitator doing their job well?  Are they reading the room,  pressing for detail, for recommendations, for actions?

Leak!

And then we try to write-up this rich set of conversations into a lessons learned report.  However hard we try, we are going to lose emotion, detail, connections, nuances, the nature of the interactions and relationships – and all too often we lose a lot more in our haste to summarise. Polanyi and Snowden had something to say about that.

Leak!

And what happens to that report?  Is it lost in the bowels of SharePoint?  Is it tagged and indexed to maximise discovery?  Is it trapped on someone’s hard drive, or distributed ineffectively by email to “the people we thought would need it”?

Leak!

And of course, just because it’s stored, it doesn’t mean it’s shared! Sharing requires someone to receive it – which means that they have to want it.  Are the potential users of this knowledge thirsty? Curious?  Eager to learn?  Encouraged to learning rather than reinventing?  Infected with “Not invented here”?  Believe that their new project is completely different? Willing to root around in SharePoint to find those lessons? Willing to use the report as a prompt to speak with the previous team, and to invite them to a Peer Assist to share more of their learning?

Leak! Leak! Leak!

So you see, it’s a messy, leaky, lossy business,  and I think we need to be honest about that.  Honest with ourselves as KM professionals, and honest with our colleagues and customers.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work hard to address the leaks and losses - quite the reverse.  We should be anticipating and responding to each one.  Whether that means having a “knowledge plan” throughout the lifetime of a project, engaging leaders to set the right expectations, providing support/training/coaching/facilitation/tools etc.   There’s a lot we can do to help organisations get so much better at this.  They might not save the equivalent of a Refinery’s worth of value – but they might just make their workplaces more fulfilling, increase staff engagement and reduce their dependence on external consultants.

I think it starts with the business answering the question:

 

“Just how valuable do we really believe this knowledge is?”

 

 

If you look at the picture at the top of this blog and imagine it’s happening on a beach somewhere, then it’s just part of the fun in an environment of abundance.  You can fill the bucket up again and again...

If the picture was taken in a drought-stricken part of the world – an environment of scarcity – well that’s a different story.

Speed Consulting

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you combined speed dating and knowledge-sharing? I can’t own up to any firsthand experience of the former, but I’m told by friends who do, that you participate in a merry-go-round of three-minute exchanges on a room full of tables-for-two.  When the bell rings you move around to the next person.  If you like what you’re experienced, you make a note on your score-card, and, if the feeling was mutual, you take the next steps together. Tremendously efficient and less emotionally risky than the traditional approach - at least for most people! speed dating

To save a praying mantis experience, there are websites full of interesting questions that you might ask during your 3 minutes – for example:  “What luxury item would you take on a desert island?” and “What are your favourite words and why?”. Incidentally, “knowledge management” is not a good answer to the second question. So if speed-dating is designed to reduce the emotional investment, embarrassment and risk of failure  of finding a potential partner – what can we learn from that room-full of tables which we could apply in a KM context?

In my work with communities of practice and networks over the years, I have observed that when someone asks a question in a network, people are sometimes reluctant to offer up suggestions and ideas because they don’t have a complete answer or a polished response.  The longer the silence lasts, the more risky it feels to contribute.  People hold back, worried that they might be the only one to respond and that their idea will be perceived as being too trivial or too obvious – how embarrassing! If your community feels like this, and you have an opportunity to meet face-to-face, then let me recommend a simple “Speed Consulting” exercise which can help groups to break these bad habits.  (I’m indebted to my friend and consulting colleague Elizabeth Lank for introducing me to this technique).

A quick guide to speed consulting.

Identify some business issue owners In advance, identify a number of people (around 10% of the total) with a business challenge which they would like help with – they are to play the role of the client who will be visited by a team of brilliant management consultants. Business issues should not be highly complex; ideally, each issue could be described in 3 minutes or less.  Brief the issue owners privately coach on their body language, active listening, acknowledgement of input etc.  Remind them that if they are seen to have stopped taking notes (even when a suggestion has been noted before); they may stem the flow of ideas.

Arrange the room You need multiple small consultant teams working in parallel, close enough to generate a “buzz” from the room to keep the overall energy high. Round tables or chair circles work well.  Sit one issue owner at each table. Everybody else at the table plays the role of a consultant. The issue owner will remain at the table throughout the exercise, whilst the groups of “visiting consultants” move around.

Set the context Explain to the room that each table has a business issue, and a team of consultants.  The consultants have a tremendous amount to offer collectively – from their experience and knowledge - but that they need to do it very quickly because they are paid by the minute! They have 15 minutes with each client before a bell sounds, and they move on to their next assignment. The time pressure is designed to prevent any one person monopolising the time with detailed explanation of a particular technique.  Instead, they should refer the issue owner to somewhere (or someone) where they can get further information.  Short inputs make it easier for less confident contributors to participate.

Start the first round Reiterate that you will keep rigidly to time, and that the consultants should work fast to ensure that everyone has shared everything that they have to offer. After 15 minutes, sound the bell and synchronise the movement to avoid a “consultant pile-up”.

Repeat the process Issue owners need to behave as though this is the first group and not respond with ‘the other group thought of that!’. They may need to conceal their notes. Check the energy levels at the tables after 45 minutes.  More than three rounds can be tiring for the issue owners, but if the motivation is particularly high, you might manage 4 rotations.

Ask for feedback and reflection on the process Emphasise that the issue owners are not being asked to “judge” the quality of the consultants!  Invariably, someone will say that they were surprised at the breadth of ideas, and that they received valuable input from unexpected places. Ask members of the “consulting teams” to do the same. Often they will voice their surprise at how sharing an incomplete idea or a contact was well received, and how they found it easy to build on the ideas of others.

Transfer these behaviours into community life Challenge them to offer up partial solutions, ideas and suggestions when a business issue arises in a community.  Having established the habit face-to-face, it should be far easier to continue in a virtual environment.   The immediacy and brevity of social media helps here – perhaps the 140 character limit in Twitter empowers people to contribute?

So perhaps I should have just tweeted: @ikmagazine http://bit.ly/speed_consulting boosts sharing in communities #KM @elank and waited to see what my followers would respond with! To be published in the next edition of Inside Knowledge.

Putting your money where your mouth is!

(A sneak preview of my upcoming column in Inside Knowledge Magazine - August edition)

Counterfeit money and an art gallery.

The plot from a Bond film?  Possibly, Moneypenny but it’s also part of an activity for engaging senior managers in thinking about knowledge management....

Here’s how it works.  First, print off a large number of miniature £50 notes.  Make sure that they really are miniature, and only printed on one side of the paper, or you might find yourself facing an extended period of reflection time at Her Majesty’s pleasure...

Next, chose a selection of 10-20 quotations which relate to knowledge management, organisational learning – whatever your focus is.  David Gurteen’s website is a good source of these. Paste each quote into a PowerPoint slide of an empty, ornate picture frame, and print them off on A3 paper.  This is your art collection, ready for auction.  Put them up around the walls of your meeting room, and give the “frames” a quick coat of spray adhesive. Now you’re ready to go.

Give each of the senior manager three £50 notes and inform them that they need to peruse the gallery and identify some ‘artwork’ to hang in the office.  They are choosing the quotations which are most relevant to their part of the organisation.  They can bid on up to three of the paintings by placing their money to the sticky picture frame.  After five minutes or so, you will have a clear idea of which quotations were most resonant with the group.  Some of the frames will be covered with £50 notes. This is all so much more fun than the usual facilitation favourites: Post-it™ notes and sticky dots!

Starting with the most popular choices, invite members of the group to explain why they selected a particular quotation; then sit back, relax and let the conversation flow.  Incidentally, I used this approach to great effect with the UK’s Treasury department, and yes, they did keep the money.

In my experience with a number of groups in both the private and public sectors, two quotations from my art collection which always score highly are:

“I wish we knew what we know at HP – we’d make three times more profit tomorrow.” Lew Platt, CEO Hewlett Packard.

“Successful knowledge transfer involves neither computers nor documents but rather interactions between people.” Tom Davenport.

But what if we were to limit ourselves to the quotations of company CEOs? Do they all feel the same way as Lew Platt? What are the words and concepts which they use most frequently?   I employed the unscientific approach of searching Google for quotations which met the right criteria.  Many of these quotations came from Most Admired Knowledge Enterprise (MAKE) winners. My list of quotable CEOs included Microsoft, Shell, BP, Halliburton, Fluor, Schlumberger, Buckman, Fuji Xerox, HP, Chevron and GE. Those final two were my favourites:

"We learned that we could use knowledge to drive learning and improvement in our company. We emphasize shopping for knowledge outside our organization rather than trying to invent everything ourselves. Every day that a better idea goes unused is a lost opportunity. We have to share more, and we have to share faster." Ken Derr, Chevron.

“An organization’s ability to learn and translate that learning into action is the ultimate competitive business advantage” Jack Welch, GE.

Putting all of these quotes into Wordle™ (wordle.net) generated a revealing word cloud where the words “share”, “learn”, “ability” and “idea” feature far more strongly that the word “management”.

There are some messages for us here if we are seeking to engage with business leaders in a way which reflects their own language.

As anyone who has led a KM programme will tell you - having a quotation from your own CEO about the value of the organisation’s knowledge is like gold dust.  How much value does that executive support adds to your to your efforts?  It’s practically a licence to print money...